Why are people frustrated with their existing enterprise BI tools such as OBIEE? My view is because it costs too much to produce relevant content. I think some of this is down to the tools themselves, and some of it is down to process.
Starting with the tools, they are not “bad” tools; the traditional licensing model can be expensive in today’s market, and traditional development methods are time-consuming and hence expensive. The vendor’s response is to move to the cloud and to highlight cost savings that can be made by having a managed platform. Oracle Analytics Cloud (OAC) is essentially OBIEE installed on Oracle’s servers in Oracle’s data centres with Oracle providing your system administration, coupled with the ability to flex your licensing on a monthly or annual basis.
Cloud does give organisations the potential for more agility. Provisioning servers can no longer hold up the start of a project, and if a system needs to increase capacity, then more CPUs or nodes can be added. This latter case is a bit murky due to the cost implications and the option to try and resolve performance issues through query efficiency on the database.
I don’t think this solves the problem. Tools that provide reports and dashboards are becoming more commoditised, up and coming vendors and platform providers are offering the service for a fraction of the cost of the traditional vendors. They may lack some of the enterprise features like open security models; however, these are an area that platform providers are continually improving. Over the last 10 years, Oracle's focus for OBIEE has been on more on integration than innovation. Oracle DV was a significant change; however, there is a danger that Oracle lost the first-mover advantage to tools such as Tableau and QlikView. Additionally, some critical features like lineage, software lifecycle development, versioning and process automation are not built in to OBIEE and worse still, the legacy design and architecture of the product often hinders these.
So this brings me back round to process. Defining “good” processes and having tools to support them is one of the best ways you can keep your BI tools relevant to the business by reducing the friction in generating content.
What is a “good” process? Put simply, a process that reduces the time between the identification of a business need and the realising it with zero impact on existing components of the system. Also, a “good” process should provide visibility of any design, development and testing, plus documentation of changes, typically including lineage in a modern BI system. Continuous integration is the Holy Grail.
This why DevOps matters. Using automated migration across environments, regression tests, automatically generated documentation in the form of lineage, native support for version control systems, supported merge processes and ideally a scripting interface or API to automate the generation of repetitive tasks such as changing the data type of a group of fields system-wide, can dramatically reduce the gap from idea to realisation.
So, I would recommend that when looking at your enterprise BI system, you not only consider the vendor, location and features but also focus on the potential for process optimisation and automation. Automation could be something that the vendor builds into the tool, or you may need to use accelerators or software provided by a third party. Over the next few weeks, we will be publishing some examples and case studies of how our BI and DI Developer Toolkits have helped clients and enabled them to automate some or all of the BI software development cycle, reducing the time to release new features and increasing the confidence and robustness of the system.