Oracle gets theatrical in play for BI market share

An Oracle executive was downright silly during an OracleWorld keynote on the database giant's latest developments in business intelligence technology. Yet Sohaib Abassi's point was deadly serious: Oracle is going to do whatever it takes to win BI business.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Oracle burst into business intelligence territory Wednesday with guns blazing during an OracleWorld keynote address that showcased new Oracle9i BI tools. The database giant took shots at competitors of all sizes in an aggressive play for market share in a space it wants to own.

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On day three of the seventh annual OracleWorld technology event, Sohaib Abassi, Oracle's senior vice president of development, gave what was easily the most entertaining of the executive presentations. But theatrics aside, he introduced an integrated BI solution that many users and analysts said represents a turning point for Oracle.

Oracle's hard sell was that BI, including the reporting, mining and delivery functions, should be integrated and embedded in the database the way only Oracle is doing it.

Abassi issued a mea culpa on behalf of Oracle, saying that the company's BI solution was, until now, just another messy platform, with too much going on and not enough integration. "The fact is that we brought together a lot of technology," he said, "and we asked you to put it together."

Though customers still have to pay for OLAP, Abassi told attendees that any customers using 9i database and the 9i Application Server would receive most of Oracle's newly embedded BI suite for free. "It might seem unbelievable that Oracle will be the low-cost option, but it's true," Abassi said.

One analyst listening to Abassi's presentation was impressed with Oracle's direction.

"The key message is just how aggressive they are being in the BI space," said Eric Woods, research director for data warehousing and BI at London-based Ovum Ltd.

"The thing that they finally got -- and they have been talking about for years -- is the end-to-end integration," said Woods, who has conducted research on the newly integrated BI tools in Oracle's 9i database and Application Server. "The fact that these tools all have the same view of the data -- that's a big leap."

Oracle's challenge, Woods said, is to convince potential clients running heterogeneous environments that Oracle can support them better than a best-of-breed vendor.

Abassi, whose shtick Wednesday was based on the decades-old television series "The Bionic Man" -- BI-onic Man, get it? -- had some attendees rolling their eyes at his over-the-top antics. But his point was to tear at competitors, such as IBM Corp., BEA Systems Inc., Business Objects and Microsoft Corp.

Many of those who could have done without Abassi's comedy routine were nonetheless impressed with the technical aspects of his presentation.

"I found it very glitzy," said Simon Fulleringer, an IT manager at Montreal's McGill University. "But that was mind-boggling. That stuff is all scripted ahead of time, I know. Still, they couldn't have done it if they didn't have the tools."

Many OracleWorld attendees were familiar with Oracle's new DW Builder tool. But other technologies like BI Beans, an extension for Jdeveloper, and Discover, an Oracle9i Application Server feature, were introduced to the masses for the first time this week.

Marco Tosi, who traveled to OracleWorld from Italy, where he works for Banca Popolare di Bergamao in R&D, said the presentation was "funny" and "the integration was quite impressive." Tosi's shop currently runs 9i and it is testing some of the embedded BI tools, though he wasn't convinced he would be able to do all that Abassi did in 60 minutes.

"In a presentation, all is fine," Tosi said. "The reality is quite different."

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