Enter Oracle

BI technology buyers will have more product options to consider next year than they've had this year, even as there's been consolidation among the traditional vendors.
The Giant of Redwood City announced the launch of a standalone business intelligence tool on Monday, marking what might be the boldest foray yet by an enterprise software heavyweight into the world of free-standing BI applications. Of course, that depends on who you ask.

Oracle held its OpenWorld user conference in San Francisco this week, leaving a flood of new product announcements in its wake. Several of them bear a direct bearing on BI practitioners and vendors alike. The news out of the Bay Area marks the latest in a revolutionary trend in BI products: The biggest software companies have recognized the potential in the business intelligence market, and now they want to serve it directly.

Though all of the enterprise players tout integration deals and OEM agreements with the tried-and-true standalone vendors like Business Objects, Cognos and Hyperion, it's clear that they want some of the BI market all to themselves. Most of the sniping among rivals in the BI market now comes not from standalone vendors criticizing each other, nor from standalone vendors criticizing their new enterprise competitors. When there are fireworks these days, it comes from enterprise vendors attacking each other. Especially Oracle and IBM.

"It's the same old story," an IBM spokesman said of this week's pronouncements from Oracle. "Oracle is trying to cast itself as a player in markets where it has no market share and no credibility. Customers should be wary of Oracle's underlying message that they should rip out their huge investments in IT assets from a range of vendors and replace it with an all-Oracle environment."

IBM's comments come a week after Oracle touted a research report -- one it sponsored -- claiming its database outperforms and saves money over IBM's DB2 8.2.

Software companies like to take shots at each other, but one thing I'll say with confidence is this: If Oracle follows through on what it's promising with Oracle Business Intelligence 10g next quarter, it's going to get interest from buyers, especially those that have an Oracle-based data infrastructure. The new product features tools for building custom BI applications and for providing access to Oracle OLAP data from within Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

Until this month, Oracle had lagged its enterprise software competitors in announcing new business intelligence-related improvements to its products. IBM embedded reporting functions into its development platforms and made a handful of BI-related acquisitions over the summer. Microsoft debuted new reporting and data integration functionality for SQL Server this fall. Siebel Systems boosted its analytic strengths and began marketing BI to its CRM customer base. Even PeopleSoft, acquisition target or not, expanded an OEM deal with Business Objects in September.

We'll see more of the same. BI technology buyers will have more product options to consider next year than they've had this year, even as there's been consolidation among the traditional vendors. The BI incumbents certainly haven't stopped making advances in their own technology -- witness Hyperion's new Essbase 7X analysis engine, or the SAS 9 Intelligence Platform. But now in addition to those improvements, Oracle, Microsoft and others are pushing entirely new business intelligence product lines.

The way I figure it, if you're a BI buyer who likes technology options and competitive pricing, all that should be just fine with you.

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