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September 9, 2014

Q+A: Oracle on the future of business analytics

Nick Whitehead, director of Business Analytics & Exalytics EMEA, tells CBR about strategy, challenges and big data in sport.

By Amy-Jo Crowley

CBR Q: How does your predictive and advanced analytics software, including the latest versions of Oracle BI and Oracle Exalytics In-Memory, differ from other offerings?

Oracle’s BI Foundation Suite is an enterprise-grade platform for designing, building and deploying analytic applications suitable for very large user communities. For instance, it’s used by the UK National Health Service HR department, which has the largest workforce in Europe. One of the reasons it’s different is its Common Information Model, which enables designers to abstract the details of physical connection to data from the way it’s presented to end users.

Support for mobile devices is also built into Oracle BI Foundation Suite -it’s a core requirement, as business analytics deployments where mobile is central see twice as many users adopt and use them. Gartner noted in its recent report that Oracle had one of the highest levels of mobile BI adoption in the industry.

The best analytic applications are highly visual and interactive. Oracle’s BI Foundation Suite provides a wealth of different ways to visualise and interact with the information on desktop or on mobile devices. In particular, integration with Oracle Spatial provides the capability to build analytic applications with map views.

High performance in analytic applications means a vastly superior, interactive end-user experience – especially important on mobile devices. Exalytics In-memory delivers the best performance across the whole range of analytic products – BI Foundation Suite, Endeca Information Discovery, Hyperion Planning and Real-Time Decisions. Recently the In-memory option on the Oracle database was certified to run on Exalytics, providing a platform for more of the analytic stack.

CBR Q: According to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, Oracle’s ratings for customer experience and ease-of-use have been among the lowest in the fourth year in a row. Do you agree and how are you addressing this problem?

The vendors with higher scores for ease-of-use are typically those primarily aimed at smaller deployments within departments. While the end user gets an easier tool to use, you lose out on having a robust and rigorous architecture to ensure that deployments across multiple departments deliver comprehensive, accurate, complete and reliable information.

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Oracle is working hard to deliver on both requirements – easy to use, but robust architecturally to deliver accurate and consistent answers across the enterprise.

CBR Q: How do you find competing with other BI and analytics platform providers, such as Qlik and Tableau, whose data discovery and visualisation capabilities are becoming increasingly popular?

Gartner recently announced the new battleground for analytics – Governed Data Discovery. It noted that vendors like Oracle with a deep BI pedigree are adding data discovery capability – for example Oracle Endeca Information Discovery. Others are starting with a data discovery and working to deliver more robust BI capabilities to complement them.

I agree with Gartner in that the winner will provide a rich data discovery capability, but deeply integrated with BI. It’s not either-or -insight found during discovery frequently has to be formalised in BI for broader enterprise deployment and use. Equally, when they need fast answers to new questions, users of BI frequently need to explore beyond the professionally curated, IT-built information and dashboards and mash-up new data sources with what they already have.

In addition, Gartner noted four distinct styles of data discovery. Visual exploring is one of the four, while another is search-based discovery – OracleEndecaInformation Discovery is noted as a leader in this segment.

CBR Q: What challenges are there facing the big data market and how are you overcoming them?

The big data market has developed thus far within the technical community, with a few organisations – those where the product is information and analytics on that information – leading. As the market matures, it’s become a much more business-led discussion within organisations.

CaixaBank, one of the most innovative in Europe, is working with Oracle to develop a new technology platform that can help improve the business and enable the bank to anticipate the needs of customers with a 360-degree view. That technology platform – built with Oracle software and Engineered Systems -is based on a data pool of information from both within and outside the bank. Some of it is structured, but much of it is unstructured or semi-structured. Most of it has never been modelled or curated professionally by IT before.

The challenge with CaixaBank is to make this information available and valuable to business people and business analysts, with less reliance on data scientists- which means it can be explored, queried and analysed. Data scientists and business analysts need to be able to work together on new data.

CBR Q: Big data is changing sports. To what extent is Oracle putting big data/analytics to use in sports? Any upcoming partnerships?

Oracle Team USA’s comeback from 8-1 down to win the 34th Americas Cup last year was a magnificent achievement. Of course the skill of the sailors – and as a Brit I’d mention Sir Ben Ainslie in particular – might have had something to do with it, but the backroom technical team contributed by squeezing vital performance boosts in the boat. They made very extensive use of analytics, with sensors on the boat collecting data several times a second and feeding that back for analysis in real-time via telemetry links.

CBR Q: What other developments is Oracle Business Analytics & Exalytics looking into?

Business Analytics in the cloud. As more and more data is moved to the cloud – both public and private – it’s natural that the analytics in that data should also shift to the cloud. Oracle last year announced plans to deliver the first subscription-based BI Cloud Service as part of the comprehensive Oracle public cloud Platform-as-a-Service.

We think this will be attractive to some of our customers who want to manage their investment in analytic software in a different way. But it will also make it possible for us to innovate faster with much faster delivery cycles, and customers get to take advantage of the new innovation straight away because there is no upgrade project to be undertaken.

BI Cloud Service will be simpler to acquire and deploy, so will be attractive to small-and medium-sized organisations as well as departments of large organisations that want to manage their own analytic environments.


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