Big Ideas

Possibility Versus Probability

Predicting the Future with Oracle's Crystal Ball

May 2008

A month before Oracle brought business intelligence leader Hyperion into the fold, Hyperion completed its acquisition of Decisioneering and its flagship product, Crystal Ball. Crystal Ball is a set of predictive management solutions for decision optimization. It is spreadsheet based, and it gives users capabilities for predictive modeling, forecasting, simulation, optimization, and real-options analysis. Profit spoke to Jim Franklin, vice president and general manager of Oracle's Crystal Ball, to learn more about the product that delivers a fresh approach to the world of decision-making.

PROFIT: What makes Crystal Ball unique?

FRANKLIN: The simulation and optimization aspect—most products take users only to the point of being able to see the possibilities of a given situation. They might refine things to the point of a best-case, worst-case, and most likely scenario, but that's as far as they get. These methods give you possibilities but not probabilities. Crystal Ball takes you much farther forward, allowing you to refine scenarios to the point of making educated decisions.

PROFIT: How do businesses benefit?

FRANKLIN: It's really all about increasing the credibility and persuasiveness of decision-makers. Decision-makers see fewer surprises because Crystal Ball offers more-realistic modeling of business situations and addresses uncertainty. Also, it is a universally accessible product. It is spreadsheet based, so it can be placed into the hands of almost any business user. It allows organizations to be up and running within minutes and at a very low relative cost.

PROFIT: Tell us about the kind of customers that use Crystal Ball.

FRANKLIN: Crystal Ball is used by 85 percent of the Fortune 500. The return on investment for our product is enormous, and it is very fast. One Fortune 100 manufacturing firm was able to solve a problem that had remained unsolved for 40 years by using Crystal Ball. The solution allowed it to dramatically reduce costs by relaxing tolerances in some of its manufacturing assemblies. Another customer had a 12-month release cycle for new products. It used Crystal Ball to analyze processes and shaved three months off that time. In a mature business like theirs, that kind of time savings provides a huge competitive advantage. Another interesting story comes from a telecommunications company that ordered parts from China and placed an order only once a year. Order placement had a big impact on profitability. By optimizing its order decision with Crystal Ball, it improved its financial results by more than [US]$100 million dollars.

PROFIT: What role is Crystal Ball playing in the world of Oracle's business intelligence and enterprise performance management products?

FRANKLIN: Crystal Ball creates the ability for decision optimization, which is the next evolution in this area. We also deliver on the actionable reporting of business intelligence. The output of Crystal Ball is actually the next step, the step that takes you from "Aha!" to the action: go do this; don't do this; do some of this and none of that. And that really closes that loop from data to decisions.

PROFIT: What are some highlights of recent releases?

FRANKLIN: Recent releases have focused on performance, on making everything we do much faster so that the workflow of the analyst and manager can be iterative and they can keep testing and refining and making their models more realistic.

PROFIT: What is it like being part of Oracle?

FRANKLIN: Crystal Ball fits naturally into the financials and business intelligence stories—the enterprise management angle—that Oracle tells. And we have begun to share relationships. We have a strong presence in many verticals like finance, oil and gas, and manufacturing, and Oracle has been helping us gain a larger presence in other industries like retail. Interestingly, organizations use Crystal Ball in a slightly different place—at the analyst and director level versus the executive level—than they have traditionally used Oracle products.

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