"We've been helping companies with operational excellence and now they're asking us to become more effective in terms of management excellence," says Oracle President Charles Phillips. "It just makes sense that we can derive useful management information given that we have the operational systems that are automating those processes."
It's no surprise that Oracle is playing up tight integration between Oracle EPM and its ERP software. For instance, you can now drill through, out of the box, from the Oracle Hyperion Planning application into the Oracle E-Business Suite to draw accurate planning data directly from transaction systems. The company promises similar integration with its own PeopleSoft products as well as with SAP ERP software (though it did not specify release dates).
Just as transactions were handled largely through disconnected applications and tasks before the advent of ERP systems, the vendor says Oracle EPM is a single, integrated system that can replace the spreadsheet silos and disparate collections of BI tools that are used for management decision making today. The system introduces a Strategy-to-Success Framework said to put business plans into practice, and it also adds a Profitability and Cost Management module that measures lines of business, activities and units in terms of profit and loss. Also new is an Integrated Operational Planning module that correlates operational plans from the business units with financial plans and budgets set by the finance department. This enhancement lets users see the "ripple effect" across the supply chain, demand chain and financial performance when planning assumptions are changed or when results diverge from the plan or budget.
Oracle EPM integrates Hyperion's performance management applications and the Essbase multidementional (OLAP) engine with Oracle's Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition and related reporting and data integration technologies. As part of that integration, Essbase has been opened up as a source to the BI server and vice versa, with both environments now supporting different styles of analysis including relational, OLAP, and combined relational and OLAP (ROLAP).
Oracle EPM exposes BI and performance management insights to business users in several ways, including a portal-like Web-based EPM Workspace, improved integrations with Microsoft Office (now including Word and PowerPoint) and new Desktop Gadgets that run without opening a browser. The EPM system and BI tools monitor business and deliver gauges and alerts to the Gadgets, which change colors to notify users that business conditions have changed. The Gadget framework is also integrates with non-Oracle apps, and Oracle says the entire EPM System is open to third-party applications, databases and middleware.
Encouraging data consistency, vital in financial planning and reporting, a new centralized Calculations Manager lets business users create and validate data definitions, calculations, and formulas (such as profit- and cost-allocation approaches) that can be shared across planning, consolidation and other applications. The system also takes advantage of underlying Fusion middleware including Identity Management, Application Server, BPEL Workflow, Enterprise (systems) Manager, and Oracle Data Integrator.
In several respects Oracle is catching up with its competitors. New read-write integrations with Microsoft Office and support for Word and PowerPoint have already been done by Business Objects and Cognos. What's more, these rivals already offer strategy management and profitability/cost management applications. SAP contends its Governance Risk and Compliance (GRC) application suite is more mature and better integrated with BI and Performance Management than is Oracle's GRC suite, but the differences aren't significant, according to one analyst.
"The product portfolios of the two companies are similar, it's just that SAP chooses to market GRC side by side with the performance management products," says Paul Hamerman, vice president of enterprise applications at Forrester Research. "I don't think there's a technical integration gap in comparison to SAP."
For now, Oracle's head start on integrating acquired technologies with the new EPM System presents a sharp contrast to SAP. While there's a roadmap in place to rationalize the Business Objects-SAP portfolio, which includes technologies from Cartesis, Outlooksoft, Pilot, Business Objects and SAP, Oracle's biggest rival has had less than six months to pull all the pieces together.