Whoever said BI market is commoditizing, consolidating and getting very mature? Nothing can be farther from the truth. On the buy side, Forrester still sees tons of less-than-successful BI environments, applications and implementations as demonstrated by Forrester's recent BI Maturity survey. On the vendor/sell side, Forrester also sees a flurry of activity from the startups, small vendors and large, leading BI vendors constantly leapfrogging each other with every major and minor release.
In terms of the amount of BI activity that Forrester sees from our clients (from inquiries, advisories and consulting) there’s no question that SAP BusinessObjects and IBM Cognos continue to dominate client interest. Over the past couple of years Microsoft has typically taken the third place, SAS fourth place and Oracle the distant fifth. But ever since Siebel and Hyperion acquisitions, the landscape has been changing, and we now often see Oracle jumping into third place, sometimes leapfrogging even Microsoft in the levels of monthly interest from Forrester clients.
Siebel and Hyperion acquisitions were tough for Oracle. Acquired tools brought completely new and largely overlapping BI technology to Oracle. Not only did Oracle have to make strategic product choices between its own legacy BI products (Oracle Discoverer and Reporter, PeopleSoft EPM, etc.) and the newly acquired products, it also had make tough strategy calls whether Hyperion or Siebel products will be front and center of the new Oracle OBIEE (Oracle BI Enterprise Edition) Suite.
Well, the decisions are over. From all of the 10.x product releases, it is now clear that OBIEE, mostly based on Siebel products (BI Server, BI Publisher and Oracle Answers) is Oracle’s strategic BI platform, with Essbase as a MOLAP add-on that can serve as either a source to OBIEE BI Server or an individual BI workspace on top of BI Server as a data source. All other Hyperion and PeopleSoft BI products are now in lifetime support mode only.
After concentrating on reconciling and integrating BI products for the past couple of years, OBIEE 11g, launched officially today, takes it up a notch. And a significant notch that is. Just like a Romulan captain in the Star Trek: The Next Generation series who said in one of the episodes, “After a long absence, we are now back,”, OBIEE 11g has features that make all enterprises running Oracle applications think twice before looking somewhere else for their enterprise BI platform.
Having said that, there’s nothing in the OBIEE architecture that requires tight coupling with Oracle applications and middleware (unless you want it to). Common Enterprise Information Model (CEIM, a semantic middleware layer similar to SAP BusinessObjects Universe or IBM Cognos Framework Manager) can link to, source and model data from pretty much all common data sources. Not only does CEIM tie it all together, it can tie it in a ROLAP (Relational OLAP) engine — BI Server (based on Siebel nQuire product). ROLAP — architecture under two leading BI products, OBIEE and MicroStrategy — enjoys a clear advantage over MOLAP, or cubes, since it can “drill anywhere” in your data sources, not just “anywhere in the MOLAP cube”. As a result, ROLAP-based products do not require creation of as many data marts or cubes as products using other OLAP architecture, and therefore often enjoy lower long-term total cost of ownership.
OBIEE 11g release new features fit largely into one of two categories:
- Functionality that closes some of the gaps that often caused concerns and potentially made prospects look elsewhere, and
- Features that are quite unique and will make OBIEE 11g stand out from among the competition.
Gap closing functionality includes:
- RIA (Rich Internet applications) interactivity for OBIEE reports and dashboards
- Same GUI, seamless user experience for relational and multidimensional analysis
- Text to query (from Enterprise Search, a separate product) functionality. Text to query functionality has been available in Essbase for a while, but now it can be extended to all OBIEE objects
- GIS (Geographical Information System) and location intelligence via partnership with NAVTEQ
- Mobile BI apps delivered to iPhone/iPad, BlackBerry, Android and Windows Mobile devices
- Analytical performance management (metrics, goals, objective management, tied together via scorecards) build right into OBIEE
But OBIEE 11g also adds the following completely new and quite differentiating features, which do set OBIEE apart from all other leading BI platforms:
- Same CEIM for all Fusion Apps, not just BI. All future releases of CRM, ERP, Finance and other enterprise applications will be based on the same CEIM and shared across all Fusion apps, including BI. That means that OBIEE will be able to plug into and instantly access data from any Oracle Fusion application, completely bypassing tedious, cumbersome, expensive, but often unavoidable, steps of building intermediate analytical data stores such as data warehouses and data marts. A hint: You have to go with Oracle Fusion apps in order to take advantage of this out of the box functionality.
- Actions. Traditional BI often stops short of being truly actionable. While a well architected and well run BI application can tell you what is going on, why it is happening, or even what may happen, it stops short of helping you with the next step of “What do I do about it.” For that you need “actionable BI”. While most other BI technologies can automate alerts, calling external routines or Web services, OBIEE actions are baked right into metadata: CEIM. It becomes part and parcel of the CEIM design process and carries additional advantages of integrated metadata, impact and lineage analysis and tight integration with Fusion apps (although one can also create any, not just Fusion apps, action).
One of the most significant announcements planned for the future releases (unfortunately, not part of the first 11g release) is Oracle’s in-memory analytics. It’s a hot trend for multiple reasons and Oracle intends to take full advantage of it. While the specific plans are somewhat murky, it’s clear that Oracle plans to take the best from its existing tools (TimesTen in-memory RDBMS, columnar store and compression from Exadata, OLAP functionality from BI Server and Essbase, and aggregation engine from Hyperroll) and create an in-memory OLAP engine, which potentially will compete with IBM Cognos TM1, SAP BusinessObjects Accelerator Appliance, QlikView, TIBCO Spotfire and Microsoft PowerPivot.
11g is a huge new release, bringing tons of important new features to the OBIEE platform. Therefore, I am not personally too concerned with a few features that I wish were in the release but are not, such as:
- Agile and self-service BI. Even though one can argue that CEIM, enabling BI reporting from Fusion apps out of the box, and new text to query capabilities are indeed the right steps on the road to Agile BI — and equally important on the way to self-service BI — many necessary components are still missing
- Anything (really anything) about BI SaaS
- Collaboration features (such as tight email integration, for example) beyond Oracle Web Center integration
Having said all that, Oracle BI is definitely back!