Oracle updates business intelligence suite

Offers better integration with Microsoft Office and other non-Oracle products

Oracle this week is shipping an updated version of its business intelligence suite that enhances integration with both Oracle and non-Oracle products, and adds features including a tool that can automatically begin a business process based on pre-determined thresholds.

For example, if a company's inventory drops below a certain level, Oracle tools can now be set to order more supplies without human intervention, says Rick Schultz, vice president of Oracle Fusion Middleware. A company can also require that humans be involved in the transaction after the automated business intelligence alert is sent out.

"Customers are more and more wanting to integrate intelligence into business processes. This enables customers to do that," Schultz says. "You can do it completely automated, or you can integrate human workflow."

This feature is achieved by pairing Oracle BPEL Process Manager with the new set of products Oracle is shipping this week, called Oracle Business Intelligence Suite Enterprise Edition 10g Release 3.

Much of Oracle's BI release is based on technology previously sold by Siebel, a company purchased by Oracle in September 2005. Before the acquisition, Oracle products were basically built to support companies using Oracle databases, says Henry Morris, an analyst at IDC who is vice president and general manager of Integration, Development and Application Strategies at the research and consulting firm.

After the purchase of Siebel, Oracle made its business intelligence tools compatible with data warehouses like Teradata's and Microsoft's SQL Server, according to Schultz. The version being made available this week supports SAP Business Information Warehouse for the first time, he says.

Oracle's BI offering also has enhanced integration with Microsoft Office. This makes it easier to access information from Microsoft Excel, or to pull data from another source and place it in an Excel file where it can be analyzed, Morris says. These types of interactions with non-Oracle products put the company on a better footing as it competes with BI vendors such as Cognos and Business Objects, according to Morris.

"I think they are more competitive now than they were before. They've taken away any kind of confusion about what direction they're going in," he says. Oracle's BI customers include Alaska Airlines, Nasdaq, Virgin Mobile and Verizon.

The new BI suite costs US$1,500 per named user or US$225,000 per CPU. Because the new BI products offer more automated management tools, the total long-term cost of owning the suite should be lowered, according to Schultz.

Other upgrades in the BI product set include better interactive dashboards in which users can change a value and see analytic information updated immediately; RSS feeds for intelligence alerts and updates; "pixel-perfect publishing and reporting" to produce documents and forms; and chart formatting allowing a user to change the look and feel of a chart depending on the values received from a data source.

The upgrades make the BI tools more useable for employees who need information but are not business analysts, according to Schultz.

"We are pushing the information and intelligence out to a much broader set of knowledge workers in an organization," he says.

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