The recent seminar I attended discussing Oracle Fusion had me casting my mind back. It struck me that many of the ERP projects that I have seen over the last 20 years have been cost justified primarily for one simple reason – the leadership team wanted more accurate and timely reports, and more sophisticated information to help make decisions.
Thinking back to the 1970s and even 1980s, executives relied on scheduled monthly printed reports. Business empires were built based on the labours of rooms full of line printers, spewing forth continuous streams of fanfold paper.
Reports would typically involve a thick pile of paper, covered in uniformly spaced alphanumerics. Charts and graphics were rare, and ascii pie charts were a programming miracle (and possibly still are). Analytics involved someone in operations or finance huddling over a printout, tapping numbers into a calculator – or manually assembling data from multiple sources into a Visicalc or Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet.
By the 1990s, databases and business applications had become much more sophisticated, and tools like Oracle Data Query and Oracle Data Browser made it possible to “browse” data, generating ad-hoc queries and reports. These early tools were eventually replaced by Oracle Discoverer (known affectionately as Disco), which quickly took over as the ad-hoc reporting tool of choice for the Oracle E-Business Suite.
While Discoverer was versatile and powerful, it fell short in terms of usability, presentation and performance. Given that reports are often the only part of an ERP implementation that the CEO ever sees, it was hardly surprising that a new breed of “business intelligence” tools emerged, offering more flexible and glamorous presentation of data into dashboards.
The rise of business intelligence tools led to an immediate tradeoff – transactional performance. Running sophisticated reports or queries on the production database was a sure way to slow down critical applications, so data warehouses became a necessary part of most business intelligence implementations. The strategy was simple – use a predetermined schedule to copy key data to the data warehouse, then run the analysis tools against the copied data. This was a useful workaround for performance reasons, but meant that data in reports could potentially be out of date.
Oracle E-Business Suite has migrated through several dashboard technologies in the last 10 years. The first used Discoverer and an EBS End User Layer, called Oracle Daily Business Intelligence (DBI). DBI was followed up by the more advanced Oracle Fusion Intelligence which used Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE) as the user interface but still relied on the Discoverer End User Layer. Both offered flexible dashboards and analytics, but could suffer poor performance as they both queried the main production database. These analytics products have now been superseded by Oracle BI Applications – OBIEE based dashboards operating on a separate data warehouse updated from EBS using Informatica’s ETL product.
So we find ourselves in a situation where modern reporting has many forms:
- analytics: which allow ad-hoc reports and data visualisation
- dashboards: easy to access, interactive executive reports presenting predetermined info
- user defined reporting: user customisable ad-hoc or scheduled reporting
- standard reports: predesigned corporate reports, either scheduled or on-demand.
To address the challenges of performance, Oracle Fusion Business Intelligence Applications have now moved to a hybrid BI model – offering out of the box KPI measurements and reports from the production transactional database, as well as indepth access to OLAP style analysis against a data warehouse. One metadata layer but two styles of reporting.
The performance improvements of the hybrid BI model are significant, while the off-the-shelf nature of the BI View Objects allow quick implementation of typical reports, with instant access to the latest accurate figures.
So while Oracle Discoverer has proven itself to be a very useful tool, it has certainly more than earned a comfy retirement.