A Comparison of Oracle Business Intelligence, Data Visualization, and Visual Analyzer

We recently authored The Role of Oracle Data Visualizer in the Modern Enterprise in which we had referred to both Data Visualization (DV) and Visual Analyzer (VA) as Data Visualizer.  This post addresses readers’ inquiries about the differences between DV and VA as well as a comparison to that of Oracle Business Intelligence (OBI).  The following sections provide details of the solutions for the OBI and DV/VA products as well as a matrix to compare each solution’s capabilities.  Finally, some use cases for DV/VA projects versus OBI will be outlined.

For the purposes of this post, OBI will be considered the parent solution for both on premise Oracle Business Intelligence solutions (including Enterprise Edition (OBIEE), Foundation Services (BIFS), and Standard Edition (OBSE)) as well as Business Intelligence Cloud Service (BICS). OBI is the platform thousands of Oracle customers have become familiar with to provide robust visualizations and dashboard solutions from nearly any data source.  While the on premise solutions are currently the most mature products, at some point in the future, BICS is expected to become the flagship product for Oracle at which time all features are expected to be available.

Likewise, DV/VA will be used to refer collectively to Visual Analyzer packaged with BICS (VA BICS), Visual Analyzer packaged with OBI 12c (VA 12c), Data Visualization Desktop (DVD), and Data Visualization Cloud Service (DVCS). VA was initially introduced as part of the BICS package, but has since become available as part of OBIEE 12c (the latest on premise version).  DVD was released early in 2016 as a stand-alone product that can be downloaded and installed on a local machine.  Recently, DVCS has been released as the cloud-based version of DVD.  All of these products offer similar data visualization capabilities as OBI but feature significant enhancements to the manner in which users interact with their data.  Compared to OBI, the interface is even more simplified and intuitive to use which is an accomplishment for Oracle considering how easy OBI is to use.  Reusable and business process-centric dashboards are available in DV/VA but are referred to as DV or VA Projects.  Perhaps the most powerful feature is the ability for users to mash up data from different sources (including Excel) to quickly gain insight they might have spent days or weeks manually assembling in Excel or Access.  These mashups can be used to create reusable DV/VA Projects that can be refreshed through new data loads in the source system and by uploading updated Excel spreadsheets into DV/VA.

While the six products mentioned can be grouped nicely into two categories, the following matrix outlines the differences between each product. The following sections will provide some commentary to some of the features.

Table 1

Table 1:  Product Capability Matrix

Advanced Analytics provides integrated statistical capabilities based on the R programming language and includes the following functions:

  • Trendline – This function provides a linear or exponential plot through noisy data to indicate a general pattern or direction for time series data. For instance, while there is a noisy fluctuation of revenue over these three years, a slowly increasing general trend can be detected by the Trendline plot:
Figure 1

Figure 1:  Trendline Analysis

 

  • Clusters – This function attempts to classify scattered data into related groups. Users are able to determine the number of clusters and other grouping attributes. For instance, these clusters were generated using Revenue versus Billed Quantity by Month:
Figure 2

Figure 2:  Cluster Analysis

 

  • Outliers – This function detects exceptions in the sample data. For instance, given the previous scatter plot, four outliers can be detected:
Figure 3

Figure 3:  Outlier Analysis

 

  • Regression – This function is similar to the Trendline function but correlates relationships between two measures and does not require a time series. This is often used to help create or determine forecasts. Using the previous Revenue versus Billed Quantity, the following Regression series can be detected:
Figure 4

Figure 4:  Regression Analysis

 

Insights provide users the ability to embed commentary within DV/VA projects (except for VA 12c). Users take a “snapshot” of their data at a certain intersection and make an Insight comment.  These Insights can then be associated with each other to tell a story about the data and then shared with others or assembled into a presentation.  For those readers familiar with the Hyperion Planning capabilities, Insights are analogous to Cell Comments.  OBI 12c (as well as 11g) offers the ability to write comments back to a relational table; however, this capability is not as flexible or robust as Insights and requires intervention by the BI support team to implement.

Figure 5

Figure 5:  Insights Assembled into a Story

 

Direct connections to a Relational Database Management System (RDBMS) such as an enterprise data warehouse are now possible using some of the DV/VA products. (For the purpose of this post, inserting a semantic or logical layer between the database and user is not considered a direct connection).  For the cloud-based versions (VA BICS and DVCS), only connections to other cloud databases are available while DVD allows users to connect to an on premise or cloud database.  This capability will typically be created and configured either by the IT support team or analysts familiar with the data model of the target data source as well as SQL concepts such as creating joins between relational tables.  (Direct connections using OBI are technically possible; however, they require the users to manually write the SQL to extract the data for their analysis).  Once these connections are created and the correct joins are configured between tables, users can further augment their data with data mashups.  VA 12c currently requires a Subject Area connected to a RDBMS to create projects.

Leveraging OLAP data sources such as Essbase is currently only available in OBI 12c (as well as 11g) and VA 12c. These data sources require that the OLAP cube be exposed as a Subject Area in the Presentation layer (in other words, no direct connection to OLAP data sources).  OBI is considered very mature and offers robust mechanisms for interacting with the cube, including the ability to use drillable hierarchical columns in Analysis.  VA 12c currently exposes a flattened list of hierarchical columns without a drillable hierarchical column.  As with direct connections, users are able to mashup their data with the cubes to create custom data models.

While the capabilities of the DV/VA product set are impressive, the solution currently lacks some key capabilities of OBI Analysis and Dashboards. A few of the most noticeable gaps between the capabilities of DV/VA and OBI Dashboards are the inability to:

  • Create the functional equivalent of Action Links which allows users to drill down or across from an Analysis
  • Schedule and/or deliver reports
  • Customize graphs, charts, and other data visualizations to the extent offered by OBI
  • Create Alerts which can perform conditionally-based actions such as pushing information to users
  • Use drillable hierarchical columns

At this time, OBI should continue to be used as the centerpiece for enterprise-wide analytical solutions that require complex dashboards and other capabilities. DV/VA will be more suited for analysts who need to unify discrete data sources in a repeatable and presentation-friendly format using DV/VA Projects.  As mentioned, DV/VA is even easier to use than OBI which makes it ideal for users who wish to have an analytics tool that rapidly allows them to pull together ad hoc analysis.  As was discussed in The Role of Oracle Data Visualizer in the Modern Enterprise, enterprises that are reaching for new game-changing analytic capabilities should give the DV/VA product set a thorough evaluation.  Oracle releases regular upgrades to the entire DV/VA product set, and we anticipate many of the noted gaps will be closed at some point in the future.

OBIEE and Essbase – Defining OLAP Integration

In this second part of our OBIEE series, the integration between OBIEE and Essbase is a seamless transition from our OLAP cube to the OBIEE suite managed by using OBIEE’s Administration Tool.

OBIEE Administration Tool view

OBIEE Administration Tool view

This Administration tool has been designed with wizards, utilities, and interface design elements to help administrators work more efficiently.

Essbase test outline

Essbase test outline

Using an existing Essbase outline called ‘test’, this outline can be used to import an OLAP connection to OBIEE.

From the Administration Tool, select

File | Import | from Multi-dimensional

 
Enter the provider type, Essbase Server name, and its login credentials. The physical layer table, connection pooling, etc. will be automated and established once the import completes. You can also manually set each individual component in the physical layer if you want this level of control.

obiee-import

obiee-import-login

 

When the Physical layer has been established, simply drag and drop the folder of your Essbase outline from the Physical layer to the Business Model and Mapping layer to define a mapping between the business model and the physical layer schemas.

Physical Layer in Administration Tool

Physical Layer in Administration Tool

 

Once the business model mapping has been established, move the business model to the Presentation layer to make it available for user views.

Business Model & Mapping Layer in Administration Tool

Business Model & Mapping Layer in Administration Tool

 

This Presentation layer allows the Administration tool to present customized views of the business model to users. The business models can be managed in this presentation layer by removing unwanted or unneeded columns, restrict certain columns from view, or maybe rename a column to a more user-friendly name.

Presentation Layer in Administration Tool

Presentation Layer in Administration Tool

 

Once adjustments to column views have been completed and ready in the presentation layer, it can be made available in the Subject Areas for users to develop reports using the Answers component of OBIEE.

Subject Areas in OBIEE Answers

OBIEE Subject Area in the Answers component of OBIEE

 

So the three layers within the OBIEE Administration tool are defined as follows:

  • Physical layer – Represents the physical structure of the data sources to which the Oracle BI Server submits queries. This layer is displayed in the right pane of the Administration Tool.
  • Business Model and Mapping layer – Represents the logical structure of the information in the repository. The business models contain logical columns arranged in logical tables, logical joins, and dimensional hierarchy definitions. This layer also contains the mappings from the logical columns to the source data in the Physical layer. It is displayed in the middle pane of the Administration Tool.
  • Presentation layer – Represents the presentation structure of the repository. This layer allows you to present a view different from the Business Model and Mapping layer to users. It is displayed in the left pane of the Administration Tool.

 

Some of the features of the Administration tool make management of metadata and data much less complicated. The change management feature makes it easy to change multiple object names, text, case, and adding prefixes and suffixes. This allows for drag and drop capabilities from the physical to the business model layer.

Organization of metadata is straightforward using a feature called metadata administration. This feature grants users the ability to create folders to manage dimension tables and hierarchies.

The multi-user collaboration feature regulates the off-line/on-line modes for read only or to take effect immediately. This enables metadata repositories to be checked out or checked in and authorizes multiple administrators to work on a repository concurrently.

The Export/Import feature supports the export and import of metadata to move systems from staging to production and provide documentation.

Defining how OLAP is presented to OBIEE has been explained in basic format within this blog article but readers should know that this Administration Tool is much more powerful and can allow for more focused control within each of its layer process managing metadata and data. It is integrated and is flexible and its goal is to help move disparate source data to the OBIEE suite.

The end result can be a visual dashboard that makes sense of data utilizing charts, graphs, stop lighting, embedded images, tickers, etc. to organize and present data in a manner your audience will embrace and use.

Dashboard created with Answers from Essbase test outline

Dashboard created with Answers from Essbase test outline

 

This concludes part 2 of the OBIEE & Essbase integration. Keep an eye out for my next article where I’ll review RDBMS integrated with OBIEE and how it can be used in conjunction with Essbase in Answers reporting.

Reporting with OBIEE & Essbase

OBIEE + Essbase

OBIEE + Essbase

Oracle Hyperion’s Essbase is a fast and flexible multidimensional database and has been widely used for this reason.  Similarly, reporting against Essbase has been in top demand because of the speed and efficiency of Essbase.  However, there has been no single front-end reporting application that is integrated with Essbase to the extent of the Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition – OBIEE (BI Answers, BI Interactive BI Dashboard, BI Scheduler, and BI Publisher components).  This combination may be the answer for many users who have seen this disparity in reporting.

Traditionally, those users who have worked with reporting tools realize that their complete need for reporting can’t be handled with a single application.  Users either develop multiple front-end reporting applications to integrate into their business decision making or opt to go with less reporting.  The trade off of doing more with different applications cost time and money while doing less doesn’t give them fully utilized analysis of their data nor do they get a full return on their investment.  In the Hyperion world, users are asked to create reporting views on a Hyperion Reports application for mid-level managers – a group who understands detailed data where they can pivot dimensions and see alternate views.  But for senior management or C-level executives, a Web Analysis canned reporting view is a must because they are less familiar with the detailed data.  While it has been acceptable and necessary to create reporting views of the same data on different applications in the past, OBIEE may solve this issue for the future.

OBIEE is a powerful reporting application that can also be utilized as a middleware tool to manage Essbase data and provide the same or similar reporting capabilities like Web Analysis, Reports, Interactive Reporting, and Crystal Reports all rolled into a single package.  Within OBIEE, reports can be created for different types of users where data can be presented in many different layers for viewing but managed within a single application.

Options within OBIEE provide more robust capabilities that weren’t possible before.  Users find that they spend their development time creating a work around more often than not because their application can’t do this or is limited to that.  This diminishes reporting empowerment for the user and also limits their full use of relevant data.

Oracle has managed to find a way to merge different technologies from different companies that make sense of reporting development while adhering to the demands and needs of users.  The sooner users leverage these hybrid offerings, the sooner their data and their return on investment can be fully realized.

I’m open to your comments. Look for the next OBIEE article on how this integration between Oracle BI Enterprise Edition and Essbase is accomplished.

Contributed by:
Michael Duong, Lead Consultant
Hyperion Essbase Certified
Ranzal & Associates
mduong@ranzal.com