Under the Hood of Oracle's Revamped BI Suite

Does Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g "close the loop?"

Oracle Corp. last month unveiled an ambitious revision of its flagship business intelligence (BI) suite, Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE) 11g.

The revamped OBIEE has been an especially long time coming, argues industry veteran Merv Adrian, a principal with IT Market Strategies. Non-traditional Oracle consumers -- i.e., existing PeopleSoft, Siebel, and Hyperion users, among others -- have had an especially suspenseful wait, says Adrian, who explains that Oracle's strategy with OBIEE emphasized the benefits of tight (and synergistic) integration between its BI, performance management (PM), data integration (DI), and application components.

Since the release of Oracle Business Intelligence 10.1.3 three years ago, OBIEE's promised synergy has in some ways been missing in action. The revamped OBIEE 11g fulfills the company's promise to a degree. "The new OBIEE 11g delivers a strong base for its customers to build upon, and for [Oracle's] own teams to continue fleshing out a coherent vision of ready-to-consume, actionable analytics suitable for multiple roles, on multiple platforms, across the breadth of information available," writes Adrian, in a recent OBIEE 11g product assessment.

"Although there is much left to do, Oracle has laid out a clear path and articulated a differentiated message that offers ample reasons for anyone on other platforms to consider OBIEE, whether or not they are Oracle customers."

To be fair, Oracle's synergy with OBIEE hasn't been completely missing. Last month, for example, Oracle officials touted OBIEE 11g as the industry's first "closed-loop" BI suite. It's "closed loop," according to Oracle, in that it provides an all-in-one environment for accessing, analyzing, and acting on the analysis of data. As Oracle watcher Mark Rittman notes, however, OBIEE has supported some closed-loop functionality for some time.

"This ability was present in the 10g version of OBIEE in a limited form, through iBots, request navigation and guided analytics, but in 11g this has been expanded into a feature in its own right, known as the 'Action Framework,'" wrote Rittman, a principal with Oracle technology consultancy Rittman Mead, on his company blog.

OBIEE 11g's new "Action Framework" makes this a more straightforward (or a more closed-loop) proposition, Rittman explained. "Using the OBIEE 11g Action Framework, I can define actions in the web catalog that can launch additional reports, display web pages or guide the user down a particular analysis path," he wrote. "What's new in this release is that I can also link out to business applications, triggering workflow, invoking business processes and generally giving the user the ability to take actions within the BI tool based on what they are seeing."

Adrian likewise lauds OBIEE 11g's Action Framework, which -- from his analyst's point of view -- he sees as one of a handful of key components in the new release.

"[T]he big wins here are Oracle's Common Enterprise Information Model (CEIM), The Action Framework, the strong manageability focus, unified and enhanced user interaction for report and other forms of design and delivery, and BI applications," he argues.

Adrian sees CEIM as analogous to SAP AG's Business Objects Universe schema, in that it aims to provide an abstraction layer for "a rich array of data sources." Moreover, he explains, CEIM makes extensive use of Oracle Data Integrator (ODI), which nearly permits Oracle to close the loop on data integration, though not completely, Adrian concedes, adding that CEIM is "not perfect" in that "Oracle still sells a lot of Informatica to its customers."

That said, Oracle clearly has big plans for CEIM: for one, Adrian notes, all of Oracle's forthcoming Fusion deliverables -- a category that includes ERP, CRM, and financial applications -- will support CEIM. That gives Oracle a powerful integration story as well as a credible claim to a kind of closed-loop experience, Adrian argues.

"Fusion will get some very special boosts from this metadata unification -- upstream tools won't need redefinition, ETL, cube building, or other steps to get to the element they want, defined commonly and understandably," he writes. "Going forward, that will be a powerful argument for giving Oracle more of your infrastructure."

Adrian is likewise enthusiastic about OBIEE 11g's Action Framework, which he says gets at perhaps the single most vexing aspect of BI: its reactive posture.

"Those of us who have for years bemoaned how BI always focuses on what I call predicting the past, and others compare to driving with the rear view mirror, can take heart -- this element provides the place where the connection from evidence to action will take place," he writes, pointing to the Action Framework's one-stop support for monitoring and alerting (which he concedes isn't exactly groundbreaking) along with a canned ability to "initiate predefined processes and workflows within a BI context." It's the latter capability, especially, that intrigues Adrian.

"With the Action Framework, Oracle creates a place to unify automated and human-driven workflows and process management. The Action framework works with BPEL, executes Java methods, invokes web services and navigates to a variety of locations," he explains, acknowledging, however, that the Oracle Action Framework is still a work in progress.

"It's certainly not finished yet, but its place in the architecture is laid out, and some connections, especially those to Fusion applications, will be available soon to customers," he concludes. "The metadata-driven design will ensure that the defined actions will be used consistently across dashboards, Publisher, iBots … and even Oracle Answers+, the newest version of the ad hoc reporting utility for Essbase."