Big Data – Putting Digital Insights into Action

I found a blog by a Forrester Analyst  which quoted a statistic that organisations’ satisfaction with big data between 2014-15 actually decreased despite huge investments . In research they undertook Forrester started to talk about ‘digital insights’ as being the thing that organisations investing in Big Data were really interested in, and the actions inspired by new found knowledge. Interestingly, they found in their research that what differentiated leading companies from the rest was that they were able to recreate consistent action by building into their organisations whats termed “systems of insight”using people, processes and technology. The way most organisations work is that there is a one way street where it is hoped (and there is no defined process) for turning analytics insights into real, demonstrable action.

Forrester conclude that to be most effective there needs to be a closed loop where teams of people explore, test and implement the insights, and a return loop occurs when feedback comes from measurement of outcomes. In other words, the data (insight) is connected to an outcome, then feedback is obtained and fed back in a continuous loop of learning and optimisation. The hope is that if more organisations were to create systematic ways of creating action from digital feedback then feeding back the outcome, that the organisation can take advantage of process of continuous learning and gain competitive advantage.




A modern day Oracle MIS, aka SaaS, PaaS, DaaS, IaaS or even XaaS



According to Wikipedia,  “A management information system (MIS) focuses on the management of information systems to provide efficiency and effectiveness of strategic decision making. “.  Until fairly recently, enterprise MIS systems were generally “on premise” systems (or held in computers on the premises), but over the last number of years we have witnessed a period where organisations have started to transition from enterprise to cloud computing.

In this short blog, I want to look at the offerings of one of the big boys of MIS computing, namely Oracle.

Oracle is one of the older generation of computer companies established in 1977  best known for their database technology, though they have an extensive repertoire of enterprise business applications encompassing ERP/SCM/CRM/HCM/EPM product lines using the Oracle RDBMS as a backend and Oracle middleware (mid-tier) products. Traditionally the Oracle eBusiness suite (eBS) product line up to and including Release 12 “on premise” software, was expensive to buy and maintain, but was business critical! It required highly skilled and often diverse IT teams to implement, support, extend and upgrade. The modular Oracle eBS ERP system encompassed many lines of organisation business including Financial Management, Project Management, SCM, CRM, HCM, and Business Intelligence Applications. As the modules were integrated, they were built from the ground up to talk to one another. So ‘Person’ information held in HCM flows to Purchasing in a buyer set up and PO information transfers to Accounts Payable  when a payables invoice is created and on to the General Ledger module, all data flows taking place via standard product interfaces. For some not all companies, the adoption of Oracle eBS went hand in hand with (unfortunately for them!) a rather long list of application customisations which were implemented, rather than reengineer business processes to suit standard application functionality. Thus the eBS application was no longer an out of the box implementation that Oracle would support, the in house customisation meant that the customer would have to support a mission critical system themselves! It also led to difficult and expensive upgrades when Oracle decided that they were desupporting the old version, as in house customisations would need to be compatible with perhaps a new code base or changes to a database table structure.

Then one day the cloud came along…Image_Cloud_computing

Initially Oracle senior management were in denial about the ‘threat’ posed by newer cloud companies such as Workday (primarily HCM/Finance), Netsuite, Salesforce (CRM) to name a few. However it was clear by 2012 Oracle were reinventing themselves and had shifted their corporate strategy to the cloud . A lot of work was done to get all its product lines up on the cloud. At the time of writing, a wide portfolio of Cloud services including Saas (Software as a Service), Daas (Data As a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service) and IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) are available. In terms of SaaS, Oracle continue to enhance an integrated suite of Financial Management, HCM, SCM, EPM & Data Analytics applications all with built in social networking functionality.  Thats a huge breadth of integrated modular application product lines in the Cloud that are built from scratch to talk to another.  That is in in fact one of the major value propositions that Oracle push, in that they see themselves as a one stop shop for database, middleware, applications and analytics for every type of business rather than other cloud companies they consider to be “niche players”.

As well as the SaaS offering, Oracle IaaS offers “elastic” scaleable storage and compute in the cloud, Oracle PaaS offers the capability to handle your (big) data applications, plus other tools to handle the seamless integration of your oracle and non-oracle applications in the cloud. The PaaS offering also includes data analytics including ways to prepare data as well as business intelligence and visualisation tools. Oracle PaaS cloud platform is the technology which underpins and provides the foundation for their SaaS applications.

Sounds pretty impressive, are there no drawbacks?

There are pros and cons to cloud computing versus an on premise Oracle solution.

To date whilst Oracle Cloud applications are mostly available they are not as comprehensive as in Release 12 Oracle eBS, particularly in the SCM modules, though new functionality continues to come on stream. So if you are in the Supply Chain or Manufacturing business, you should verify if the cloud can do the same as eBusiness Suite  for now. On the other hand if you will only be using Financial Modules, maybe Oracle cloud functionality is closer to meeting your requirements.  If your business requires application customisation, this will be easier if you hold your applications on premise, though there is more scope for customisation in a single tenant rather than multi tenant  SaaS deployment where the instance may be shared for multiple users.

Implementation speeds are impressive for an Oracle application cloud implementation compared to on premise, therefore implementation costs lower. In general, the on premise costs are higher overall due to ongoing infrastructure and staffing costs. The cost of upgrading is much lower if you are on the cloud also since you don’t need to be concerned with new equipment or additional staff to undertake them. Upgrades on the cloud will be ongoing and automatic.

As with any move to the Cloud, Organisations must consider the loss of Control when they consider outsourcing the entire system that runs their business. Also to be considered is security. However, maybe a Tier 1 Managed Services cloud provider offer superior security to an in house system in a data centre that is under patched and under resourced.  Below is a summary of the pros and cons of Cloud versus On premise to be reflected upon.


And what exactly is XaaS? XaaS is an acronym for everything as a service. Oracle offer PaaS, SaaS, IaaS, DaaS so I think they could be included under the XaaS banner.


The Pros and Cons of SaaS vs On-premises Deployment

Business Intelligence…so whats new?


Hard to believe but Business Intelligence (BI) has been around for 20 + years now in various guises ranging from Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to Oracle Discoverer adhoc querying to Oracle Business Intelligence (OBIEE) Dashboards created from views of the Financial, Supply Chain and CRM data gathered on eBusiness Suite Applications. Here’s what I’ve gleaned from reading where things are moving in BI right now.

BI is moving away from the IT department and being democratised into the hands of the business community.

In doing so its also moving away from the old style ‘dashboard’ portals and increasingly toward data discovery by analyst / power users in the business.  Newer tools are facilitating this move away from information delivery toward a form of analytic discovery using data from multiple sources as end users look for more data which IT were slow to provide. More visual data discovery tools are synonymous with this trend and are growing in popularity.

This change brings with it additional challenges in data governance / ethics (but thats for another post! ). There are other issues to be overcome too. For example, with decentralisation comes duplication of effort which leads to increased organisation costs. Also different versions of the truth will be told by different people in the organisation. Who owns the real version of the truth will be unclear. On the other hand Enterprise BI platforms are scalable and robust and tell a single version of the truth!

Agile BI versus Enterprise Reporting.


Source: Gartner. Image: Unknown.

Agile BI or Enterprise Reporting is another way of saying that BI is moving out of the IT department. Agile BI refers to the development time it takes for BI to take to show value to the organisation. BI can be incrementally developed to prioritise critical business requirements and keep costs down.

The latest Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms (#BIAMQ) in February 2016 had a few surprises. Gartner had differentiated “between a modern BI and Analytics Platform and a traditional, IT-centric Reporting and Analysis Platform”. This reevaluation of the quadrant to focus specifically on self service / business, and excluding Enterprise BI platforms caused Oracle to be completely removed from the quadrant for the first time ever! Not all analysts are in agreement with Gartner’s approach however, the Forrester Wave Cloud Business Intelligence Platforms Q4 2015 evaluation of Cloud BI options stack up somewhat differently.

Forrester_Cloud_BI_PlatformsSource: Forrester. Image: Unknown.

On premise BI is dead, long live the Cloud!

2016 will continue to see a transition to Cloud based Business Intelligence Platforms. Its no longer a question of will we, but when will we. The reasons: again agility, speed of implementation and deployment, as well as security. Its seems customers are finally getting over data security concerns. And why wouldn’t data be more secure in the cloud than in outdated and under patched on premise systems? Also if your other data is in the cloud, then why not your BI solution? A SaaS (Software as a Service) provider will typically manage all your upgrades, scalability and all aspects of the infrastructure taking that headache away too. Costs are generally lower since you don’t have an IT department or infrastructure overhead. According to Forrester, the vendors that will have the edge are those offering agility of a loud implementation with the features of an on premise enterprise BI features. Time will tell.