Oracle OBIEE Review
Our client required the ability to produce the same reports that they currently produce in Excel but distributed via a dashboard/mobile front-end.

Valuable Features

The client required the ability to produce the same reports that they currently produce in Excel (replicating as close as possible to the format as the users were used to this), but distributed via a dashboard/mobile front-end rather than relying on emailing Excel files.

For them, the most important features were the ability to build complex and highly formatted analytic reports, to publish them on dashboards, to build mobile apps to allow access whilst out and about, but still be able to email reports out for those users who still wanted them that way. Including the report in the body of the email to avoid having to open attachments was also desired.

The ability to directly access data in their warehouse rather than downloading into an Excel file was also an important consideration. This is a small company, but growing fast and the amount of data was becoming unwieldy in Excel and would just get worse.

Improvements to My Organization

These reports are used all day by the company’s sales representatives as they travel between regional outlets, customers and suppliers. Having access to this data quickly via a tablet/mobile phone meant spending less time at a desk and could ensure that they have up-to-date information during their meetings. It has therefore greatly increased the time the sales reps can spend out on the road and positively impacted on the deals they are making. Their managers can also monitor during the day what the sales reps are up to and provide better guidance.

Room for Improvement

The IT developers for this client have struggled in two areas, setting up the repository and fine tuning the report formatting.

The repository in OBIEE provides a huge capability for bringing in table structures from a database, linking them together, mapping hierarchies, adding custom calculations and so on. However, to do much of the complex mapping they needed is very difficult without considerable experience. There is very little within the repository administration tool to guide you on how to achieve complex tasks and the documentation is quite brief. Improvements in this area would certainly help.

For the reports, the requirement was to replicate highly formatted reports in Excel and despite the cell-level formatting in Excel that obviously cannot be replicated within a reporting tool, we’ve gotten extremely close. However, as with the repository, experience has been key – the analytic report-building screen provides a wide range of functionality, but without someone with experience on hand to provide ‘tricks of the trade’, they would have struggled. Simplifying the interface to provide easier access to all of the functions would help greatly here.

Use of Solution

For this client, it was their first foray into professional business intelligence reporting products. Until now, they’ve merely been using Excel for all of their reporting needs.

Stability Issues

There were some issues in the first few weeks with the services crashing with little or no meaningful messages in the log files, but these seemed to clear up and no issues have been encountered since. They have been put down to the developers being a little over enthusiastic with what they were trying as they were learning the product. Now they know what they are doing, all is ok.

Scalability Issues

This has not been an issue so far for this client, they are still in the early days of building their BI estate.

Customer Service and Technical Support

No technical support has been requested so far from the vendor.

Previous Solutions

Excel was the original solution. As the company was young and the quantity of data still relatively small, Excel was the obvious, easy and cheap choice. The growth of the company has now reached the point where the use of Excel is becoming problematic – the quantity of data needed to be downloaded, the size of the Excel file, maintenance of the VBA/Macro code in the sheets and access to the files by users out on the road were all issues that needed to be addressed.

Initial Setup

The initial installation and configuration was relatively straightforward. Installing the software is a little complex for someone doing it for the first time; there are quite a few steps, but it was just a case of slowly working through them.

The big boon for this client was that they already had a data warehouse containing the data required for reporting; it was currently being assembled by an overnight process and then manually downloaded into Excel. OBIEE was able to directly connect to this warehouse and access the table/view objects within. The client was quickly able to start producing some of the simpler reports.

Pricing, Setup Cost and Licensing

For this client, the licensing requirements where initially quite simple; they knew how many users they intended to provide the reports to, so they only purchased the licenses for them. The long-term intention is to incorporate more reports and, hence, service more users within the company, but they know they can extend the licenses as and when required. In this scenario the advice is quite simple – start small and grow as you need to; there is no point buying enterprise-wide licenses until you need to.

Other Solutions Considered

The client was already an Oracle database user, so Oracle’s Business Intelligence product was the obvious first port of call when looking for a better reporting solution. I do not know how seriously they looked at other products.

Other Advice

For a company just starting out in the world of BI reporting, this product, along with most other BI reporting products, is an expensive tool to buy, if you just want to play around and see what BI can do. It contains so many features, you can easily get caught up trying them all out and never actually deliver anything meaningful.

To get the most out of the product, you need to know what it is you are trying to achieve – what reports you want to produce, where the data comes from, how you want to provide those reports to the users. You can then quickly start to deliver benefit from the product just using the features you actually need. Later on, you can start looking at additional features to see what else it can do for you.

The product has a huge range of features as well as script/API interfaces to plug in others. However, many of the features are a little too complex to simply use ‘out of the box’. It is a product that Oracle are constantly developing and each release is better than the last, but each release also adds more features that make it even more complex. It is a comprehensive reporting solution, not a simple reporting solution!

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.

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