Intelligence in ActionBy David Baum
How BT and NetApp gain insight, take action, and get better results with Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g
Michael Blackmore, an enterprise architect at BT, believes that business intelligence (BI) should touch everybody in the organization. Otherwise, he reasons, “how do you effectively measure corporate performance or transform the business?”
That’s a tall order for BT, one of the world’s leading providers of communications solutions and services. With more than 16 million customers worldwide—from individual consumers to government departments and multinational companies—BT provides networked IT services, telecommunications services, and broadband and internet products and services. The London, England–based company depends on more than 5,000 information systems and applications to run this diverse business.
There are currently many thousands of Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition users throughout BT, with approximately 50 development teams accessing and delivering Oracle BI solutions. To increase cohesion among its far-flung management staff, BT is in the process of standardizing on Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g and gradually shedding other BI tools.
“Other than certain types of financial analysis, which we perform with Oracle Hyperion Financial Management, Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition can deliver almost everything we need,” Blackmore says. “The most-interesting developments we see in Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g have to do with the extent to which we can integrate BI into our wider application stack. BI can’t be a silo anymore.”
Unified, Integrated, Self-Service BIHistorically, BI relied on disconnected processes—mining data from warehouses, running analytics, and deploying dashboards —to improve the decision-making process. But today’s modern BI solutions integrate all this within a unified infrastructure, adding embedded analytics, multidimensional analysis, geospatial analysis, and more, while enabling self-service BI.
As Blackmore sees it, the thousands of BI users at BT shouldn’t have to go to one place to operate their business processes and another place to generate reports. Instead, BI should be “intrinsic to the business processes that our applications are delivering so we can simultaneously inform people with information, allow them to make a decision, and then take action on that decision—all from one page,” he says. “We view Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g not just as an add-on to a set of applications, not as something that stands alone, but as something that is very much part of the business process and the application itself,” Blackmore relates. “The capability to seamlessly embed reporting into business processes is incredibly important for us. One of the key benefits we obtain from our investment in Oracle is a cohesive set of tools and applications and the capability to combine BI and business activity monitoring in one sensible, manageable environment that we can embed back into the applications and processes themselves.”
Operational AnalyticsWith Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g, multiple modes of reporting, analysis, and collaboration have been supplemented by the Action Framework, a new feature that enables actions to be initiated directly from a dashboard.
Dan Vesset, program vice president of business analytics research at IDC, a global provider of market intelligence, advisory services, and events headquartered in Framingham, Massachusetts, sees this as a natural progression for enterprise customers. “In general, you could categorize BI into two segments. One is based on exploration and ad hoc analysis; the other is more operational, transaction-oriented, or part of a business process flow,” Vesset says. “Oracle’s new Action Framework feature advances this latter category of BI functions.”
BT’s Blackmore believes that Oracle’s new multidimensional analysis and geospatial visualization capabilities will also be very important to BT’s asset-intensive operation, which spans 160 countries. From trucks to antennas and from office buildings to network control centers, being able to analyze assets in conjunction with geographic data will help the organization pinpoint problems and control costs. With these new capabilities in Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g, everyone from departmental administrators to people charged with facilities management can access geospatial data without having to be geographic information system specialists. “Much of our information is tied to specific geographies,” he says. “Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g lets us integrate geographic information with BI information in a homogeneous way.”
“If you have spatial information in your database, then you can access it through your analytics just as easily as you can display data in a pie chart,” explains Paul Rodwick, vice president of product management at Oracle.
According to Rodwick, one of the strengths of Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 10g was its capability to easily access many different datasources across the organization, including data warehouses, data marts, Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, and online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes. Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g creates a common enterprise information model that logically relates all those datasources and makes them more accessible to reports and dashboards.
Enhanced Performance MetricsCustomers who are implementing and standardizing on performance management initiatives also stand to benefit from BI integration. BT is serious about performance management, especially measuring customer satisfaction targets. BT’s Blackmore likes how Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g integrates key performance indicators (KPIs) and scorecards into the BI environment. “Being able to treat KPIs as data sets lets you pull them straight into your reporting applications. It also makes it easier to sell new BI capabilities to the business,” he says.
“With Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g, you can embed KPIs in the information model, including who owns the KPI, what triggers it to go from green to yellow to red, how it has performed over time, and so on,” explains Oracle’s Rodwick. “We’re also making these KPI assets reusable by people across the organization.”
From an IT perspective, reusability makes it easier to roll out functionality over time and to ensure consistency and alignment of key performance measures. Because the information model becomes a common reference point for these KPIs, calculations, and metrics, organizations don’t need a data warehouse to define metadata attributes, enabling them to deliver value to users more quickly.
Additionally, Blackmore says BT is exploring the use of Oracle Enterprise Manager to manage its BI and reporting assets along with the rest of the organization’s Oracle technology stack. “Business intelligence doesn’t exist in and of itself,” he sums up. “Being able to combine, analyze, and then act on data is going to help BT a great deal.”
Standardizing on Oracle BI
Today NetApp uses Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g, in conjunction with other Oracle Fusion Middleware products, to enable its NetApp enterprise BI (eBI) solution, to help almost all business functions operate more efficiently by leveraging integrated, high-quality data and analytics. For example, NetApp eBI helps the finance department monitor every aspect of revenue management, invoices, and orders. It helps the sales department keep an hourly tap on bookings and provides insight into the complete sales process, including forecasts, pipelines, quotes, bookings, win/loss statistics, and commissions. It helps HR gain insight into employee demographics and movement. And it helps manufacturing manage shipment and demand-planning activities.
NetApp’s BI architecture combines source data from Oracle systems, including Oracle’s Siebel and PeopleSoft applications; SAP; and several homegrown systems. People throughout the company—from executives to sales reps, analysts, production managers, and many other business users—obtain one consistent view of the data and metrics derived from these information systems.
“Our enterprise BI architecture makes our information and insight more consistent and accessible by giving us a single point of interaction for dashboards, scorecards, analytics, and reports,” says Dongyan Wang, senior director for the Enterprise Solution Group in NetApp’s IT organization.
Each user sees a dashboard view that matches his or her privileges and role within the organization. For example, sales reps see information about their individual bookings, commissions, pipelines, win/loss ratios, account performance, installed base and tech refresh, and cross- and up-sell opportunities. Sales managers see information about all of their reps. District vice presidents see all results in their regions.
NetApp’s Oracle data warehouse contains information from many domains, and users can create cross-functional reports that tie many business functions together. For example, the sales staff can access forecasts, goals, pipelines, opportunities, orders, bookings, customer activity, channel activity, and more. Finance can track revenue from forecast to booking including order backlogs, shipments, margins, and adjustments to the general ledger.
“Most other companies have distinct BI implementations in different pockets of the enterprise or business functions,” contends Wang. “Our eBI solution springs from one unified framework for the whole enterprise. We’re leveraging the power of integrated data and analytics to cross-pollinate ideas among the workforce. I have been involved with many large-scale functional BI successes in other large enterprises, but they are dwarfed by the scope of this implementation.”
NetApp’s architecture includes Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g, Oracle Portal, Oracle Content Manager, and other enterprise applications.
“We have millions—if not billions—of different analytics in our BI applications,” adds Wang. “We are letting people access this information from mobile devices, including iPads and iPhones from our intranet portal, and from analytic routines embedded in field portals and other enterprise applications.”
Extending BI Throughout the EnterpriseWang identifies several of the new capabilities in Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g as crucial to the company’s BI vision. For example, the Action Framework feature helps NetApp utilize SOA, BPEL, Web services, and other technologies to create closed-loop business processes. “BI isn’t just about gaining insight; it’s about taking action,” he emphasizes. “Guided analytics means there is an invisible hand behind our framework to help people find information and then use it to drive decision-making. Action Framework will make it easier to embed these guided analytics into our business processes.”
In the past, most BI applications were disconnected from the surrounding business processes. A user would look at a report or dashboard to learn something about the business, and then take action by picking up the phone, typing an e-mail message, or launching another business application. Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g’s Action Framework feature connects these gaps by enabling integrated workflow processes and helping BI users link insight with action. For example, if a sales rep uncovers a service-renewal opportunity while working in the BI application, he or she can directly launch a process to generate a service-renewal code from the same screen.
NetApp also plans to use Oracle’s new mapping capabilities to display BI analytics and metrics on territory maps for the sales team. “We want to give users a simple view of important business activities through our portal, in conjunction with search, content management, and collaboration applications,” says Wang.
A Unified Information ModelBT and NetApp exemplify Oracle’s enterprise BI vision: comprehensive reporting, analytics, and alerting functionality built on an open, unified infrastructure. Both BT and NetApp are standardizing on Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g because it has evolved into a complete BI platform for managing and optimizing enterprisewide performance.
With integrated support for OLAP, interactive dashboards, ad hoc analysis, proactive detection and alerts, advanced reporting and publishing, mobile analytics, desktop gadgets, and more, Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g’s hot-pluggable design enables customers to take advantage of both Oracle and non-Oracle datasources and applications. “You can always drill down to the detailed transactions,” Wang says. “You can always roll up to the high-level KPIs. Users have different entry points and different functional views, yet there is one cohesive framework underlying it all.”
David Baum (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California.