Oracle Bolsters Business Intelligence Roadmap

NEW YORK — At one point during a keynote presentation at the Oracle Business Intelligence (BI) Forum here last week, the audience saw something unexpected: a comic strip. The drawing depicted an employee under review by his superiors; in the image, a line chart on the wall features an arrow plummeting toward failure. "I don't get it," the employee says, trying to defend himself. "But I did great in business school." For attendees, the cartoon's twofold message was clear: In today's merciless business world, being only one-part excellent just won't cut it -- and the data won't lie.

"Sometimes you have a great strategy and your company can't execute the strategy the way you planned out," said John O'Rourke, whose presentation included the comic strip and who holds the title of senior director of product marketing for Oracle's Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) unit. "Or you executed it great -- but you had a bad strategy." In any case, he said, no company in this economy can afford even a single weak area of business. O'Rourke emphasized the need for enterprises to extend both operational and management excellence for that reason. In fact, he suggested fusing the two -- and then went on to speak about Oracle's latest fusion: BI plus EPM.

More than six months have passed since the enterprise software giant's July 2008 announcement of general plans to bring its BI offerings and EPM products under one umbrella, but O'Rourke's presentation revealed more details about the EPM roadmap and Oracle's intention for the portfolio. Oracle purchased Hyperion Solutions, a provider of performance management software, in March 2007 -- nearly two years ago -- but is still working on incorporating elements of the Hyperion toolset into its EPM suite, and on integrating other Hyperion products into the overall Oracle product portfolio. O'Rourke promised attendees, however, that, although the process may take a few additional years, eventually customers won't have to differentiate between the Oracle BI and the Hyperion Performance Management products. There will only be one unified product.

Oracle's most recent performance management offering is EPM System – Fusion Edition, version 11.1.1. This release includes integration with profitability management, as well as Essbase Studio, which is an analytic server that powers several Hyperion tools for planning and performance management. Oracle's ultimate goal is to deliver its entire technology stack as a single system, with a common platform and a broad set of requirements. The performance management elements involve forecasting and forward-looking reporting. The BI components, on the other hand, center around reporting analysis and visible results from processes such as sales and marketing.

O'Rourke defined performance management as a linkage of processes to gain greater agility within the enterprise. He also noted the essential alignment that requires continually checking results against goals and plans developed through the business cycle, and emphasized the fact that these tools aren't just for technology people -- or even just for senior management. Performance management starts further upstream, he said, and involves engaging the stakeholders (employees, partners, customers, etc.) and the community.  
According to the 2009 Gartner CIO Agenda, a survey of more than 1,500 CIOs worldwide, business intelligence is that group's top technology priority, a spot above enterprise applications such as CRM. The report advises readers to "[i]nvest in business intelligence applications and information consolidation in order to raise enterprise visibility and transparency, particularly around sales and operational performance." Business intelligence, in other words, has the potential to raise visibility and enhance workforce effectiveness.

Despite CIOs' recognition of the importance of BI, adoption remains low and tools are segmented throughout the enterprise. O'Rourke pointed to the fact that the average organization has a lot of BI tools already deployed -- on average, three different reporting tools, several dashboard tools, and various planning products. Enterprises don't necessarily require more tools, but rather the standardization of the tools already in hand -- and connectivity among business users and technology departments. O'Rourke added that fewer than 15 percent of the employees who should have access to BI tools actually have that access. "We are still only scratching the surface," he said.

Even so, some headway has been made in the industry, O'Rourke told the crowd. As an example of an organization using Oracle performance management to engage stakeholders, he cited The City of New York's NYC.gov Web site. The site uses citywide performance reporting to keep taxpayers apprised of how the city's goals align with the manner in which tax dollars are actually being spent.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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