As Published In
Oracle Magazine
July/August 2012

AT ORACLE: News

  

The Business of Analytics

by Fred Sandsmark

 

Oracle unveils analytics strategy and releases new EPM and analytics applications, as well as Oracle Endeca.

Oracle President Mark Hurd likes to talk about business intelligence and analytics. Just ask the crowd at Oracle OpenWorld Tokyo, where Hurd discussed those topics—and Oracle’s strategy around them—in a keynote address on April 4, 2012. At the same time, several new Oracle products that enable faster, better decision-making were introduced.

To derive benefit from analytics, a company needs systems that can both handle huge data volumes and provide very fast processing—and then they must put that power in the hands of people who need it, Hurd explained. “The key to analytics,” says Hurd, “is to get through tons of information, in a fast way, with a lot of performance—to be able to ask really hard questions and get a decision to somebody who can take action.”

Hurd added that today’s emphasis on business analytics is generational. “I’m used to taking a long time to get information,” he said, “but my kids aren’t. My kids are used to instant answers to whatever question they’ve got, whenever they want, and they won’t wait.”

Joined by Balaji Yelamanchili, senior vice president of analytics and performance management products at Oracle, Hurd outlined the challenges businesses face in implementing analytics—including eight times (or faster) data growth in the last five years, aging infrastructures and applications, and the need to deliver answers to mobile platforms—and the types of solutions Oracle provides to meet these challenges.

Oracle is spending almost US$15 billion in research and development over three years along four lines, Hurd said: Creating best-of-breed hardware, operating systems, databases, and applications, including business intelligence and analytics applications; vertically integrating those components for extreme performance—for example, creating engineered systems built for analytics; creating or acquiring industry-specific solutions; and producing a new generation of applications, built on common middleware, that can be delivered via public or private clouds or on-premises data centers.

To showcase the early fruits of its R&D investment in business analytics, Oracle announced several new or updated products, including a new release of Oracle’s enterprise performance management (EPM) system, general availability of Oracle Endeca Information Discovery, and several new analytic applications. “The next generation of analytic systems is so important because the problem [faced by companies in today’s environment] is getting harder,” Hurd said. “Because there’s more data.”

EPM Enhanced

Release 11.1.1.2 of Oracle’s EPM system delivers new modules and capabilities that improve performance and provide companies with greater insight into their projects.

Oracle Hyperion Project Financial Planning, a new product in Release 11.1.1.2 of Oracle’s EPM system, enables project-based budgeting, funding, approvals, and tracking. This extends financial planning and forecasting—which in the past typically focused on accounts and cost centers—to activities organized as projects. Project Financial Planning can be used both for projects that occur in all types of business (such as IT, HR, or facilities projects) and for entire operations in project-centric industries, such as aerospace and defense, construction, and manufacturing.

Account Reconciliation Manager, a new feature of Oracle Hyperion Financial Close Management, improves both the speed and accuracy of period-end close activities while reducing reporting risks. Prebuilt components and starter kits help companies comply with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), and sustainability reporting requirements.

The speed and scalability of Oracle Hyperion Planning—an EPM product that integrates financial and operational planning processes—is significantly boosted in the new EPM system release through support for Oracle Exalytics In-Memory Machine, an engineered system designed for analytics. Usability, performance, and accuracy of Oracle Hyperion Planning are also enhanced through a new Web 2.0–style user interface, built-in predictive analytics based on Oracle Crystal Ball, and built-in integration with Oracle Fusion Financials, Oracle’s JD Edwards EnterpriseOne Financials, and the Commitment Control feature of Oracle’s PeopleSoft Financials. Additionally, Oracle Hyperion Data Relationship Management, an EPM product used to build and retain consistency within master data, now includes out-of-the-box integration with ERP datasources including Oracle E-Business Suite 12.1 and Oracle Fusion Financials.

Oracle Endeca Unveiled

Another product of Oracle’s R&D investment in business analytics, Oracle Endeca Information Discovery, is the first Oracle information discovery offering since Oracle acquired Endeca in October 2011. Oracle Endeca Information Discovery enables exploration and analysis of structured, semistructured, and unstructured data from a variety of sources such as data warehouses, transaction systems, social media, and sensor data. These datasources can reside inside or outside of an organization, and might include sources that have never been modeled and that are constantly changing.

Information discovery, also called data discovery, complements and enhances business intelligence (BI). Whereas BI provides proven answers to known questions, data discovery provides fast answers to new questions and puts the power to ask those questions in the hands of businesspeople who know the information best. Data discovery helps companies create new key performance indicators for BI systems.

Oracle Endeca Information Discovery uses a faceted analytical model, similar to that used in online shopping. A faceted model encourages data exploration by presenting all relevant data in a straightforward click-to-select manner. (Compare it to a shoe-shopping Website that lets users narrow a selection: first they might choose men’s shoes, then sneakers, then white leather, then size 9. Now extend that concept to searches for commonalities and relevant themes in multiple corporate datasources, such as ERP, customer relationship management, and HR management systems, as well as unmodeled and external datasources such as social networking sites.)

Oracle Endeca Information Discovery “takes you from traditional reporting and analysis to interactive discovery and exploration—where you don’t even know all the questions you’re going to ask,” Yelamanchili said at the Oracle OpenWorld Tokyo launch. “You’re going to start with a question, and then move very quickly into understanding, connecting the dots, finding the patterns, and finding the outliers. And very quickly, from that point on, zero in on the real issues and real problems.”

Oracle Endeca Information Discovery’s three-tier architecture works like this: After various datasources are combined and enriched in the Integration Suite feature of Oracle Endeca Information Discovery (the first tier), Oracle Endeca Server (the second tier) organizes that information into a unified index, deriving a model from the data if necessary—a bottom-up approach that is the core of the Endeca application line. The Studio feature of Oracle Endeca Information Discovery (the third tier), with its drag-and-drop interface, creates applications for exploring and analyzing that information. In the process of information discovery, Oracle Endeca’s optimization algorithms exploit the server’s full memory hierarchy, from on-CPU cache to disk, to optimize system performance.

Analytics Applications Extended

Oracle has also extended its current family of applications to support the need for analytics. The Tokyo announcement highlighted new offerings in this area, including Oracle Procurement and Spend Analytics for SAP, Oracle Supply Chain and Order Management Analytics for SAP, enhancements to Oracle Financial Analytics for SAP, Oracle Manufacturing Analytics, and Oracle Enterprise Asset Management Analytics. (See Briefs for details.)

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These new applications, as well as Release 11.1.1.2 of Oracle’s EPM products and Oracle Endeca Information Discovery, support Oracle’s overall business analytics strategy. As described by Hurd and Yelamanchili, the strategy recognizes trends such as big data, mobility, in-memory analytics, and cloud, and is built on four foundational principles:

Any data, any source. Deliver the ability to tap into diverse data sets—structured, unstructured, social media, and machine-generated data—to improve analytics.

A full range of analytics. Provide software and engineered systems purpose-built for the full range of analytics—including reporting, modeling, planning, and predictive analysis—that democratize analytics and allow anyone in an organization to be a data artisan.

Integrated analytic applications. Support those customers who want to create their own analytic applications, but provide out-of-the-box analytic capabilities tied to business processes that allow people to act on what they discover.

On premises, on cloud, on mobile. Deliver analytics via flexible models in any way that customers—both IT professionals and end users—want them. This includes traditional data center solutions and software-as-a-service (SaaS)/cloud platforms, and on both traditional screens and mobile devices, without compromising the usability or power of the analytics.

“Business analytics—getting the right data to the right person at the right time to make the optimal decision—is the most important thing you can get from your data,” Hurd told the Oracle OpenWorld Tokyo audience. “Analytics is in Oracle’s DNA and is a vital part of everything we do—database, middleware, applications, and engineered systems.”


Fred Sandsmark is a freelance technology and business writer.

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