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Oracle’s BI, BPM Strategies Come into Focus

by Stephen Swoyer, Technology Writer, TDWIThursday, December 13, 2007

It’s been still another year of change for Oracle Corp., with its acquisition 10 months ago of the former Hyperion Solutions Corp., the departure of a key executive aligned with its still-gestating Fusion middleware effort, and the continued evolution of that platform itself.

Last month’s Oracle OpenWorld helped shed a little light on Oracle’s direction. The software giant previewed several forthcoming enhancements to the business performance management (BPM) and business intelligence (BI) assets it picked up when it acquired Hyperion. Oracle also released a new version of its Fusion Governance Risk and Compliance (GRC) Intelligence, announced the availability of its Data Masking Pack for Oracle Enterprise Manager, and—in tandem with Sun Microsystems Inc.—announced the availability of its Optimized Warehouse for Sun.

On the BPM front, some of Oracle’s new or planned enhancements include a new Profitability Management and Activity-Based Costing module, a new account reconciliation drill-back feature, as well as promised support for the Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) (see http://www.tdwi.org/News/display.aspx?ID=8283).

Oracle plans to funnel the bulk of Hyperion’s assets into two discrete application groups: Oracle Enterprise Performance Management System (the obvious destination for Hyperion’s BPM assets) and Oracle Business Intelligence Foundation. The latter is the new umbrella brand for Hyperion’s Essbase OLAP engine (which Oracle has rechristened "Essbase Studio"), although Oracle hasn’t yet said what will become of Hyperion Intelligence (the former Brio reporting toolset).

Elsewhere, the Oracle Business Intelligence Foundation includes three different flavors of Oracle’s BI Suite (Enterprise Edition, Standard Edition, and Standard Edition One). In addition, Oracle will separately market its line-up of operational business intelligence applications, most of which are based on analytic assets it acquired from the former Siebel Systems Inc.

Some industry watchers are encouraged by Oracle’s OpenWorld BI and BPM focus, even if most of the enhancements it touted are—to this point—little more than vaporware. In a post-acquisition milieu in which vendors often get bogged down in integrating or assimilating acquired assets—and in which new product innovation or enhancement all-too-frequently goes by the board—Oracle is fleshing out its Hyperion assets to make them more competitive, says James Kobielus, a principal analyst for data management with consultancy Current Analysis. "Oracle is enhancing the acquired offerings to address important new areas where Hyperion had fallen behind rivals, such as profitability management with activity-based costing," he observes.

Kobielus points out that Oracle delivered other BI bona-fides, such as its announcement of the availability an update to Fusion GRC Intelligence, along with the Oracle Data Masking Pack. The latter is a new entry that protects sensitive data (such as Social Security numbers) by replacing it with realistic "scrubbed" data.

As expected, Oracle and Sun announced the general availability of their combined DW appliance entry, the Oracle Optimized Warehouse for Sun (see http://www.esj.com/business_intelligence/article.aspx?EditorialsID=8627a).

The appliance consists of Oracle Database Enterprise Edition, Oracle’s Real Application Clusters, and Oracle Partitioning running on top of a SunFire E20K server (configured, of course, with Solaris) and tapping Sun StorageTek storage. In its initial configuration, the Oracle/Sun appliance can support up to 10 TB of raw data; the two partners expect to deliver larger configurations in future releases.

The Oracle Optimized Warehouse for Sun is launching into an already teeming DW appliance segment. Nevertheless, it might have a competitive advantage because it’s a specialty appliance.

"I think the increased burden of managing anything other than the incumbent database is still a big switching cost [for a lot of customers]," says Mark Madsen, a principal with consultancy Third Nature Inc., and author of "Clickstream Data Warehousing."

"Any new database-like thing has to be significantly less expensive to operate over the long term or offer such great new capabilities that it's easy to justify trying it out. Oracle, IBM and [Teradata] can leverage the existing base. The appliance guys and alternative databases have a big uphill climb."

Lingering Doubts About Fusion

Oracle OpenWorld did little to address some of the doubts about the state of its Fusion effort.

When then-senior vice-president for application development John Wookey announced that he was leaving his post, competitors—including data integration rival Informatica Corp.—suggested that Fusion was in trouble. Competitors weren’t the only ones grousing, either: market watcher Gartner Inc. conceded that Wooksey’s departure dealt an undeniable blow to Oracle’s Fusion effort.

"Wookey's visible leadership position and applications experience instilled confidence in Oracle's application strategy with customers and prospects," wrote Gartner analysts Kimberly Collins and Gene Phifer in a research report.

Replacing Wookey are Chuck Rozwat, former vice-president of Oracle’s New England Development Center (who will manage all development for Oracle) and Thomas Kurian, Oracle’s former vice-president of e-business (who will assume ownership of Fusion itself). Gartner says the pair are competent, capable men, but believe they’ll be hard-pressed to step into Wookey’s large shoes.

"Although Kurian is respected for his technical knowledge and leadership of Oracle's middleware unit, his direct experience with business applications is more limited," they point out. "Steve Miranda, who has extensive applications experience, moves under Kurian and is responsible for Fusion Applications."

On the other hand, Gartner indicates, Oracle has repeatedly said that Wookey’s departure won’t affect its Fusion Applications roadmap. That will likely be the case, the Gartner duo concedes—although Oracle also left itself some wiggle room. "Earlier this year, Oracle communicated … that version 1 of Fusion Applications, which include financial, human resources, payroll, order management, core supply chain, and core CRM functions, will be released in 2008," Collins and Phifer observe. "We don't think there will be a delay in delivery, but Oracle has left enough room in its communications for a change in the breadth and depth of the initial release."


Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer based in Athens, Ga. You can contact Stephen via E-mail at stephen.swoyer@spinkle.net.

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