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Oracle Aims To Tame Out-Of-Control Data

Unstructured data management and business-intelligence software due next year.

Oracle is moving beyond its focus on selling more databases and applications into an era of listening to customers who say they've got too much data and too many databases to manage.

Oracle customers need to get more value out of the information they've already got and, if possible, consolidate data storage without incurring the hassle and expense of moving it into a data warehouse. "The most fundamental IT problem is information fragmentation," conceded CEO Larry Ellison in an address last week at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco.

That squares with customers' concerns more than Oracle's 18-month effort to acquire application vendor PeopleSoft Inc. "We don't really care whether Oracle completes the takeover," Damon Britain, a senior programmer at Porex Corp., a manufacturer of surgical plastics, said at the show. The PeopleSoft gambit is a distraction from customers' core need for data management, Britain said. His view was backed by others at the conference who operate multiple Oracle databases.

The basic IT problem is fragmentation of information, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said.

The basic IT problem is fragmentation of information, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said.
Oracle appears to be listening. Last week, it unveiled new ways for customers to deal with unstructured data. Oracle is building XQuery into release 2 of the Oracle 10g database, due in mid-2005. XQuery lets users create queries to search stored XML documents and look for specific pieces of information, much like SQL queries do with relational databases.

Oracle also debuted Oracle Files 10g, a content-management system due early next year for managing and storing E-mail, Word documents, spreadsheets, and Web pages. Content will be searchable and specific items can be retrieved without users knowing their whereabouts.

To analyze all that data the company is breaking out business-intelligence tools, previously embedded in Oracle Application Server, into a standalone product called Oracle Business Intelligence 10g. Due early next year, it will sport a dashboard user interface and a built-in "stoplight" feature to highlight data that indicates poor business performance. It also will upload data and reports from Oracle's Discoverer reporting tool, which will become part of BI 10g, into a Web portal, Ray Roccaforte, VP for server development, said at Oracle OpenWorld.

"That's pretty awesome. We do a lot of Discoverer reporting," said Marge Muniz, Oracle applications manager at building-parts supplier NCI Building Systems LP.

In an attempt to make its software easier to use and more attractive to midsize businesses, Ellison said Oracle will integrate additional functions into its database. For example, it will include Automatic Storage Management software with the next database release, replacing the need for software from third-party companies, which Ellison said raises the cost of implementing Oracle products.

Oracle customers are testing the limits of combining database power with applications. MasterCard International offers a corporate purchasing card that automatically feeds purchase and account-settlement data back into the card holder's Oracle applications. That speeds purchases and eliminates faxes and phone calls.

The corporate purchasing card, linked to Oracle apps, is one of MasterCard's fastest-growing businesses, Phil Philliou, VP of global E-business at MasterCard, said at Oracle OpenWorld. "They're not just thinking in terms of new database sales," Philliou said. "They're thinking in terms of solving business problems."

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