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Will Oracle's BI Buy Stick it to SAP?

Analysis: Oracle's  $3.3 billion bid for Hyperion Solutions  is another sign of how hot the market for business intelligence software has become.

Should Oracle seal the deal, the enterprise software giant will be poised to grab an excellent market position and compete more aggressively with BI providers Business Objects and Cognos. Plus, Oracle could be in position to steal customers away from rival SAP, observers and analysts say.

Hyperion makes planning, budgeting and consolidation applications that help CFOs gain better insight into corporate finances.

Although Business Objects and Cognos will find themselves in increased competition, Oracle President Chuck Phillips also made it clear that the software maker is gunning for SAP  as part of its long-term strategy to infiltrate as many applications sectors as possible.

"This is definitely a leg up on SAP for Oracle," said Ventana Research CEO Mark Smith said. "SAP has not competed in the BI or financial management apps market. Oracle has a large number of customers and an applications suite that SAP just hasn't got yet."

Forrest Research analyst Boris Evelson agreed that Oracle's new position as a financial performance management leader will put additional pressure on SAP.

If SAP is concerned, it's not showing it. "This latest acquisition continues the efforts by Oracle -- limited by the inability to grow on its own -- to buy customers and market share, and only adds to Oracle's already cluttered application landscape," said SAP spokesperson Jim Dever.

"SAP has more than 2.5 times the market share in applications [compared to the competition] and despite all the billions of dollars Oracle has spent on over 20 acquisitions, SAP still gained 3 percentage points of market share in 2006 alone," Dever asserted. "The question that needs to be asked is: Has Oracle's acquisition strategy actually benefited the user?"

Oracle already makes BI tools and has some market share. Purchasing Hyperion will add acclaimed software and 12,000 customers to the Oracle line-up.

Hyperion has been a good earner. The company tallied a second-quarter sales increase of 20 percent to $222.9 million, compared to $185.5 million for the same period a year ago.

Phillips dismissed products from Cognos  and Business Objects  as point solutions, claiming those vendors focus on BI tools and have poor BI foundations with few analytic applications, or no database or transactional systems.

Bi market leader Business Objects saw revenue rise 22 percent to $371 million in the recent fourth quarter; Cognos' Q3 revenue rose to $247.8 million from $212.3 million, trumping analysts' estimates of $241.1 million.

Even with Hyperion in the corporate fold, Oracle's road to success in the sector is not quite Easy Street.

Evelson said Oracle will face obvious and significant integration and product positioning challenges with multitude of overlapping and redundant products. Chief among these is rationalizing the Hyperion Essbase database with Oracle's own Express database.

"However, if and when Oracle creates the same seamless integration they always had between its Express and relational databases with Essbase, it will truly become an awesome analytical database product hard to beat," Evelson said.

"We'll see if Oracle changes its BI strategy," Smith said. "It will be critical to maintain customers and upsell them to Oracle BI Enterprise Edition and then have a great portfolio of financial apps to address their customers and SAP's."