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Oracle aims to enable access to analytics via ease of use

Oracle continues to add augmented intelligence features to its BI suite with the aim of enabling business users to work with data without needing the skills of a data scientist.

It's been almost two years since the Oracle Analytics platform was updated to consolidate nearly 20 business intelligence products into three, and in the time since then Oracle has added features and capabilities that continue to promote ease of use and make analytics accessible to more users.

Before June 2019, Oracle's analytics platform consisted of a jumble of 18 different products.

To reduce complexity -- and confusion -- the vendor simplified the platform and combined the many different products to form the current iterations of the Oracle Analytics Cloud (OAC), Oracle Analytics Server (OAS) and Oracle Fusion Analytics Warehouse.

Recent update

Even before the platform overhaul, the software and hardware giant whose capabilities lagged behind those of the innovators for a time but caught up in recent years was investing in augmented analytics capabilities such as natural language processing and embedded BI. That investment has continued since the overhaul, and most recently Oracle unveiled Oracle Analytics Cloud Release 5.9 in February 2020.

The update, unveiled on Feb. 16, included:

  • Model Explain-ability, a feature that enables customers to understand what influenced the outcome of models developed in Oracle Machine Learning;
  • Frequent Itemset, a tool that enables retailers to view their customers' buying patterns by seeing what items are purchased together so they can subsequently create better physical store layouts and understand what products should be promoted together;
  • no-code text analytics capabilities that enable customers to extract words from unstructured data, count the words, visualize the results and then join the analysis with preexisting data; and
  • new map visualizations, sorting controls and data management capabilities.
A Model Explain-ability dashboard from Oracle displays an organization's data.
An organization's data is displayed on an Oracle Model Explain-ability dashboard.

Many of the new features and capabilities fall under the umbrella of Augmented intelligence, and were designed to enable business users by simplifying and automating tasks that previously required the specialized skills of data scientists.

"How we can bring the power of Oracle Machine Learning, how we can bring those augmented capabilities more easily into a business user's hands [is our goal]," said Joey Fitts, global head of product strategy for Oracle Analytics.

He added that the native integration between OAC and Oracle Autonomous Data Warehouse has been key to developing new capabilities such as Model Explain-ability that simplify analytics tasks.

"The processing occurs where the data lies in the Autonomous Data Warehouse [ADW] -- we bring the algorithm to the data -- and performance is improved in that matter," Fitts said. "The integration between OAC and ADW has brought about new capabilities, and the capabilities are coming through more seamlessly because the processing actually occurs where the data lies."

Over the last year, they've really focused on enhancing their next-generation features, specifically augmented analytics.
Mike LeoneSenior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group

In terms of functionality, Oracle Analytics Cloud Release 5.9 -- as well as previous updates following the June 2019 platform overhaul -- continues to advance OAC's augmented analytics capabilities and improve performance to make it accessible to users who don't have a background in data science, according to analysts.

"Over the last year, they've really focused on enhancing their next-generation features, specifically augmented analytics," said Mike Leone, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG). "While businesses are just getting started leveraging features like natural language query and natural language generation, I expect Oracle to be one of the best positioned to capitalize once that market really takes off."

Similarly, Doug Henschen, principal analyst at Constellation Research, said the capabilities Oracle has added are designed to broaden the reach of analytics so more employees in an organization can work with data.

"With 5.9, there's a clear effort to democratize advanced analytical capabilities ... [and] all three upgrades in 2020 take OAC beyond traditional BI and bring more advanced insights to users," he said.

Customer growth

One of the challenges long established analytics vendors face is how to attract new customers.

Oracle, along with IBM in particular, is viewed as a legacy vendor. They are companies that were innovators in the past but whose analytics capabilities were passed by when newer companies like Tableau and Qlik took business intelligence out of static reports and into dazzling data visualizations. Now, vendors including ThoughtSpot and Domo are arriving on the scene boasting AI and machine learning capabilities, and they are among the ones with the reputation for introducing new capabilities.

Oracle, however, has taken steps to modernize its capabilities, and after initially reacting slowly to change, as Leone noted, now boasts an analytics platform with similar strong third-generation BI capabilities as its competitors.

Meanwhile, despite relatively flat revenue from cloud services and license support, Oracle is attracting new customers, according to Fitts.

"We are seeing growth within our cloud base," he said. "We're growing."

One means of attracting new customers, Fitts continued, has been through applications designed specifically for enterprise resource planning (ERP) and human capital management (HCM).

"That is really focused on empowering the business user as well," he said.

In addition, Fitts said Oracle has been able to retain customers with OAS, which enables users to take advantage of augmented analytics capabilities in their on-premises or customer-managed cloud environments. Meanwhile, by enabling customers to access augmented analytics capabilities in their own environment via OAS, Fitts claimed that those customers no longer have to seek out an advanced analytics BI tool from another vendor to use alongside Oracle.

"They now have these capabilities, and they don't have to purchase those other tools," he maintained. "It's an interesting twist. Yes, we're growing in the cloud, but noteworthy also is that, because of that move we made to empower those who are on premises and want to stay there, [OAS] is displacing competitor's offerings."

Still, that customer growth isn't showing up significantly on the balance sheet.

The company's revenues from cloud services and license support totaled $7.25 billion during its third fiscal quarter of 2021 ended Feb. 28, up only slightly from $6.93 billion during the same three months of 2020. For the nine months ended Feb. 28, revenues from cloud services and license support totaled $21.3 billion, compared with $20.5 billion through the first three quarters of fiscal 2020.

Comparatively, Microsoft's revenue from its Azure cloud computing platform grew 50% year over year for the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2020; AWS reported a 44% year-over-year increase in revenues for the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2020; and Google Cloud reported a 23.5% year-over-year increase in revenues for the fourth of 2020.

With Azure and AWS, in particular, growing more quickly than Oracle Cloud, Henschen said it will likely mean OAC will struggle to attract new customers at the same rate as Power BI, Microsoft's BI platform, and Amazon QuickSight, a relatively new BI platform in which AWS has invested in more heavily over the past year.

"Existing Oracle customers are clearly moving to Oracle Gen2 Cloud, Autonomous Database and Oracle apps, but in the big picture, financial analysts see AWS and Microsoft Azure growing at a faster pace than Oracle Cloud," Henschen said. "That means Amazon QuickSight and Microsoft Power BI will see more new-customer opportunities than will Oracle Analytics Cloud."

From a pricing perspective, OAC is more expensive than both Power BI and QuickSight but at $80 per user, per month for the Enterprise version and $16 per user, per month for the Professional version, fairly similar to Tableau, which is $70 per user, per month for Tableau Creator, $35 per user, per month for Tableau Explorer and $12 per user, per month for Tableau Viewer.

The road ahead

With Oracle Analytics Cloud Release 5.9 now generally available, Oracle is working toward its next platform update.

While not free to disclose what will be in Oracle's next analytics platform update, Fitts said the new features and capabilities, like those in version 5.9, will be designed to enable business users. Meanwhile, the release -- version 6.0 -- is slated to be unveiled some time in spring 2021.

"That is a guiding principle for us," Fitts said. "We see that augmented analytics are moving the burden [away from data scientists]. It's taking a lot of that human labor but also that human error out of the equation. Efficiencies, optimization, quality all improve. Now you're empowered to do what were very complicated, advanced analytics in a much more business-friendly manner."

Henschen said Oracle is moving in the right direction with enhancements that have addressed data preparation, natural language query and embedded BI. Looking ahead, he said he's interested to see how Oracle advances its Fusion applications designed for ERP, HCM and customer relationship management.

"Oracle had a good start on augmented analytics capabilities back in 2019," he said. "I'll be curious to see where the company takes the application-integrated Fusion Analytics offerings it introduced in 2019 and those it put on the roadmap for 2020 and 2021. Analytic apps, rather than separate warehouse and platform-based analytics, seem to be gaining favor."

Leone, meanwhile, added that Oracle's recent updates and plans for the future demonstrate that the features and capabilities of its analytics suite are more than merely competitive.

"Oracle continues to prove itself as a leader in the space," he said.

Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) is a division of TechTarget.

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