Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Thoughts on OBI EE for Discoverer Users

I guess that if we’re looking at a potential upgrade for Discoverer users, it would be useful to take a moment to think about what’s good, and what’s not so good, about Oracle Discoverer.

  • Easy to use, lots of wizards, familiar look-and-feel, high awareness and exposure within the Oracle user community – many people have exposure to Discoverer through its apps integration, bundling with Oracle Application Server and so on – the “comfort” factor if you like. However, at Macerich we really do not use Discoverer with the apps. It is mostly use to present Property Manager data that is stored in our wharehouse.
  • Leveraging of Oracle’s built in calculation, analytic and PL/SQL functions – Discoverer uses the Oracle database as the calculation engine, you get access to all the built-in SQL and PL/SQL features including all the analytic (lag, lead, window, top N etc) functions.
  • Integration with Oracle database security and E-Business Suite responsibilities, and pre-built E-Business Suite reports and BI metadata layer.
  • Integration with Oracle Warehouse Builder (although this requires the Enterprise ETL Option for Warehouse Builder, at $10k a CPU on the ETL database), and integration with Oracle Portal
  • Oracle OLAP access through Discoverer for OLAP
  • Lots of functionality around totals, percentages and other report add-ons

If you were honest, the failings of Discoverer could be summed up as the following:

  • Oracle database-centric; although Discoverer can connect to non-Oracle databases, this is a fairly complicated DBA task and still requires everything to be routed through the Oracle Database, and the End User Layer’s Oracle database dependency still means you need an Oracle database somewhere, even if all your data is in MS SQL Server, for example
  • Although Discoverer integrates with Oracle Portal, in my opinion is not an optimal solution as it’s tricky to get all the report refreshes working properly, the reports in Portal don’t show a real-time view of the data underneath, you can’t drill and analyze in-place, and Portal itself is a bit overkill for just a BI portal
  • It’s very hard, if not impossible, to get Discoverer reports to run lightening-fast; typically Discoverer reports take 10, 20 seconds or more to return data, Discoverer itself adds a significant time overhead to queries, it’s just not a fast, snappy environment to report in.
  • The report authoring part of Discoverer requires a Java applet to be installed and then run in the client PCs Web browser, which can cause security and installation issues for users not running with admin rights, and requires a higher-spec (memory, CPU) PC to run on.
  • Discoverer for OLAP, whilst very similar to regular relational Discoverer in terms of functionality, look and feel, is however still different, has more limited capabilities (no parameters, can’t total by attribute and so on) and has a separate report catalog and security setup to Discoverer relational.
  • There’s (currently) no capability to create alerts, distribute reports, add in-context messages to reports giving advice on how to interpret the report.
  • There’s also (currently) no way of calling Discoverer reports via an API, or adding workflow to Discoverer reports so that a user clicking on a report area or a link displayed along it can trigger, say, a BPEL or Oracle Workflow process to act on insights provided by the report.
  • There is also (currently) no way of displaying Discoverer-generated data in, say, a letter, or printed labels, or in a report that contains more than one dataset.
I say “(currently)” in some of these issues because a few of them are being addressed by planned integration of Discoverer with OBI EE, and I’ll address these future alternatives to a straight upgrade to OBI EE later in the paper. For the time being though, Discoverer’s advantages could be described as its familiarity, leveraging of Oracle database features, support for totaling, percentages and analytic functions and integration with Warehouse Builder and Portal, whilst the drawbacks are this very Oracle database integration, lack of alerting and report distribution features, lack of APIs and interconnectivity with the application development world, limited output options, and performance, which shouldn’t be overlooked as it’s the number one compliant I hear about Discoverer when I visit customer sites

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