I was talking to an Oracle sales rep this week about OBIEE. Since this is a PeopleSoft blog I guess I’d better explain. OBIEE is Oracle’s Business Intelligence offering. It’s solidly in Forrester’s leader’s quadrant and it has all of BI features you would expect (reporting, ad-hoc analysis, dashboards, alerts, etc). The question at hand was why we should implement it when we already have some perfectly good BI tools with committed users who truly believe in them.
We didn’t get into a deep discussion about BI features. Everybody knows what a BI solution should do by now, and the leading tools do it well enough that there’s not much differentiation (at least from how I interpret the Forrester recent report). So what difference does a BI tool make at this point?
I’m not sure what the Cognos or MicroStrategy reps would say, but Oracle laid out an interesting case. If your enterprise applications are built around Oracle applications like PeopleSoft, Hyperion, Siebel, or EBS and Essbase, you can get out of the box functionality that no other tool can match.
For example, think about a simple feature like drilling back to the source application. OBIEE makes that easy, especially when it’s an Oracle application.
Or suppose you have a BI application to help you evaluate a customer’s credit worthiness. With Oracle’s Action framework, you can launch (from an OBIEE dashboard) a business process to initiate a credit hold within PeopleSoft.
And then there’s Essbase. It set the pace for OLAP databases and analysis back in the day, and it’s pervasive in the enterprise. OBIEE reads Essbase cubes natively, and allows you to write back to cubes from the OBIEE front end. Looking ahead, Oracle is about one major release away from making OBIEE the Essbase front end altogether.
For the Hyperion applications largely built on top of Essbase, you can make the reports that come with those applications available from OBIEE. So some users could get what they need from OBIEE without ever having to log on to HFM.
But that’s just the beginning. Oracle offers Analytics products that gives you full data warehousing/business intelligence from your PeopleSoft (or EBS or Siebel) applications. If you want to research these products on the Oracle web site, look for HR Analytics, Financial Analytics, Supply Chain Analytics, etc.
So HR Analytics gives you a complete HR Analytical data warehouse schema, an Informatica license (Informatica is the leading tool for extracting from a source system, transforming the data and loading a data warehouse), and the Informatica “code” that understands PeopleSoft and the HR Analytic Data Warehouse data model. It conforms the data so that an employee (for example) has the same meaning across the entire data warehouse. And it puts the data into dimensional structures to make for easy analysis.
Technically that last paragraph happens outside of OBIEE, and you could certainly hook up another BI tool to it. But you’ll save time with OBIEE. You see, within OBIEE there’s a layer called the Business Common Enterprise Information Model which connects your physical data warehouse tables to the abstracted logical model complete with attributes and metrics that the users use for their reports and analysis. Building this layer for a large data warehouse isn’t trivial and you’ll save a lot of time using what Oracle delivers. One more bonus: When you upgrade PeopleSoft, Oracle will deliver new Analytic apps that match your target version so you don’t have to do this yourself.
If you’ve ever had to implement a Business Intelligence application, I’m sure you’ll appreciate what Oracle’s Analytics applications give you.
So is all this great stuff enough to make my client want to deploy OBIEE? We’ll see. But for the rest of you out there I hope this article gives one more dimension to think about when choosing a BI tool. I’m starting to think the best of breed selection approach may be on the way out – at least for BI tools. Once upon a time you might look for the best GL solution, now you just use the GL that comes with your ERP. In the same way, when BI tools are no longer differentiated by features, best of breed gives way to what integrates best with your other applications.
BI and EPM have been silo technology platforms and application suites way too long. Management and measuring performance should be very closely linked to strategy execution, which is the domain of other business application areas such as CRM, ERP, and Supply Chain. BI and EPM are not about "making better decisions" anymore, but are part of a tangible action framework.
Furthermore, organizations are getting more serious about ecosystem thinking. They do not evaluate single tools anymore for different application areas, but buy into a complete ecosystem of hardware, software and services. The best ecosystem is the one that offers the most options, in environments where the uncertainty is high and investments are hard to reverse. The key to successfully managing such an environment is middleware, and BI and EPM become increasingly middleware intensive. In fact, given the horizontal nature of BI and EPM, sitting on top of all business functions and applications, you could call them "upperware".