Monday, January 24, 2011

Oracle Business Intelligence Condensed Guide - Book Review

Oracle Business Intelligence: The Condensed Guide to Analysis and Reporting Oracle Business Intelligence: The Condensed Guide to Analysis and Reporting

I was approached in December (2010) by Packt Publishing and asked if I would be interested in reviewing this book. I agreed, and the publishers provided me with a PDF version of the title.
This is a quick primer to the world of Oracle’s Business Intelligence Standard Edition products like Discoverer, Reports, Spreadsheet Add-in, and to Oracle Warehouse Builder. It is clear that the author knows his subject area well, and uses a number of examples to illustrate such concepts as dimensions, data cubes, metadata construction, and working with Oracle Warehouse Builder to create target structures such as cubes and dimensions. For those familiar with these products however, there may not be much that is new. Those looking for information on the 11g version of these products will be disappointed as the focus is on the 10g version.

The first chapter, “Getting Business Information from Data”, provides the reader with a definition and description of the world of analytics, business intelligence, multi-dimensional data structures.

Chapter 2 introduces the user to the different components of Oracle Business Intelligence. The installation examples and screenshots use the 10g version. A simple installation scenario is described, where the user installs Discoverer without associating it to a metadata repository or identity management infrastructure which would give it access to public connections, portlets, and more.

Chapter 3 introduces us to analytical SQL functions, and there is a comprehensive example using the Oracle Database ROLLUP and CUBE functions.

Chapter 4 takes a closer look at the Discoverer Administrator, the admin tool used to create and manage Discoverer metadata, the EUL (End User Layer).

Chapter 5, “Warehousing for Analysis and Reporting”, is in my opinion by far the best chapter in the book, where the author dives into Oracle Warehouse Builder to give a very good and quick overview of how to create dimensions and cubes from data sources, and how to populate these cubes via staging tables. While the whole area of ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) is too large to be done justice in a single chapter, the author is able to do a commendable job of letting the reader take a glimpse into the powerful world of the product and the world of data warehousing itself.

The last three chapters, 6, 7, and 8, cover very commonly used and powerful Discoverer features like Drilling, Pivoting, Parameters, sorting, and conditional (or stoplight) formatting.

Some other, minor, quibbles with the book:. Diagrams are not labeled, making it difficult to refer to them except by the page numbers on which they appear.
. In the discussion of Oracle OLAP data in Ch 2, while analysts or data architects can certainly use Oracle Warehouse Builder, a much more suitable tool would be the Analytical Worksapce Manager (or AWM as it is commonly referred to.)
. There is no mention of Oracle BI Publisher and its integration with Discoverer. This was released in the second half of 2007, and allows users to use BI Publisher to create highly formatted report templates using Microsoft Word that use Discoverer worksheets as their data source. The advantage that this integration brings to the thousands of Discoverer customers is two-fold: they can create highly formatted reports from their underlying Discoverer worksheets, something that the Discoverer product does not allow users to do (basic formatting capabilities notwithstanding), and secondly, the ability to schedule and distribute such reports via email as attachments (PDF, RTF, HTML, etc...). This also has been a much-requested feature by Discoverer customers, and fulfilled a long-standing gap in the product.

In summary, there is much to like in the book. This book does do what the title says, viz., provide a condensed summary of Oracle Business Intelligence Standard Edition. While the book also covers in more generality such topics as dimensions, cubes, and data warehousing concepts, the treatment is at much too a high-level to be really useful. Two shortcomings prevent the from realizing its potential of becoming a truly awesome condensed guide to Oracle Business Intelligence:
. The organization of the chapters. The book seems to jump from one topic to another without giving much of a sense of cohesion, and it is not till the second half of the book when there is a logical flow to the content matter.
. The absence of a single dataset that would be used throughout the book as an example. That way a reader could follow the examples in a more coherent manner. Making a data set available for download to the book reader would have helped. The author could also have chosen to use an existing sample data set from the Oracle web site (ahem - yours truly had played a substantial part in the creation of the SH dataset).

The best book on Discoverer 10g, in my opinion, still remains Michael Armstrong-Smiths’s Discoverer 10g Handbook. It’s a pity Michael has not yet published an updated version of the book, since there is a lot that has changed in the 11g release with respect to how Discoverer is installed, managed via Oracle Weblogic and the new Enterprise Manager console. Then there is the integration with BI Publisher, the migration utility for migrating your EUL-based Discoverer metadata to the Oracle BI Server RPD-based metadata. There is also a workbook migration utility that is on the product roadmap, as is further integration with the Dashboards product in the Oracle BI Suite Enterprise Edition.

Oracle Business Intelligence: The Condensed Guide to Analysis and Reporting
Oracle Essbase 9 Implementation Guide
Oracle Warehouse Builder 11g: Getting Started
The Business Analyst's Guide to Oracle Hyperion Interactive Reporting 11


Kindle for the Web - Discoverer 10g Handbook

Kindle for the Web - Hyperion Planning

Kindle for the Web - Oracle Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence

© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.