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Analyst sizes up Oracle's post-Siebel BI strategy

Business applications expert Joshua Greenbaum sizes up Oracle's post-Siebel business intelligence (BI) strategy and explains why he thinks general-purpose BI offerings belong on the endangered species list.

Joshua Greenbaum

Oracle and other business intelligence (BI) software vendors offer more features than customers need or use and don't offer enough industry-specific functionality, says business applications expert Joshua Greenbaum.

In this interview, Greenbaum, the principal and founder of Daly City, Calif.-based Enterprise Applications Consulting, sizes up Oracle's overall BI offering and explains why the Siebel buy may lead Oracle down a more "verticalized" BI path going forward.

Greenbaum, who has been tracking the BI market for more than 12 years, also explains why he thinks the prevalence of "general-purpose" BI software is about to wane.

How would you size up the BI industry as a whole right now? What do you see going on out there?

Joshua Greenbaum: I think that the general-purpose BI industry is running out of steam. It's propped up by a sense of reactive pressure. People are saying, "We have to be analytical, let's buy some software." The new frontier is going to be in highly verticalized solutions that don't even call themselves BI.

General-purpose BI tools right now are in big-budget wasteland and eventually someone is going to wake up and say, "Why are we spending all of this money when we could be doing a hell of a lot better with a hell of a lot less?"

How does Oracle's current business intelligence offering stack up against the competition?

Greenbaum: Oracle has been a strong player in BI. The Oracle database has been a data warehouse of choice for a large number of customers. And because Oracle applications run on the Oracle database, Oracle has been able to integrate a tremendous amount of business intelligence directly into the applications.

That is within the context, I would add, of this disconnect between what is being delivered as analytical tools and what is actually being consumed by the customer. Oracle has been very good at presenting a lot of good platforms, good technology and good analytical tools. They're not alone in delivering more BI than the customers are necessarily consuming.

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Where does Oracle BI fall short?

Greenbaum: In a one-to-one comparison with, say, SAP, I don't think they necessarily fall short. I criticize both vendors for having more tools and less direct functionality. They're both going to hate me for saying that.

How will the Siebel acquisition affect Oracle's BI offering?

Greenbaum: Siebel did set down a road of verticalizing its offerings and in particular its analytics. They had only just started getting some momentum with those analytical applications when the merger was announced. I give them credit for having thought about the right way to solve the problem. The intention at Oracle is that Siebel is bringing not just CRM, but verticalized CRM understanding into Oracle, and that verticalization will drive not just the transactional CRM systems but the business intelligence side as well.

Let's talk a bit about master data management (MDM), the so-called "next level" of business intelligence. How important is MDM?

Greenbaum: The whole question of master data really is a key issue in the overall business intelligence world, because fundamentally, if you want to look at very complex trends across different business units or across geographies, you can't reconcile your basic data. What is a customer? What is a product? What is a price? What is an employee? You can't do apples-to-apples comparisons.

This has been a huge issue in the transactional world. For example, if I want to up-sell or cross-sell the customer, I want to make sure that I'm talking to the right person and offering the right kinds of goods and services. But it's also equally true on the analytical side. You need to make sure that when you do analysis and when you talk about [for example, a problem with one of your suppliers] that different ways that supplier might be known in different systems have been reconciled so that IBM Corp., IBM and International Business Machines are all understood to be the same company. If you can't have a master data management system that can reconcile those, you're just not going to get good data, and therefore you're going to do a very poor analysis.

Does Oracle have a decent handle on MDM?

Greenbaum: Oracle understands it. They have done a lot of work with their data hubs to try to bridge some of these gaps. Fundamentally, the really hard part of all this is not necessarily the underlying technology, it's actually at the human level and sitting down with the company and [deciding upon definitions]. It's even harder when you get into very complex environments like retail and consumer product goods where they're highly specialized.

Is it important for DBAs to gain analytical knowledge?

Greenbaum: I think that a DBA who takes the time to understand the business such that they can be one of the links between the business [and data] can be very, very valuable. In other words, a DBA who can be a vertical domain expert and offer some basic statistical services can have a lot to offer, because at the end of the day, a good DBA probably knows the data better than any business analyst.

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