Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Jump-Start to OBIEE with Noetix

Last year around this time, I was on the exhibition floor at Oracle Open World in San Francisco, looking for inspiration. My shop runs PeopleSoft HCM, E-Business Suite Financials, and Hyperion Planning and over the last two years we have been mired in upgrades (R12 going live 59 days from now will be the last... and then we will not speak of upgrades for at least six months, I hope!) But I was grappling with one key issue: how to advance business intelligence and reporting, especially for the financial management community here. So I took full advantage of the crowded exhibition floor(s) at the Moscone Center, spending several hours watching demos and asking questions about packaged analytics for core financials, hoping something would click.

We chose Noetix in large part because of the Noetix Generator, a feature that converts those NoetixViews into an RPD (metadata repository) compatible with Oracle Business Intelligence. From all appearances, this was a "turn-key" solution that within mere hours (literally) would give my team a solid base from which to start delivering analyses and dashboards to our hungry-for-data business end users, heretofore accustomed to hours of manual manipulations. Of course I had heard about the (in)famous views and knew that many of our higher education EBS peers use the Views to power Discoverer (which we never implemented here).

Of course it didn't happen that fast... A seed planted in San Francisco in early October sprouted in the spring and blossomed in the summer. There were contracts and demos and reference calls and internal discussions before we made the decision; the software was installed to our test environment in mid-August. Which brings us to today, about to go-live in 2-3 weeks with a dozen Payables and Receivables reports despite an R12 Upgrade looming on the horizon...

So how does it work? After trying to find answers on the web, this blog intends to pay it forward and give a little insight into the process and what we have learned so far.

1. NoetixViews are NoetixViews are NoetixViews... If you know them, there is nothing else to say. If you don't, these pre-built views are installed in a new schema on your E-Business Suite database server. Standard views (not materialized) and although initial testing has been positive, many here harbor reservations about adverse performance impacts... We shall see! So far we have been pleased with the breadth / coverage of the views themselves, although there is a learning curve to navigating the views, which brings me to...

2. The incredibly intuitive Noetix Search tool (shown below) is my new best friend (when I am secretly developing reports instead of managing my department). The director of back-office operations told me that this feature alone might justify the investment.  It is hard not to wish we had a data dictionary like this for our enterprise data warehouse... 

Noetix Search: My New BFF

3. Noetix Generator automatically generates OBIEE application roles, meta-data repository, and pre-delivered report templates known as "Answers" (more on this below) -- the three critical components of the OBIEE solution. It really does work as advertised -- in mere minutes after installing the Views to EBS we had a fully functioning data model to write reports against!
Action Shot of NoetixViews in OBIEE
4. Noetix Workbench is a tool for customizing NoetixViews and the corresponding RPD...  And you will need to customize, there's no two ways about it. We own this new module but have not yet had a chance to use it. since I laid down a "no customizations" edict for the first roll-out! We are building a backlog of required customizations; nothing earth-shattering, but it has become clearer to me that some degree of customization is inevitable for every customer...

And now for some initial observations / fun facts about our implementation so far:

The first fun fact about this Noetix/OBI solution is that my team was able to build a robust library of reports in a matter of hours. If you're starting with inexperience in OBIEE or lack of knowledge of E-Business Suite data terminology, the curve is steeper. But this solution represents exactly the jump-start I was hoping for. People were shocked.

The second fun fact is that the delivered Answers, which are plainly advertised as templates rather than ready-to-use reports, provide a useful window into the data model and potential performance issues. We executed a time-consuming but ultimately valuable exercise of creating a Confluence page for each report with a screenshot, high-level description, performance results, and an initial assessment of the functional fit given what we know of the University business. We then made these pages available to the business stakeholders to gather their feedback. The reports accomplished exactly what I expected -- they spurred conversation and helped my team learn their way around; none of the "Answers" will be deployed to our PROD environment, but several will serve as inspirations!
Analyzing Packaged Noetix "Answers" (Report Templates) in Confluence

The third fun fact is that by default  the Noetix Generator RPD sets the cache property to "Never Expire" for all the Views... And the only other option is No Cache... We are working with them to figure out how to get to someplace in between.This also raises an issue that if you promise "real-time" to people but there's a data cache... Guess what? Not real-time after all!

(There is a much broader topic for future blogging on how to define a cache management strategy. The impact on the user experience is tremendous... Just think about the potential frustration from a user if a prompt list takes 45 seconds to render -- put that baby in cache!)
And the fourth fun fact: the Noetix subject area is NOT a dimension / fact structure the way that OBIEE gurus might expect it to be. These are big, fat, traditional views. This takes some getting used to... And there are some disadvantages if you've grown accustomed to star schemata. But it also proved something important to me -- are we making this thing (OBIEE) too complicated? Are there traditional views that might be fit for use without jumping through a bunch of data modeling hoops?

More questions than answers, but I am extremely excited about our prospects!

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At November 9, 2015 at 4:19 AM, Anonymous Ashish said...

Good writeup. I am new to noetix and your blog helped clear a lot of concepts in my mind. Thank you.


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