As the volume and variety of data that organizations collect continues to grow, companies must be able to explore and understand the connections that crisscross that data if they want to stay competitive. Rich Schwerin, Oracle Magazine contributing editor, sat down with Paul Sonderegger, senior director of analytics at Oracle, to talk about business analytics and data discovery. The following is an excerpt from that interview. Download the full podcast at oracle.com/magcasts.
Oracle Magazine: How is business analytics defined today?
Sonderegger: Business analytics gives managers insight into the business so they can make choices that leave the firm better off. The thing that is changing now is the scale and scope of data available for an ever-increasing scale and scope of decisions. It’s basically making more data available—not just more volume, but more variety—for ever-smaller daily decisions.
Oracle Magazine: What is information discovery?
Sonderegger: Analytics is evolving into not just reporting on metrics, which the company knows that it needs; it will continue to be important to get KPIs [key performance indicators] and proven answers to known questions. Information discovery moves beyond that to provide fast answers to new questions, especially for people who are not technical. They can’t write SQL. They can’t write the queries to express their questions. There has to be some easy way to explore, some way to search and navigate as easily as you do on an e-commerce site. These people are exploring data that comes from dozens, sometimes thousands, of different systems that were never designed to work together.
Oracle Magazine: Who is using information discovery, and how are they using it?
Sonderegger: In a typical organization, the people using information discovery are actual business users: brand managers, commodity managers, procurement specialists, and warranty engineers at manufacturers. These are people who have expertise in the business, but not in writing queries. The reason that this matters is part of the idea behind information discovery—more and more jobs and more and more decisions in those jobs require fact-based decision-making. Business users need a way to ask the questions that only they can think of because they have expertise in the business.
Oracle Magazine: How does information discovery relate to business intelligence [BI]?
Sonderegger: Information discovery is a complement to business intelligence. Information discovery is not a replacement for BI in any way. It’s actually a new solution to a new problem. BI delivers proven answers to known questions, and that will continue to be important. Information discovery lives alongside BI and offers a way to get fast answers to new questions. For example, an appliance manufacturer still uses its analytics infrastructure to report on the price of copper. But when they see that the price of copper has jumped really high, they move to a discovery application to figure out the alternatives. Information discovery and BI complement one another in a virtuous circle.
Oracle Magazine: What is Oracle Endeca Information Discovery?
Sonderegger: Oracle Endeca Information Discovery is a platform for provisioning discovery applications as rapidly as a business requires. The product has three main pieces: Oracle Endeca Server; the Studio feature; and the Integration Suite feature. Oracle Endeca Server is the core search/analytical database that organizes complex and varied data from disparate source systems into a flexible, faceted data model. The Studio feature is a component-based environment for building enterprise-class discovery applications. The Integration Suite feature includes a content acquisition system for gathering content from file systems, content management systems, and Websites; an integrator that provides out-of-the-box ETL [extract, transform, and load] tooling for integrating and enriching enterprise data; and the open Web Services API, which allows for direct data integration from other tools.
Oracle Magazine: How are business professionals and technologists using Oracle Endeca Information Discovery?Sonderegger: Business professionals use information discovery to explore diverse data in order to get a better understanding of some new or unfamiliar situation. For example, a property and casualty insurer has very sophisticated reporting around claim codes used in processing various insurance claims, and it wants to better understand the information recorded in the adjuster’s notes—long form, long text descriptions of what actually happened at the scene of the accident. These analysts are looking for emerging risks, like texting while driving. They’re also looking for new kinds of fraud they didn’t know existed; they need to discover it before they can modify an algorithm to detect it. On the IT side, technologists are using this technology to collaborate with the business better. BI professionals have all had the experience of saying to IT, “We need some new reports.” IT says, “Great. Just tell me what should be in them.” And the business says, “Well, we don’t know yet because we’re not exactly sure what we’re looking for.” And everybody throws up their hands and walks away.
With Oracle Endeca Information Discovery, organizations now can take a different approach where the IT folks can say to business users, “Give me just two or three datasources that you think might make a difference to answering your questions. We will pour them into Oracle Endeca Information Discovery, which you can access and start to explore and tell us what new questions that inspires.” With Oracle Endeca Information Discovery, when the business discovers the need for new visualizations or additional datasources, IT can respond very quickly, modifying visualizations and adding new datasources. Oracle Endeca Server indexes those new sources, adds them into its index, changes its own model, and then shows those changes in Oracle Endeca Information Discovery.
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