Saturday 8 December 2007

Its all about the method....

One interesting challenge for organisations implementing and integrating mixed technology and "suite" solutions is which method(s) to use. For many eBiz implementations the standard approach would be to use Oracle's Applications Implementation Method (AIM) and Conference Room Pilots. For Siebel implementations the standard approach is to use ePlan. For interfaces and integration a more "modern" approach of using community development and wikis can be employed.

Normally this is pretty simple - you look at what you are implementing and choose one approach - but one size does not fit all, and what if you have multiple work streams, implementing multiple technologies and with multiple suppliers (internal and external) delivering into the programme?

Here are some quick tips:

1. Ensure that the method(s) are agreed up front between all workstreams and suppliers and ensure that ALL parties have a common understanding of the methods, approaches and timelines. Sounds obvious but often these things are left open to "interpretation" and a supplier saying "yes I understand" does not always mean that they have the same understanding as you.

2. Get the business engaged right from the beginning. Again it sounds like project management 101 but with large, complex, multi vendor and technology implementations this is not always easy.

3. Get it on a blooming big picture so all can see how the methods and timelines join up. Visually representing the methods, approaches and milestones makes such a difference.

4. Get ready to coach and manage more than you expect. Not all suppliers are experienced in certain approaches. If you do not have lead consultants who are highly experienced in the methods you may need to coach more than you would like. Make sure you have someone who has practical (not theoretical) skills in a method and approach. Get a consultant on your side if you have done such a programme before.

5. Be strong and prepared to stay the course. It can become too easy sometimes to move from an approach because things get tricky. Joining up testing for example: System, Link, Integration, Conference Room Pilots, UAT, OAT etc can be a very complex and painful process if you have multiple workstreams and multiple technologies that may need data, test harnesses, users, environments etc. Dig deep and push on. It will be worth it. Make sure you have a good test team!

What methods work well when integrating a multi-vendor, multi-technology fabric in an organisation? Well there is no silver bullet solution. From experience I rate conference room pilots and iterative development on most technologies (including Siebel!) as it gets the user community engaged right from the start, and gets them 'owning' the solution early on - and that is invaluable, indeed a must have, for any organisation wanting to put a large enterprise solution in place.

Let me know your thoughts on this one.....

Saturday 1 December 2007

Rules, Rules, Rules

One area I have been spending a fair bit of time on recently is around rule engines.

Rules engines provide real seperation of business logic from the software coding. There are two key entities: the rules themselves and the facts that the rules work on.
The rules themselves can infer new facts from the facts that they are given which can lead to further rules being fired. This "inference engine" approach is amazingly powerful and the "chaining" of rules can lead to very powerful results with just a few simple rules.

For more about Business Rules Engines see the following article in wikipedia:

I have been developing solutions on 3 different engines recently, which I wanted to share a brief view on:

Each of these platforms essentially offer the same general problem solving approach using inference engines and the ability to seperate business logic from coding. I have been involved in the Artificial Intelligence arena for over a decade in one shape or another and these types of technologies used to cost £100k+ and be used a variety of high end applications for big business and the military. Now however the technology is essentially free (well it is through JBoss Drools at least).

I am majorly impressed with these platforms now.

I have know of Jess for many years (and indeed Oracle licenced this technology) and for those of you who still like to use LISP and reverse polish notation you will be right at home. Jess is a fantastic environment for doing RAD rule development - but you need a bit of technical skill to get anything out of it. What has dissapointed me about Jess - and think this was such a missed opportunity from Scandia labs - is it never developed a decent (or any really) UI that would take it mass market... and that is a ral shame because I really do think it is the best core inference engine out there in this space. It performance is absolutely fantastic.

JBoss Rules(Drools) on the other hand has both a performantengine and has been putting a significant amount of effort in the UI side and is coming on leaps (no pun for those in the know) and bounds in this space. From being a new kid on the block I think that this will be the one to watch closely in the coming months. It is getting more akin to the Intellicorp rules platforms of a decade ago which was a dream to use to develop Knowledge based systems (but which is sadly no longer available).

Oracle Rules is an odd one that I both love but at the same time frustrates me in that Oracle I feel has missed a trick with this which could have seem them corner this part of the market. It appears to me that Oracle are not 100% convinced in this markspace so have launched something to test the water and have put just enough effort to make a decent effort and see what the customers say. That said, what Oracle have provided should be enough for most organisations to get started. As it is built on the JESS platform it has a fantastic pedigree, however Oracle being Oracle, they have bastardised the Jess platform (I dont know why - maybe commercial reasons) and you cant access the full power of Jess but some mixed/limited set of the stack. I am about to start a proper implementation of Oracle Rules in the next few weeks so I will let you know more.

Rules Engines to me are a fantastic addition into any organisations operational platform. They can, if deployed correctly, provide increadible organisational agility and power and critically real business advantage when used within an SOA. To me these are the unsung, underutilised but future heroes of the technology fabric that all major organisations will be deploying in the near future.

Fusion and the information fabric

Firstly apologies for not doing anything with this blog for so long. I have been so busy with work and trying to setup a new business that I did not continue with the blogs.

I have been working as the solution manager for the past 9 months with a major retailer putting in a new end to end Oracle platform: Siebel for the call centre, Oracle eBiz for the finance and fulfilment, Analytics for the MI, a new J2EE website all joined up using SOA suite (ESB being key). We are doing pretty well and are moving into testing now.

One question that arises around this stack is how the heck Oracle are going to implement fusion applications in reality.

From a technical standpoint Siebel has been a dissapointment for me. Maybe this is because I have been working too long with Oracle technology, but when it comes to utilising open standards Oracle is light years ahead. It appears to me that its adoption and utilisation of XML is very poor indeed. In a SOA world this is crazy. For me Siebel has been more of a case of "form over function".

I have also been (so far!) pleasantly surprised by the SOA suite components. The ESB has been fairly robust and I look forward to seeing it in action when we move into Operational Testing and failover.

The solution we have put together is essentially Oracle Fusion - joining the suites with the SOA technology. Is it possible - absolutely. I look forward to seeing how Oracle are doing it in more detail.... but for now I am confident that it can be done... as we can see it in action today.... more on this later..

Wednesday 14 February 2007

Cheers to Mr Price

I have to say a big thanks to Mr Nick Price for his many kind words on his blog: . I have known Nick since .... well lets just say he got me my first job in Oracle, so you can all blame him!

Nick is one of the outstanding leaders in the Oracle recruitment space. His company, Bright Purple (formally CareerCare) is one of the leading IT recruitment specialists in the UK.

Keep an eye on Nick and BrightPurple - 2007 is going to be a very good year for them both!

Sunday 11 February 2007

Secure Enterprise Search - A decent solution at last?

For many years Oracle has been trying to play in the enterprise search space - but lets be honest, it has never really had a product as open as customers would have liked. Ultrasearch was its previous incarnation and if you had content in an oracle database or a website it could index then you were ok - if you did not then, to be honest, it was not really a great deal of use.

However, all that may be changing. Oracle has used its 15+ years of technologies such as Oracle Text, Intermedia, Ultrasearch, Collaboration suite and has now developed Secure Enterprise Search 10g, which they believe is a product that can search pretty much ALL of your content - file systems, emails, content management systems. And if an interface does not exist - you can build it and plug it in. Result!

Oracle are playing on the need for governance of data within an organisation and the explosion of content - both structure and un-structured that an enterprise needs to deal with these days.

There is a fair amount of information available from Oracle OTN but here is a summary

There are 5 key components:

  • A crawler - A time initiated Java process
  • A database - to store the results (come on it is Oracle after all!) from the crawler and index using Oracle Text.
  • A search UI and API - a web service based approach for integration and customisation
  • Admin Tool - Web based administration of crawler schedules, server config, reporting etc
  • Federator - This is one of the key changes as this allows the engine to federate queries to other engines to implement their own search - such as email servers (or indeed other SES engines).

The application runs in Oracle's J2EE engine, OC4J.

Architecturally there are some issues with this current release. Oracle will only support the configuration where the web server and SES database are on the same machine. Not very flexible or scalable. In principle they agree that they can be seperated but Oracle support will not give you support if you do. I doubt that position will last long - it cant if organisations are going to put Secure Oracle Search as a critical part of their technology fabric as it will not be easily deployed into a standard Oracle HA and DR infrastructure. However, there are work arounds for all these things (as ever) and the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

Secure access to information is handled by a single-sign on infrastructure where it is available and application specific where not - this was, and still will be I suspect a major issue when getting access to systems. From experience do not underestimate what is required to get a robust architecture in place to deal with secure searching.

As per most Oracle technology - SES uses Oracle Internet Directory for its Single Sign On (SSO) infrastructure. This can then synchronise with the likes of Active Directory to provide Single sign on across the enterprise. Until Oracle get the Oblix and Thor products they acquited last year or so fully integrated then this will still remain clunky. Also be warned that the SSO approach using Oracle Internet Directory and even Oracle's other products, such as the eBusiness Suite, can still be bug ridden and subject to the great Oracle patching cycle. This is a relatively new product (its been beta tested within Oracle for while) that is being let loose on a heterogeneous world - patching will be a way of life.

There are lots of connector available for SES including some of the Oracle ones you would expect, but the real power starts to come out with its integration to the Suits (eBusinessSuite and Seibel) and to 3rd party Content Management Systems. Some of the connectors available are (to quote Oracle):

  • Portals - SES connectors can crawl OracleAS Portal instances, Documentum eRoom and Microsoft Sharepoint Server.
  • Content Management Systems . SES connectors are also available to crawl and search EMC Documentum Content Engine, Opentext Livelink, Hummingbird DM, Filenet, IBM DB2 Content Manager.
  • Applications . SES can connect to an Application, crawl its business objects and make them searchable. Application specific authorization models are supported via plug-ins. SES provides connectors to certain specific modules of Oracle.s EBusiness Suite and Siebel CRM.

So has Oracle got a good solution? Well time will tell. All I know is that Oracle's strategy of opening up its toolsets and accepting that they operate in a world where there is more than Oracle implemented is leading to some interesting new products. Personally I think this is a great move but one that could be damaged before it takes off..... why? Cost!

Oracle SES is $30K per processor (although it can be licenced per individual also subject to minimums) which is not too bad (in an Oracle pricing sense!). However the connector pricing is also $30K PER CONNECTOR!!!! Including the eBusinessSuite Connector! Suddenly the solutions could become very expensive and as a solution architect I need to take this into account when designing solutions for my customers.

I have worked with Oracle for many years and they have some of the best products on the market (CDH for example) - however the pricing models they use still manages to suprise me, the customers and the marketplace. Such a potentially great piece of technology could be killed by price (not for the first time at Oracle!).

As ever, Oracle list prices do need to be taken with a pinch of salt. A sales cycle would not be the same without some negotiation - and Oracle Q4 is just around the corner - so if you are interested in SES the next few months may be a good time to buy!

Mark Rittman and BI

For those of you who have not yet passed Mark Rittman on the web I would recommend you have a look at his excellent Blog @

Mark is an Oracle Global Ace for BI. He is currently head of consulting at a BI specialist
SolstonePlus but goes independent at the end of the month - We all wish Mark the best of luck.

I have worked with Mark on several projects over the past few years and he is one of the best in the business.

If you are looking for an Oracle BI specialist then I would recommend you get in touch with Mark at:

Saturday 10 February 2007

The Fabric of Technology

All major vendors are after it, the middleware battleground lines are drawn and the technology fabric layers are evolving - Integration is BIG again with the open standards available through SOA (I won't mention SOA 2.0!).

Oracle's SOA suite along with new product offerings such as Web Centre and Secure Enterprise Search are the latest weapons Oracle is deploying in the war against Microsoft, BEA and IBM. Oracle also now preaches the gospel according to "Hot Pluggable", but obviously wants its customers to buy wall to wall Oracle. Are Oracle's products any good? Is this new approach sensible?

Oracle is desperately trying to move away from being seen as a proprietary technology company - Oracle Forms, Reports, Applications Interconnect, and towards an organsation which drives innovation through Service Oriented Architecture and web services. By doing so it is changing how it interacts and sells its products to its customers.

Let's all be perfectly honest - which of us live in a world that is 100% dominated by one vendor, we all have real reasons for using multiple technologies and vendor solutions within our organisations. Why? Simply because no vendor has a complete answer - nor should they ever be allowed to, it would stifle competition and innovation.

Oracle's approach to open up its middleware platform and more importantly the next release of their applications suite - Oracle Fusion Applications due in 2008/09 is a critical and smart move. It keeps its existing customers loyal by giving them increased flexibility to integrate and grow and allows organisations to buy best of breed solutions that meet their BUSINESS need. The dog is back wagging its tail!

Oracle's acquisition strategy over the past few years has been (generally!) very well thought through. They have bought many of the best of breed vendors: Seibel for CRM, Peoplesoft for HR, Oblix and Thor for Identity management etc. All of this is key for them moving forward into a heterogeneous world where organisations use multiple technologies and platforms.

What is Oracle's vision? Well Larry Ellison once had an internal broadcast in which he stated that in a few years there would be only 3 main technology vendors: Oracle, Microsoft and IBM, and there would be only 2 main Application Suite vendors: Oracle and SAP. Guess what - his vision is almost here.

What do you think? Do you think Oracle's product strategy is sound? Is it good for customers? What about their pricing models - always a bone of contention?