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Oracle Overhauls Analyzer Engine

Oracle officials took the wraps off software formerly known as Sales Analyzer and Financial Analyzer today, giving it a new database engine and name.

Oracle Enterprise Planning and Budgeting (EPB) fills a gap in the Redwood Shores, Calif., company's ERP software suite, providing real-time monitoring of customers' business activities.

Officials say EPB allows users to take disconnected spreadsheets from every business department and securely consolidate them under one software application. Under one roof, any number of business process activities can be accomplished, from alerts to specific people when costs exceed the budget to analyzing how your acquisition of a business will affect next year's revenues.

To expand their product, Oracle developers swapped the OLAP-based Oracle Express database found in the two Analyzer products with the 9i-based database engine.

It's a fundamental shift in technology, moving off the Express database onto the Oracle 9i engine, a database Lawrence Ellison, Oracle chairman and CEO, called at the time of its launch in 2001 the "last database." 9i uses a method of cluster information "shared-disk" clustering, which officials say removes the single-point-of-failure problem and offers 90 percent scalability. Earlier this year, developers patched several vulnerabilities in the database.

According to Oracle documents, the switch extends the functionality found in the Analyzer products and adds statistical forecasting, business process flows, allocations and exception reports.

9i is standards-based, which means any SQL- or Java OLAP API-based reporting tool can query data found in the EPB, but will create some headaches for existing Sales Analyzer and Financial Analyzer customers. Officials say company developers will need to convert their Express-based data loaders to an SQL-based data loader for the 9i environment. A data migration tool is available for existing customers who make the switch, as well as a conversion kit for Analyzer reports, models, measures and financial data items.

Because of functionality issues, customers using the Oracle Express Relational Access Manager (RAM) or Relational Access Administrator (RAA) will have to wait before they can convert their information over to EPB. Officials suggest users wait to upgrade to EPB -- a later version of the new software is expected to support RAA/RAM functionality.

Despite potential migration issues, John van Decker, a senior analyst at research firm META Group, said the technology improvements justify the switch, while filling out the Oracle product line.

"It's very timely that Oracle is bringing out a budgeting and planning solution," he said. "In a way, it's a bit of catch-up with some of the best-of-breed and your other ERP vendors, but I also think it's a necessary component that will prove to be vital for them. It's the missing piece that they didn't have."

According to John Schoenherr, Oracle vice president of corporate performance management development, the first version of EPB involves getting the business processes involved down pat before moving into other areas like providing industry-specific functionality.

Oracle's customer advisory board (CAB), made up of Financial Analyzer and Sales Analyzer users, have requested specific functions, but he said it's not easy getting everything into a brand-new product launch.

"Not everything goes into release 1, as much as we try, but we do have a plan for release 2 and future releases, and [the CAB] is working with us to help us understand how best to prioritize some of these kind of problems," Schoenherr said. "They've been a great partner through this."

Support and maintenance for the two Analyzer applications will remain in place until mid-2006 with some extended support available through 2008, he said. At some point, he continued, the company will start de-emphasizing sales on Sales and Financial and exclusively offer EPB, but some customers are opting to stick with them for the time being.

Two licenses are available for EPB: a full license for $2,995 a user, and $595 per user for a read-only/limited license. Existing Analyzer customers can migrate to EPB for free.