Oracle BI, Endeca Upgrades Stress Self Service

Apr 08, 2013 (11:04 AM EDT)

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Structured or unstructured, big or small, data needs to be analyzed to be of use to a business. Oracle on Monday announced that the latest releases of its Business Intelligence Foundation Suite and Endeca Information Discovery server give untrained business users more self-service analysis options extending to unstructured information and big data.

Oracle BI Foundation Suite is the company's first major business intelligence (BI) software upgrade in 10 months, and it packs a long list of new features. Oracle continues to expand its data visualization repertoire, as it did in June 2012 by introducing trellis charts. With the latest release those trellis charts can spin off spark lines and spark charts, and other new visualizations include performance tiles -- a type of key performance indicator -- and waterfall graphs.

With all the data visualizations now available, business users might be confused about which charting approach to use. A new View Suggestions Engine makes the choice easier by examining the data and number of dimensions being analyzed and then guiding users to the most appropriate visualization.

[ Want more on Oracle and business analytics? Read Oracle Makes Its Big Play For Analytics Leadership. ]

"The system helps the user decide whether they should use, say, a stacked bar chart, a waterfall chart or a funnel diagram based on whether they're trying to compare products, show performance over time or do some other analysis," said Paul Rodwick, Oracle's VP of product management, in an interview with InformationWeek.

This auto-suggestion capability isn't new; data-visualization leaders such as Tableau Software and fast followers including Tibco Spotfire, QlickTech and MicroStrategy have proven the appeal of training-wheel-type features for business users.

To make BI Foundation Suite friendlier to Microsoft Office fans, Oracle has consolidated formerly separate add-ins for Oracle BI Enterprise Edition and Oracle Essbase, the two core components of the suite. The new, unified Smart View add-in for Office lets users bring complete BI dashboards and reports or Oracle Hyperion performance-management analyses into Microsoft Excel or PowerPoint, for example, if that is the user's preferred analysis or presentation tool.

The BI Foundation Suite has gained a new connection to Hadoop through Hive, the data warehousing interface to Hadoop clusters, to improve access to big data. Hive is widely viewed as slow and limited -- drawbacks the Hadoop community is working on -- but it's the best established option for SQL-like access to Hadoop. The Hive connector will enable companies to query clusters and analyze subsets of information without having to move large-scale data sets. This brings the world of big data together with conventional enterprise data sources and analysis capabilities.

"You're not going to put a Hadoop source under an interactive dashboard where people would expect sub-second response time, but coupled with the Oracle Exalytics appliance, you could bring an important subset of hot data into memory to make that information accessible alongside other information," Rodwick said.

All the new data visualizations and upgrades of BI Foundation Suite inherit Oracle's support for Mobile BI, which centers on Apple iOS and, most particularly, the iPad. Android and other platforms are being considered for future releases, according to Rodwick. By downloading the hybrid Oracle BI Mobile HD app, users get instant Web-based viewing of all Oracle BI content -- dashboards, reports and so-on -- without modifications or development work. They also get native-like, touch-enabled navigation capabilities including swiping, tapping, gestures and the option to save to the device, said Rodwick.

To enhance security, the latest BI Foundation Suite adds an Oracle BI Mobile Security Toolkit that lets customers integrate the mobile device management solution of their choice; this adds another layer of security and management control to mobile delivery, according to Oracle.

Endeca is Oracle's search-based platform for combining and analyzing structured and unstructured data together without having to meticulously model and transform data to rigid schema. Instead Endeca automatically describes and indexes disparate data, quickly making it accessible by way of text-based search, faceted browsing and data visualization.

In a warranty claims application, for example, a company could combine structured ERP data on products, claims and related suppliers, CRM data on customers and their verbatim-text comments, and even social media comments about the brand. Endeca search and analysis options let users find patterns and correlations in the data.

Endeca Information Discovery 3.0, Oracle's second major release since acquiring the product in 2011, advances analysis in several ways. For starters, Endeca can now tap directly into Oracle BI foundation and the semantic models behind reports, dashboards and analyses. That's a significant step forward for Oracle customers that previously had to map back to underlying data sources.

In a second significant upgrade, Endeca's interface has been streamlined for easier navigation and bolstered with new drag-and-drop options that let users pick and choose desired data sources. And in a third advance, Endeca 3.0 lets users add their own data sets to analysis by way of Excel, so they can enrich and personalize analyses that start with corporate and public data.

"Say you've created a segmented customer list or you just downloaded government-supplied data about product safety," Rodwick said, citing examples of data that might be added to an analysis. "The business user doesn't have to know how to model the data; they simply use a Web interface to point at the information, much as you would import a data source into Excel."

Other Endeca upgrades include a native Java Script Object Notation (JSON) reader, a new connector to Web service-based APIs, extended text-enrichment and sentiment-analysis capabilities, and enhanced support for mining and understanding unstructured social media data, according to Oracle. In addition, the formerly English-only product has been localized, meaning extended coverage for currencies and measures, for countries using 10 languages -- English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese -- while raw text-analysis capabilities have been extended to 22 languages.

These might sound like incremental improvements across Endeca and the Oracle BI Foundation Suite, but in the sheer breadth of the upgrades it's clear that Oracle is continuing a steady march toward delivering comprehensive and globally applicable capabilities. It's a strategy that has kept Oracle in the top right corner of analyst reports on BI, information management, analytics and, most recently with the addition of Endeca, multi-structured information analysis.