Thursday, 25 October 2018 14:09

Oracle: Machine learning is a feature, not an application

Oracle CTO and chairman Larry Ellison Oracle CTO and chairman Larry Ellison

Automation, particularly automation through the use of machine learning, was a recurring theme at Oracle Open World.

During his closing keynote, chief technology officer and chairman Larry Ellison highlighted some of the ways the company was putting ML to work in its applications, having dealt with its use in infrastructure earlier in the conference (Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Gen 2 and Autonomous Database).

"We have a complete suite" of cloud products including Fusion ERP, SCM (supply chain management), HCM (human capital management) and CX (customer experience), he said.

ML was "hugely important" as it allowed the automation of complicated business processes such as closing the books, as well as detecting anomalous activities or saving time by automating tedious processes such as submitting and approving expense reports.

ML relied on having large amounts of accurate training data, said Ellison. More data means more learning, and more learning means greater accuracy – and the Fusion applications produce vast amounts of training data.

New features include the Digital Assistant, and the ability to quickly and easily create an analytics data warehouse.

Ellison showed how the Digital Assistant (using Slack as the interface for this demo) can extract the relevant data from a photo of a bill and submit an expense claim. There are plenty of accounting systems and add-ons that can do something similar, but the Digital Assistant is also able to tell whether any part of the claim seems to be out of policy and give the user an opportunity to edit the information or provide supporting information.

He joked that the fact that he owns the Nobu restaurant in Palo Alto was unlikely to help his claim for reimbursement for a lunch bill that was flagged for being particularly expensive and included an unusually generous tip.

"I'm not going to see any of that money, but at least I didn't waste any time submitting that expense report."

Normally, "you take a picture of your bill and you're done".

Using an Alexa smart speaker, he demonstrated voice-driven tasks such as locating a colleague or checking that all forecasts have been updated by the relevant managers.

The voice interface makes such capabilities accessible to many more people, he said.

Among the other tasks that are being supported by ML include daily budget vs actuals reports, fraud detection (eg, relating to invoices or expense claims), optimisation of supplier payments, identifying the best-performing employees, and identifying the best job candidates.

Turning to the Fusion Analytics Data Warehouse, set-up is "all automated", said Ellison, "you just press a button."

Built on Oracle Analytics Cloud and Autonomous Data Warehouse, Fusion Analytics Data Warehouse provides KPIs, visualisations and dashboards, without the need for database design, tuning, ETL (extract, transform, load), modelling and so on.

Set-up involves a little more than one button.

The first button starts the process, then you get a chance to say which data sources you want (sales, service, HCM, financials, supply chain, manufacturing) before clicking Confirm. A matter of seconds later, the data warehouse is ready for use.

"These analytic tools are quite spectacular," said Ellison. "This is a whole new world" in which "everyone's a user".

If some of these few capabilities are enough to tempt you to upgrade to Fusion from EBS, PeopleSoft or Hyperion, there's a new automated process that turns a migration into an upgrade.

"An awful lot is automated," he said. It finds any customisations — "the trickiest thing to deal with" — and, where possible, replaces them with Fusion ERP features. When Orange went through this process, its 500 customisations were all removed in this way. Where customisations are still required, Oracle Consulting will take care of them on a fixed-price basis.

The writer attended Oracle Open World as a guest of the company.

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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