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27 May 2014

I need your help to put Oracle EPM on the spot at Kscope14

Why help out?  

This year, Thursday at Kscope14 is going to be different than years past.   What do I mean by that?  Simply that instead of the normal fare of technical session after technical session, ODTUG is trying something different this year on the last (sob) day of the conference – deep dives into technology.  These are longer and different in focus sessions that allow you, the Kscope14 attendee, to really get to the very heart of whatever tool or track tickles your geek fancy.

What that means is that there are sessions on:

And a panel session on Good ‘Ol Planning consisting of the Planning and Essbase product managers, hosted by none other than yr. obt. svt.

What’s it all about, Cameron?

I am so glad you asked – the Planning Deep Dive is your chance to ask direct, possibly slightly painful, and definitely interesting questions to both Gabby Rubin, Essbase product manager, and Shankar Viswanathan, Planning product manager.  

Huh, you say (you do say this, right?), what’s the Essbase product manager doing at a Planning deep dive session?  Remember, Essbase is at the heart of Planning, so asking why Planning does this or that without asking why and how Essbase does the same thing is all a bit pointless.

Gabby and Shankar graciously accepted the chance to be mercilessly grilled by you.  What I mean is that this is a panel of two (Gabby and Shankar) with me as moderator, and you get to lob questions, hopefully difficult and maybe a little painful, directly to them.  Oracle of course has the option to grin or grimace at you and then refuse to answer your question but I have found that typically Oracle are quite open.  It at least ought to be entertaining.

What I plan on asking them

As you will see, I am not exactly pulling my punches.  These are items of intense interest to me, and I suspect many in the Hyperion Planning world:
  1. When will Hybrid Essbase be certified for Planning?
  2. Why can’t we report on attribute dimensions via Planning data connections; this is especially puzzling in the light of ASO Planning and ASO Essbase’s superior attribute performance.
  3. Why is ASO Planning not an Essbase data source?  Again, attribute dimensions work so much better in ASO than BSO – it is very puzzling.
  4. Planning seems to be the engine that drives Essbase sales, yet Essbase functionality appears to be influenced by OBIEE.  Why?  How is Planning impacting Essbase’s future direction?  What about other tools?  Will Essbase retain its EPM focus or become just another component of the Oracle database?
  5. ASO Planning allows (by Planning standards) huge databases, yet Planning’s administrative performance cannot keep place, e.g., extraordinarily long dimension build (and even longer delete) times, slow refreshes, and poor form execution.  How will Planning’s performance improve?  When?
  6. Planning and Essbase have at least seven (EPMA, EAS, Studio, Classic Planning, Outlineload, ODI, BIFS, and I’ve likely forgot a few) ways to build dimensionality and load data.  Each method has its merits, each has its weaknesses.  Why isn’t there a single optimized metadata and data management tool?  Or at least fewer ones.
  7. Documentation for the EPM schemas stopped with 11.1.2.1.  Are there any plans for releasing new schema maps or is that someone’s KScope15 session?
  8. When, when, when will SQL be used to read and write Essbase data and metadata aka when do Load Rules die?
  9. When will BSO Essbase perform the following using the Hybrid engine:  Attributes, Time Balance, Cross dimensional references, and add all of the Calc Script functions?
  10. It appears as though many aspects of Essbase (Exalytics-only functions) and Planning (tied more and more closely to EBS and Fusion) are losing their technology-agnostic nature, historically one of the benefits of the Oracle Hyperion EPM technology stack.  Are we looking at a future in which the EPM suite only works on Oracle hardware and with Oracle back-end software?

But those are just my questions.  I don’t actually expect to get answers to all of the above (I think they alone could fill our two allotted hours but I am a firm believer in over-preparing), but you now have an insight of the EPM Mind of Cameron.  It’s not too scary, is it?

Shankar and Gabby didn’t actually agree to me as Privy Councilor for a Planning-themed Star Chamber.  The Planning Deep Dive is your opportunity to ask your questions to the very people who define the future of Planning and Essbase.  

How you will ask questions before and during the Deep Dive

I have a sneaking suspicion that you will have many, many, many questions and I want to give everyone a fair chance at them.

While I will be taking questions in the normal way during the session, i.e., you raise your hand, ask the question, I repeat it, and maybe Oracle answer it, that approach single threads the Q&A process and doesn’t necessarily let the best ones bubble to the surface.  

To try to get round that, I am asking that you send your questions now, yes right now, to the following Twitter hashtag:  #PlanningDeepDive.  Before the conference, I will monitor that tag for your oh so valuable questions.  During the Deep Dive session I (or more likely a “lucky” volunteer as I cannot walk and chew gum at the same time) will monitor the same.  I (we?  confusing isn’t it?) will see if they share common themes and guide the discussion around those lines.

And that’s it

I think this will be a lot of fun, perhaps even for two very brave (and very generous) Oracle EPM product managers.

Yes, there are lots of other cool things going on at the same time (as always, I wish there was a way to attend, oh, the Planning, Essbase, Business Intelligence, EPM Foundations, and BI/EPM Reporting Deep Dive sessions all at the same time but of course that just can’t be) but I think what the Planning track has on offer simply isn’t matched anywhere else on Thursday.  

If you don’t show up, I will of course be crushed, but then again I will have two rather hard to reach Oracle PMs at my mercy to ask, whine, and beseech about the future of the two tools that have come to define my (and very likely your) career.

This will of course be more meaningful if you do attend – you will have insights, concerns, and questions that I could never come up with.  Your participation is key to the success of this session.

In case you can’t tell, I am tremendously excited by this opportunity as I think this will be a dynamic, exciting, and educational session like no other at Kscope and one that will be driven by you, the audience member.

Join us, won’t you?

19 May 2014

Come one, come all, to the EPM carnival

Only two things scare me

As a child of the Cold War, I share Austin Powers’ first fear all too well, but the second?  Carnies?  Really?  On the other hand, Kscope does nomadically wander from city to city.  But do we all smell bad?  Have small hands?  Hopefully at least not the middle property (I, and I believe most of ODTUG bathe on a regular basis, with soap) and I think I have pretty large hands, so that’s only one out of three.  G’wan, watch the clip.  I’m pretty sure Michael York’s look of incomprehension pops up on my face at least once a day in reaction to all kinds of interesting statements.

But not this time

No need for a look of incredulity – what I’m about to relate is dead easy to understand.  

The EPM community will be hosting an EPM (‘natch) carnival at Kscope14, Monday, 23 June 2014, from 8 till 10 pm.  Why oh why oh why would you go?  Simply because it will be about fun, networking, and help.

What is this thing you call “fun”?

For once it isn’t my current project that is driving me, in sequence, to rage, tears, and anxiety, but instead preparing for my way-too-many-OMG-why-did-I-agree-to-this Kscope presentations.  As almost always, I have no one to blame but myself.  No matter the source of your current angst, the EPM carnival will be a salve to your troubled waters (yes, I am mixing metaphors but bear with me) because it will include:
  • Bean bag toss – your favorite(?) EPM ACED’s face will be superimposed onto a clown’s mouth and you get to throw the bag in the mouth.  We certainly talk enough; perhaps this is your opportunity to shut us up?
  • Road Rally - this is a multi-player game where everyone rolls dice and if your “lane” number is rolled you advance your car (hot wheels)
  • Say Ahh - this is a put-put golf game
  • Skee Roll - smaller version of the classic skee ball game
  • Balloon Darts
  • Hoopster /Electronic Shooting – basketball
  • Ring Toss - classic coke bottle ring toss

Although I am crushed to relate that health and safety regulations preclude the ACE Director dunk tank (I have a strange feeling that this would be quite popular), you must agree that the above activities contain at least a scintilla of fun.  Those fun times are a great motive to be there, but they aren’t the only reason you, oh Kscope EPM attendee, should come to the EPM Carnival.

Networking

While the education that Kscope provides is second to none, an equally compelling reason I (and I suspect you as well) come to Kscope is to meet, if only once per year, with my peers from around the globe.  This is where the elite Oracle geeks meet and greet; the EPM Carnival gives us all a relaxed, friendly, and open way to meet people from all walks of EPM life, free from the pressures of work responsibilities.

Informal contacts can be just as valuable as the ones forged through work.  Kscope’s social events, from the Community Service Day to the big Wednesday night Special Event, are the place to forge those relationships.  Don’t ignore the Monday night EPM Carnival as another avenue to do just that.

The spirit of giving

As many of you know, Mike Riley, Kscope14 conference co-chairman and former ODTUG president is battling cancer.  Cancer is a cruel disease and Mike needs all of the help – spiritual, material, and financial – that he and his family can get.  ODTUG is Mike’s professional family, and when a member of our family needs help, we give it.

The EPM Carnival will give you an opportunity to do just that – you will be able to donate unused Carnival tickets (it’s just like going to a Grange Fair, right down to how you pay for the rides) or even purchase additional ones for Mike’s fund.  Yes, this is a naked appeal for your help.  You expected dignity from me?  You haven’t been reading my blog much, and certainly not on this subject.  

As so many of we EPM geeks are a bit, um, hopeless when it comes to examples of physical dexterity, you will be able to supplement the carnival tickets for whatever game you are playing not so well with cold hard cash to move your middling score up to the winner’s circle.  The real do-re-mi that you contribute will go towards the fund for Mike.

The EPM community owes Mike a huge professional debt because he is really the reason why EPM is part of ODTUG and thus Kscope.  He is also one hell of a nice guy.  He needs our help and you can provide it.  Isn’t that enough to cause you to cough up a few tickets?

Summing it up

So there you have it:  fun in the form of possible ritual humiliation of EPM ACE Directors, a chance to informally meet your peers, and an opportunity to aid Mike Riley.  All made possible by the fine folks at Secure-24.  

I’ll be there.  Will you?

12 May 2014

Might I learn something from Oracle Support?

Might I learn something?

I might and there’s a strong possibility you might as well.  Read on and find out about a new initiative that Oracle Support are running to help you get the most out of, well, Oracle Support.  I cannot see how you would not want to do this unless of course you find nearly endless searching through what is a huge website whilst your boss/clients/peers are beating on your head with, “Did you figure it out yet?  Do we need to file a SR?  Did you figure it out yet?  Did you?  Did you?  Did I mention that it’s really important that you figure this out?  Right now would be a good time to do so.” to be oh so enjoyable.  No, probably not.

What oh what oh what is this all about

If you are an Oracle customer, or an Oracle partner of Gold level or above, you have the ability to browse Oracle’s Support site, download patches, log Service Requests (SRs) if you are a partner  of Platinum or higher (customers can always do this so long as their maintenance is current), and download patches as well.  

There are many resources out there on the web:  blogs, message boards, Twitter and they are all (well most – I don’t get the blogs that are copy and paste regurgitations of the documentation; I also understand although I do not approve of sites that simply take Support KB articles and replicate them) pretty good.  But nothing trumps the breadth and depth of Oracle Support.  I like to think of this as the difference between paid troubleshooting, workaround finding, and general knowledge dissemination and those who do it for free, like yr. obdnt. srvnt and many others.  I don’t think one replaces the other (okay, except for those illegal sites – and no, I am not going to link to one as they are depressingly easy to find), they are instead complementary.  A blog like this one might cover a function or feature in one of the many EPM tools; Support will tell you how to fix one of those systems and even help you prevent problems.  I can only do the latter if you hire me and maybe not even then.

As I alluded to in the introductory paragraph of this post, Oracle Support is big.  Big in terms of content by product, big in terms of products, big in terms of sheer size.  Like I wrote, just big.  And with size comes confusion as one must filter out all of the other products that Oracle sells.  I seem to remember Thomas Kurian mentioning at an ACE Director briefing (note to all -- this is as close as I come to the Oracle power structure) that there are over 2,000 products with the Oracle brand and Oracle Support covers them all.

To reduce this potential confusion Oracle Support have launched all manner of education in how to use Oracle Support.  The latest initiative is an Oracle Support accreditation exam.  Italia Norwodworska of Oracle support sent me an email suggesting that I might like to check it out.  As I am one of those who is often confounded by the Support website, this sounded like a really good opportunity to learn more about a site I don’t often use, but when I do use it, I really need to use it as efficiently and effectively as possible.  Remember those quotes in the introduction?  Those were real life examples.  Ah, stress, how I don’t enjoy you.

What does it look like?

The Level 2 Accrediation for Business Analytics (I seem to have skipped level 1 but as always I do not let a lack of proper technical preparation slow me down) exam is a series of videos that explain how Support works and how to best use it.  Going through every one of the videos is recommended unless you really do know it all.  For the most part I just listened to it and jumped back to the videos when something I really didn’t understand was discussed.  The nice thing about videos like this is that you can play them as many times as needed till you grok the subject.

In case it is not obvious, you watch (or half-watch and listen) each of the subject areas and then take the test at the end.
This being the age of social media (and inexpensive animation) you will get pictures like the below to help drive a concept home:
Hmm, she reminds me of a grade school teacher telling me, “Cameron, you are a moderately bright boy, but you do not pay attention.”  True, that, even today.  But I did try to pay attention and as you’ll see from my not totally stellar score, I did manage to mostly pay attention.  The school-like aspect of this exam will become obvious later.

I’d like you to meet Joe

Joe is a stock photo and considerably better dressed than any Essbase admin I have ever met.  And I say this as someone who is just rolling off of an Essbase admin gig (don’t ask and I am officially the World’s Worst Essbase Admin as I kept on proposing new and hopefully better practices instead of just doing my job).  Here he is – I think his eyes follow me wherever I go in a room.  Creepy.  OTOH, Joe has what looks like a wicked cool 17” laptop so maybe he isn’t all bad.  At the same time, he never seems to move.  As I wrote, creepy.
All kidding aside, you will get to meet Joe at the beginning of every video and then Stalker Joe (as I have named him) goes away.  He’s just a bridging device and really isn’t so bad.  Having had a good look at those of us in the EPM community (and I most definitely include myself in this category), perhaps it is best that Oracle used a model.

The heart of the matter

Snarky (and really, unworthy) comments by yr. obdnt. srvnt. aside, this exam is quite valuable.  Dave Farnsworth, former EPM consultant (sadly now retired) once told me about buying books on one’s own nickel:  “If I get one new idea out of a book, just one, it’s paid for itself.”  I managed to learn at least four new things from this exam.  Did I mention it was free?  Quite the deal.

Things I should have known, but didn’t, and now do

What is a PowerView?

It’s the way you filter products within Oracle Support so you don’t get KB articles on how to get that bucket of prop wash for the IBM Series 360 (I am making this up in case it isn’t obvious) but instead just focus on the products you want to use.  It’ll be available the next time you log into Support.  I always wondered/was too lazy to figure that out, but I should have.

Terminology, vocabulary, and definitions

What’s the difference between a Patch Set, a Patch Set Update, and a Patch Set Exception?  Damfino.  Actually, now I do.

Patch Set

Patch Set Update

Patch Set Exception

Just to recap:
  • Patch Set = Large number of merged patches, are cumulative bug fixes, and change the release number.  Remember all of the posts on 11.1.2.3.500?  That was all about a patch set.
  • Patch Set Update = Low risk, cumulative patches, designed to be applied on a regular basis without forcing product recertification.
  • Patch Set Exception = Single fix for a single problem, applied via Opatch, handed out to customers with lots of pain.

I must shamefacedly admit that I have had no idea what these have precisely meant since, oh, 2007 and Oracle’s acquisition.  There’s lots of good information like this in the videos.

Art following reality

Here is a generic boss woman (sensible heels, suit, short hair) dealing rather adroitly with the geek in glasses.  Hmm, lose the blue eyes and the tie and it could be me, right down to the Rocky from South Philly at the Art Museum looking down the Ben Franklin Parkway towards City Hall pose.  Yeah, I come from Philly.
Let’s see if we can read some other truths into this screen shot:
  • Jolene (for I have named her such) has way better fashion sense than the geek.  This is damning with faint praise, but still it is worth noting.
  • She will be his boss in six months if she isn’t already.
  • Jolene secretly hates Cameron the geek and likely for good reason as she can run technical circles round him.  Also, she doesn’t think she’s Rocky Balboa.   Cameron shouldn’t either.  Look at that physique – he’s fooling himself.  The physical similarities (right down to the big head and glasses) are perhaps a bit too close for comfort for this writer.

Some fairly obvious advice that is surprisingly often not followed

I can think of many times where servers, usernames, and even passwords get posted to public forums.  Don’t Be That Guy.
Seriously, the above is really good advice.  Heed it or rue the day you posted confidential information for world+dog to see.

Teacher is going to ring my bell    

Class cutup, clown, or idiot? Only the exam can tell the tale.

Clicking on the Take The Exam link moves you to an Oracle University exam.  Gulp.
It’s a 30 question multiple choice exam – shades of school all right.  Most, but not everything, on the exam is in the videos (there is an assumption that you actually use the tools) and it took me about five minutes to go through the test.  You can review questions at any time and all in all it’s an effective interface.

Read ‘em and weep

I did actually take the videos seriously although perhaps not seriously enough:

A passing score, but will it get me into the university of my choice?  There’s that report card again with “Must try harder” in the margin.

What have I learnt from all this?

A couple of key things:
  1. The videos are quite good with information that I should have known but did not.  Sad but there it is.
  2. Even if I got a fair-to-middling score, I learnt new things, cf. the above comment.  This is all that really matters.
  3. It is pretty painless to watch these videos and take the test – I reckon you will need just under 40 minutes if you do it all at once.
  4. Sit up straight, no slouching, and pay attention!  Sorry, that was just a PTSD school moment – Oracle are actually quite friendly.  They want you to succeed as it’s better for all concerned.

I really applaud Oracle for coming up with this – it’s straightforward, entertaining (I wouldn’t have written all of those mildly funny comments if I didn’t enjoy it), and informative.  Take the test and I’ll bet that you too will learn from it.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating

Oh sure you say (you do say this, don’t you?), Cameron is merely shilling for his corporate masters.  Au contraire.  I dream of the massive amounts of dosh, cash, moola, bread, cabbage, simoleons, and spondulix that the various companies I write about send me.  In my dreams alas and alack, because it is actually the other way round.  Also, I have no corporate master.

What I mean by that is that I just stumped for a lovely, shiny, good-for-365-days Gold Partner agreement.  That’s $3,000 + tax of my not-terribly-big company’s money.  Why?  Gold Partners can access Oracle Support.

Yet another example of why being an independent ain’t all beer and skittles but Oracle Support is worth it and my money is where my mouth is.

Be seeing you.