Oracle is trying to make BI more actionable with Retail Merchandising Analytics, a prebuilt, merchandising-specific BI application that offers insight into performance indicators such as item sales, store performance, inventory turn, and sales and profit trends — and, more important, gives users the ability to act upon these insights.
David Dorf, senior director of technology strategy at Oracle Retail, told me the idea behind what Oracle calls "guided analytics" is to alert retailers about exceptions in their business, such as too much stock in certain stores, guide them through the dashboards and reports that will help them make a decision, and then execute that decision by interacting with Oracle's merchandising system.
The result, Dorf said, is a boost in productivity, more consistent execution and "the ability for junior merchandisers to act like senior merchandisers."
The software is built on the same architecture used for Oracle's flagship ERP applications and utilizes the company's Common Enterprise Information Model, which Dorf said introduces a set of common performance metrics and gives users a more holistic view of their data.
An InformationWeek article credits the Common Enterprise Information Model introduced in last summer's update of its BI software with a boost in its market performance. The article cites Gartner figures that show Oracle enjoyed the largest market-share gain of any of the top-five BI vendors in 2010.
"Retailers can run their Peoplesoft HR analytics and their EBS (E-Business Suite) financial analytics and can combine them with merchandising analytics and be able to look across all of the data sets in a consistent way," Dorf said. "We think that's groundbreaking because it allows retailers to have both horizontal and vertical focus."
The Retail Analytics applications are optimized to run on Oracle's Exadata Database Machine, part of Oracle's strategy to sell certain customers on the tightly integrated approach promoted by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. When I asked longtime Oracle observer Frank Scavo, the president of the Computer Economics research firm, about this idea, he said it would appeal to "very large customers with high-performance systems."
Not coincidentally, these customers appear to be the target market for Retail Analytics and also for the Financial Services Data Warehouse Oracle introduced earlier this year. While using the Exadata appliance "can speed things immensely," said Dorf, the Retail Analytics can also run on standard hardware.
Packaged integration with the Oracle Retail Merchandising product family and relevant analytics is included, but Retail Analytics can also integrate with non-Oracle applications (though this is obviously not the value proposition the company is promoting). The apps can be implemented alone or collectively.