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.