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Oracle BICS and Oracle DVCS offer two flavors of data visualization

Oracle's business intelligence and data visualization cloud services include similar visual analytics features and are often confused with one another. But they're two different things.

Oracle's Business Intelligence Cloud Service and Data Visualization Cloud Service both provide extensive visual analytics capabilities. Both BICS and DVCS also let users explore data from a variety of sources to discover meaningful insights.

Due to these similarities, it's easy to confuse the two with one another and with other Oracle products that also offer data visualization capabilities. However, Oracle BICS and Oracle DVCS are indeed different services, and they are best suited for use in different circumstances.

Much of the confusion centers on the tangled relationship between Business Intelligence Cloud Service (BICS), Data Visualization Cloud Service (DVCS), the overarching Oracle Data Visualization suite and Oracle's Visual Analyzer software. In its "User's Guide for Oracle Data Visualization," Oracle describes Visual Analyzer as the "primary data visualization tool in Oracle Data Visualization," but draws no real distinction beyond that. In fact, documentation from Oracle often uses the terms interchangeably, essentially treating them as one and the same. But they aren't, really.

The story begins with Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition. OBIEE is a comprehensive BI platform that provides the tools necessary to support visual analytics and self-service querying. Through OBIEE, you can create interactive dashboards, visually rich reports and just-in-time alerts using the platform's sophisticated in-memory computing and its native support for accessing various data sources.

Getting to know BICS

With the introduction of BICS in September 2014, Oracle made many of these BI capabilities available as part of a cloud service. Initially, Oracle BICS wasn't as robust as its on-premises counterpart, but it still provided a full BI suite for analyzing and reporting on data. And it has made significant strides in functionality since then thanks to the cloud-first strategy adopted by Oracle.

One of the most significant updates to BICS occurred in May 2015, when Oracle added Visual Analyzer. The tool provides a variety of features that make it easier to find correlations and patterns in data sets and to create data visualizations. Visual Analyzer also makes it possible to load data from external sources and create mashups that combine different types of data.

Although BICS already enabled users to analyze data and build customized dashboards, Visual Analyzer took that a step further by simplifying and expanding on the cloud service's data visualization capabilities. The addition of the visualization software meant that Oracle BICS offered useful functionality not available in OBIEE. That situation didn't last long, though.

In October 2015, Oracle released a Visual Analyzer add-in for OBIEE 12c. Also referred to as the Data Visualization add-in, the new component includes many of the same analytics and visualization capabilities as the original Visual Analyzer in BICS. But the added features come at a price: Visual Analyzer for OBIEE requires an additional license, while it's part of the package with BICS.

DVCS: New kid on the Oracle block

The Visual Analyzer component in OBIEE was accompanied by the announcement of Oracle Data Visualization, an umbrella brand for the company's various visualization technologies. But Oracle didn't stop there. The day after, it said data visualization capabilities would also be offered through DVCS at a cheaper subscription rate than for BICS -- currently, $75 monthly per named user vs. $150.

DVCS provides the same type of visual analytics found in the BICS and OBIEE versions of Visual Analyzer, thus widening Oracle's data visualization circle. But its scope is limited to data visualization only. Even so, DVCS offers subscribers a web-based service for blending and correlating data without the complexities often associated with mashing up distributed data sets.

In that sense, you can think of Oracle DVCS as a subset offering of Oracle BICS. It isn't as robust or extensive as BICS, but it isn't meant to be. DVCS focuses squarely on data visualization, providing a powerful set of self-service tools for creating ad hoc visualizations. It offers a viable alternative for customers that don't need the full BICS platform or who don't want to incur the higher subscription fees.

In May 2016, Oracle announced the availability of Oracle Data Visualization Desktop (DVD), which is essentially a stand-alone desktop version of DVCS. It's available for free to DVCS and BICS subscribers, as well as to customers who have licensed the Visual Analyzer component in OBIEE.

Clearly, Oracle is serious about its data visualization technologies. It offers comparable features through OBIEE, BICS, DVCS and DVD. However, BICS and DVCS will likely continue to benefit from the fact that they're part of Oracle's long-term cloud strategy. In choosing between them, you need to decide whether you want the entire BI platform or only the data visualization features.

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