Oracle Articulates Strategy to Special Interest Group

By Joe Francica

Oracle_SIG_editorial Oracle convened its first Oracle Spatial Special Interest Group (SIG) meeting in Denver a few weeks ago.As I sat in the audience listening to Jim Steiner (Senior Director of Spatial Products for Oracle Server Technologies), Dr.Xavier Lopez (Director, Server Technologies), Daniel Geringer, Senior Manager, Oracle Spatial Integration, and Dr.Siva Ravada, (Senior Development Manager), I came away with one simple observation: Oracle wants to own all of "spatial" - geospatial, non-projected XY space, human space, whatever.If it has a coordinate in space, Oracle wants to store it, analyze it, and allow it to be visualized...with its own tools, of course.

About 150 attendees gathered the day after GITA in Denver to hear Oracle's story.Steiner led off the meeting by citing a reference in an IDC report written by David Sonnen and Henry Morris (Worldwide Spatial Information Management [SIM] 2004-2008 Forecast and Analysis, December 2004).Referring to the company's spatial capability enhancements in Oracle 10g, the report states that, "Oracle's move may be disruptive to some SIM vendors." "Disruptive" was the operative word during this meeting.Indeed, Oracle is shaking up the traditional GIS marketplace and building an information technology framework for mainstream business applications.

None of what I heard was necessarily new.Much I had teased out of presentations in the past.But, perhaps because it was delivered in a public forum and the vision was articulated in such extraordinary totality, it gave me pause.I leaned over to Dave Sonnen with whom I was sitting and said, "That sucking sound you hear is everybody else's market share swirling down the drain."

Now, I have commented before on the potential for Oracle to complicate the GIS market because of its reach into so many organizations and its financial position.I have also suggested that the true catalysts for geospatial technology in mainstream enterprise computing will not be a trained GIS specialist, but rather a smart database administrator (aka, Oracle DBA guru).That individual will look at the functionality delivered with Oracle Enterprise database (i.e.Oracle Locator) and decide to location-enable his fiefdom, be it finance, human resources, or some business analytics applications.

This revelation crystallized in my mind so intensely at this meeting that I've concluded that Oracle will simply dominate location empowerment at the enterprise level.For enterprise software solution providers, like SAP, Microsoft, IBM, and others, I can only surmise that the geospatial marketplace is a "forest for the trees" situation. They can see the giant redwood (shores?); however, they have no idea how tall it is.IBM can't seem to get their act together in mustering a true focus on geospatial technology, and Microsoft did not believe that spatially-enabling the most recent release of SQL Server was a high enough priority and defaulted to allowing user-defined functions.I will attempt to summarize here Oracle's intended direction as it continues to stride with an even weightier presence and dexterity among its GIS partners and enterprise software opponents.

The big picture
Oracle wants to facilitate a location-enabled information technology infrastructure for every kind of spatial data type and enterprise application.That's it in a nutshell.Yes, the company wants it all. Oracle sees that there are many potential business applications that can be location-enabled like CRM, field service management, and sales force automation.Oracle is also increasingly aware of a growing "sensor network" that creates data that has a spatial component. Satellites, GPS-equipped cell phones, and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags are just a few of the possible sensor platforms that will capture and broadcast a geospatial coordinate.

Dr.Lopez noted a recent study that said that by 2008, 80% of automobiles will be enabled with some navigation technology, yet another type of "sensor" for receiving information.But autos will also send packets of information like speed and direction.This advance will continue to fuel consumer awareness of location technology.

Oracle recognizes that geospatial information is becoming "mission critical" for many applications and there is the possibility that many more people will come to depend on location-aware devices.Lopez noted that the geospatial community is in transition from specialized to standardized spatial services and that there is a movement towards ubiquitous enterprise use and adoption.As such, Oracle is positioning itself to be the only provider of tools and applications when the market begins to move from early adopters to mass acceptance.

Platform and Markets
Oracle sees that there is a maturity of standard interfaces, components and platform technologies (WMS, WFS, SVG, XML, SOAP, Java, .NET)."The whole IT market is disrupting under us," said Lopez.Oracle's approach to the market is, therefore, to provide a "powerful spatial data management platform" while adhering to the most widely accepted IT standards.

Oracle has identified three major markets for its platform
  • GEOSPATIAL - Government, Utilities and Energy
  • ENTERPRISE - CRM/ERP/Logistics
  • LIFE SCIENCES - Medical and Pharmaceutical Research
Oracle also thinks that it can provide a platform for location-enabled business portals.By adhering to a service oriented architecture (SOA), supporting multimedia data types, and offering personalized security for syndicated content, Oracle feels it has the required infrastructure.Oracle believes that by 2008 Web services will be a preferred method to publish and query spatial data stores.

New Enhancements
Siva Ravada and Dan Geringer of Oracle provided a peak into the functionality we can expect from Oracle 10g's next release.Here is a summary of some key features:
  • GeoRaster 10g Compression to support MrSID; future versions to support JPEG 2000 and ECW
  • Linear Referencing System (LRS) will have a spatial aggregate function
  • An improved Network Data Model to support very large networks (100 million nodes & lines; life science pathways; social networks).
  • Topology Management to enhance the topomap API to include feature relationship information.
  • The Geocoder in 10g now supports U.S.and European Union countries; in the next release it will support Asian countries and Eastern Europe.
  • Support for 3D cadastral applications.Oracle sees an increasing number of spatial users looking for 3D extensions.According to Ravada, they want to "take 3D and mainstream it!"
  • Miscellaneous new features include support for multimodal routing and batch geocoding as well as time/space applications, such as "find all points reachable within a given time."
Tools for Location-based Services
Oracle will provide a location-based services (LBS) toolkit that will provide "e-location" in a box.It is essentially a Web application with basic LBS functionality.This will include predefined web pages for out of the box installation and an architecture that is highly scalable. Oracle will provide solutions for wireless applications that support position determination data, tracking and notification.The company hopes to deliver a unified framework to content and service providers like AOL's MapQuest or Microsoft MapPoint.

Business Intelligence
In the area of location-enabling business intelligence (BI) applications, Oracle is delivering MapBuilder, a toolkit for visualizing BI data for its Oracle BI Discoverer software.BI is a growing sector of IT.Companies want effective tools to analyze business processes and continue to squeeze more information from their data stores.This opportunity for Oracle is probably the scariest for its competition.Oracle already has a very complete suite of BI applications.Its acquisition of PeopleSoft gives it access to 23,000 additional customers needing human resource and financial management solutions.Enter the prospect of location enabling all of these applications and the market is Oracle's oyster.

The MapViewer
Have you seen the Oracle MapViewer? At first, I thought that is was a fairly lame attempt to provide a visualization tool for the spatial information stored in the database.That's not the case anymore.The MapViewer now includes thematic mapping, enhanced support for scalable vector graphics (SVG), Oracle JDeveloper and portal integration as well as security.And, you can make calls to the spatial functionality of Oracle Spatial.Simply put, this is desktop mapping software that's also Web-ready.So, why again would you need to buy a desktop GIS system from Intergraph or MapInfo or ESRI?

Ostensibly, the reason is that for many applications, you need a more robust suite of spatial tools.Oracle does not intend to compete in the GIS market, but it will provide the tools to get the user to about 70-80% of the functionality needed for spatial information management.

Disruptive technology.A market in transition.A framework for the location-enabled enterprise.These are all pieces of the Oracle strategy.The company sees a market shifting to mission critical applications for homeland security, and corporate and government organizations that use location technology.Oracle sees a ubiquitous uptake of location-based information at the consumer interface - Web, in-vehicle and personal navigation.The company understands that maps have the potential to let CEO's disrupt the competitive landscape because of the information they reveal.

Oracle is making it very clear that it intends to keep improving the Oracle Spatial product. Oracle intends to location enable its existing suite of business tools and applications.But here is the caution.The spatial team needs to sell this vision internally first.I think there is a long education process to get the Oracle sales team up to speed on the potential of this market.Further, Oracle must convince its clients of this vision. Oracle has made a good start; this briefing convinced me about the wisdom of where it intends to go.

See slides presentations "Business and Technology Trends Driving the Future of Geospatial Technologies-Oracle Corporation's Vision by Xavier Lopez and Oracle 10g Release 2 and Beyond: New Features and Future Directions for Oracle's Spatial Technologies by Siva Ravada.

Published Thursday, March 31st, 2005

Written by Joe Francica

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