Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Oracle BI

Another briefing on Service-Oriented Business Intelligence (SOBI), this time from Oracle.

Oracle was keen to tell me about the integrated platform for SOA and BI - bundled together from all the products they've acquired recently. (Some analysts have criticized this bundling as Frankenstein, but I tend to agree with Radovan Janacek (Systinet) that this wiring-together is a perfectly valid use (nay, validation) of the power of SOA.)

Oracle is sceptical of all the flavours of BI - real-time BI, operational BI, and so on. Why not just BI? The focus of innovation for Oracle is doing BI better - and they don't seem particularly interested in changing the nature of BI functionality, nor extending its use to new domains. Oracle sees the primary value of SOA in allowing customers to deliver BI functionality more quickly and cheaply.

As a database vendor, Oracle sees the primary challenges of BI as technical ones - the growth and complexity in the quantities and sources of data, and the demands of speed. Moving data into a separate store for BI purposes is often more trouble than it's worth - so the preferred approach nowadays is to deliver all the BI functionality from the database itself. (Obviously Oracle still supports data warehousing as well.) Which means that Oracle is obliged to put a great deal of emphasis on performance and speed. For example, they quote some impressive improvements in the speed of generating OLAP cubes, from several hours to a few minutes.

One of the possible advantages of SOA is that BI functionality can be accessed in new ways. To start with, BI results can be distributed in various ways - via the Oracle portal, or via the collaboration suite. And Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) can be configured to respond to predefined BI events, such as KPI range checks. This is a useful step towards fully integrated BI.

Oracle is not yet convinced about the need to support subscription technologies such as RSS/Atom; this would probably be achieved via the portal as well. But the portal approach works best if BI enquiries are predefined, or at least controlled centrally. BI results are generally in the form of relational data - for example, sets of KPIs, or segmented files of customers. This implies a top-down architecture of BI usage, which looks okay for the kind of organization where human intelligence (in particular advanced analytical skill) is assumed to be concentrated at head office, but seems quite unsuitable for the power-to-the-edge organization.

But SOA may allow broader access to BI functionality - not just the results of predefined BI enquiries but the ability to invoke dynamic BI, rendered as web services. And fully collaborative BI requires not just sharing the BI results, but sharing the BI process. So for example instead of doing the segmentation centrally and distributing a segmented customer file, you might distribute the segmentation algorithm so that (a) it may be applied locally and dynamically, (b) it may be customized locally, and (c) local refinements and improvements can themselves be disseminated.

Oracle is starting to look at extending the SOA-friendly aspects of BI, and I hope we can expect greater support for some of these issues in the next generation of the Oracle platform. No dates or details announced yet.

CBDI report on Service-Oriented Business Intelligence (October 2005)
See also: Oracle Business Intelligence Blog
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