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BI Dashboards Using Discoverer "Drake" And BI Beans

Oracle Tips by Burleson Consulting
Mark Rittman


If you came along to the Open Word Discoverer "Drake" presentations, or had a look at the presentations and papers available for download, you'll probably have noticed that a major theme for Drake is the provision of BI "Dashboards". Built using Oracle Portal and the Discoverer "Drake" Portlet Provider, these dashboards integrate OLAP and relational reporting, display the results using tables, crosstabs, graphs and gauges, and provide a framework for bringing in other supporting information such as documents, data mining results, web clippings and XML data.

Dashboards are a bit of a "hot topic" at the moment and most BI vendor provide this facility in one form or another. So what's special about Oracle's implementation, and how does the Discoverer "Drake" version of this differ from that provided with Discoverer 9iAS?

If you've had a play around with Discoverer 9iAS you'll probably know that you can deliver Discoverer Viewer charts, crosstabs and tables through the Discoverer Portlet Provider. You need to have installed Oracle Portal, and you'll have all the 9iAS products you need as you'll have had to license the Enterprise Edition to get Discoverer and Reports. So what's different about the Drake implementation of this? Firstly, you now get a new type of visualization, "gauges", which allows you to put together KPI-style indicators to tell you whether a measure is on target, below target or above target. In the past, we've provided similar functionality using a tool called Express Web Agent, which displays data from Express databases and allows you to display one of several predefined image files based on the value found in the Express variable. No doubt the Discoverer implementation works on a similar basis, with a preset number of gauge images that are swapped in and out depending on the threshold values defined when you add the portlet to the Portal page.

What's good about this though is that the functionality will be provided "out of the box" and you won't need to build anything special to display KPI gauges in your portal page. Interestingly, these gauge portlets are only available when you deploy your Discoverer worksheets through Portal, and aren't available as graphing options when you use regular Discoverer Plus or Viewer. In addition, these portlets can take advantage of the "personalisation" feature within Oracle Portal, allowing each user to change the way that data is displayed in the portlet - changing for example the type of graph from a line graph to a bar chart, or perhaps to use the new "bubble" graph facility.

The other new feature for Discoverer "Drake" is the ability to "wire" portlets together using a shared parameter control. This control can be a drop-down list, or it can be another portlet that allows you to select dimension members using a graphical list of buttons.

At this point you might have noticed a resemblance to another BI dashboard demo Oracle have put together, this time using BI Beans and referred to as the "Executive Insight" demo.

Looking at the two demos, they appear on the surface to do the same thing - you've got a number of graphs on a web page, with a series of graphical buttons down the left-hand side to change the dimension member that's being used to limit the data down. However, the technology and tools underneath each product are on the surface quite different, so what's going on?

The Portal and Discoverer "Drake" dashboard is using Oracle Portal as a framework, and is using the Discoverer "Drake" Portlet Provider to provide the graphs, crosstabs, tables and gauges that make up the page. The Discoverer portlets are parameterised, and respond to a shared page-level parameter on the portal page. You build the portal page itself using the declarative Portal page builder within Oracle Portal (a web-based application) and the Discoverer portlets are first authored using Discoverer Plus, and then specified for inclusion in the portal page using the Portal page builder.

A BI Beans-based dashboard is a different proposition altogether, and requires you to use JDeveloper to put it together. In previous BI Beans releases, you could drag and drop presentation beans, and graphing beans, and whatever beans onto the JDeveloper JSP canvas, but then you were pretty much on your own in terms of stitching it together using Java code, but with the upcoming 10g Release 2 version of BI Beans, this is eased somewhat by a more visual development environment that helps you wire all the presentation beans together using drag-and-drop page controls. Either way, however, it's a lot more involved than building your dashboard using Portal and Discoverer, so why might you still use BI Beans now that these are out?

For most people, now that Drake is almost with us and the portal functionality has been enhanced, the most sensible option is to build your BI dashboard using Portal, Discoverer "Drake" and the "Drake" Portlet Provider. You can build a dashboard with no knowledge of Java, you get the gauge portlet thrown in for good measure, and you can bring in any additional data that Portal can render. However, if what you're looking for is a more interactive dashboard, more perhaps like an "executive briefing book", and you want to provide a whole set of controls on the page to change the dimension member being reported on, step through a set of briefing pages, or provide additional functionality such as the ability to capture user input to perhaps use for forecasting or allocating data, then a BI Beans-powered dashboard is probably more appropriate. In addition, because BI Beans dashboards don't require the whole Application Server framework to deploy, and instead can be deployed through any J2EE-compliant application server (such as Apache Tomcat), you can build JSP-based dashboards any integrate them into an existing web-based application.

If you're interested in find out more, you can read more about the dashboard functionality in a paper and presentation put together by Oracle's Chon Chua and Keith Laker entitled "Introducing The Discoverer "Drake" Release : Personalized Dashboards Supporting OLAP And Relational Access" available for download from the Open World site.
 

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