Answers is the interface for business query and analysis. Users can build their own queries, and the ROLAP architecture provides for drill-down even with relational data sources. Hierarchy navigation is weak, though, with no indication of the drill path. Drill up is limited to the browser back button.
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The Answers interface supports business query and analysis."
The query engine supports fairly sophisticated queries, with multiple SELECT statements, subqueries and nesting of filters. I liked the My Filters capability in which you can group multiple filters (Product=A, Region=New York, Year=2007) and save them for reuse in other queries. Users can build prompts into individual queries, but the prompting interface is dated, the process to build them convoluted, and cascaded prompts are not supported.
Once a query has executed, the results can be formatted in a table, pivot (crosstab), chart, or compound layout, but the report design process is one of the weaker aspects of the product. There are a number of idiosyncrasies. For example, users can sort measures in a table but not in a cross tab. A master/detail style report can contain a pivot but not a table. The charting engine lacks smarts and most default charts are unusable without first changing a number of default settings.
The toolbar icons are simply odd (and exceedingly small). A "pointing finger" button may invoke a formatting dialog or a properties dialog, yet within a pivot report, it is a "box with lines" icon that invokes a drop-down menu for formatting and adding calculations. To be fair, a number of vendors have struggled to replicate the Windows-like toolbar when products have been revamped for the Web, but Oracle BI EE has a longer way to go on intuitiveness.
One major usability shortcoming in the release I evaluated has since been addressed (in 10GR3). Namely, a new calculation editor lets users build report-based formulas via drop-downs (in the earlier version, users could create calculations, but they had to be hand-coded).
Bringing Hyperion into the Fold
With the acquisition of Hyperion just completed, it would be a glaring omission not to comment on where and how Hyperion's BI portfolio fits. While much of the thrust of the acquisition has focused on the value Hyperion's performance management modules, there are also a number of core BI capabilities that will enhance Oracle's BI product portfolio. Essbase will provide a powerful MOLAP engine and needs to be made accessible from the Oracle BI EE data model, which Oracle officials have said will be a priority. Beyond that, Oracle has been quiet about other BI products. In my opinion, Hyperion's Metrics Studio could add KPI capabilities to the dashboards, and at this point, Hyperion Smart View is stronger than the Oracle Office Plug-In.
Hyperion also could provide innovation and R&D skills in emerging BI capabilities that Oracle BI EE currently lacks, such as BI Search and Vista Gadgets. Clearly, how much Oracle leverages this knowledge capital will depend on which personnel stay and how much Oracle invests in BI. I've provided a more detailed analysis of overlapping product modules in a report on BIScorecard.com.
In the interim, given Oracle BI EE's powerful meta data layer and Web-based architecture, expect this to be the company's flagship product in the BI space. Whereas earlier BI efforts from Oracle were largely proprietary, Oracle BI EE brings an open solution that will compete more solidly against solutions from Business Objects and Cognos, but one that currently lags in usability.
• Oracle BI Enterprise Edition Suite is $1,500 per named user or $225,000 per processor. Customers may alternatively purchase individual modules.