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Delivering Oracle Business Intelligence
Updated: 16 hours 16 min ago

Rittman Mead at ODTUG KScope’15, Hollywood Florida

Fri, 2015-06-19 05:50


ODTUG KScope’15 is running in Hollywood, Florida next week and Rittman Mead are running a number of sessions during the week on OBIEE, Essbase, ODI and Big Data. I’ve personally been attending ODTUG KScope (or “Kaleidoscope”, as it used to be known) for many years now and it’s the best developer-centric conference we go to, coupled with amazing venues and a great community atmosphere.

Sessions we’re running over the week include:

  • Gianni Ceresa : 2-in-1: RPD Magic and Hyperion Planning “Adapter”
  • Jerome : Manage Your Oracle Data Integrator Development Lifecycle
  • Michael Rainey : Practical Tips for Oracle Business Intelligence Applications 11g Implementations
  • Michael Rainey : GoldenGate and Oracle Data Integrator: A Perfect Match
  • Mark Rittman : Bringing Oracle Big Data SQL to OBIEE and ODI
  • Mark Rittman : End-to-End Hadoop Development Using OBIEE, ODI, and Oracle Big Data
  • Mark Rittman : Thursday Deep Dive – Business Intelligence: Bringing Oracle Tools to Big Data
  • Andy Rocha & Pete Tamisin : OBIEE Can Help You Achieve Your GOOOOOOOOOALS!

We’ll also be taking part in various “Lunch and Learn” sessions, community and ACE/ACE Director events, and you can also talk to us about our new OBIEE “User Engagement” initiative and how you can get involved as an early adopter. Details and agenda for KScope’15 can be found on the event website, and if you’re coming we’ll look forward to seeing you in sunny Hollywood, Florida!

Categories: BI & Warehousing

Replicating Hive Data Into Oracle BI Cloud Service for Visual Analyzer using BICS Data Sync

Thu, 2015-06-18 15:26

In yesterday’s post on using Oracle Big Data Discovery with Oracle Visual Analyzer in Oracle BI Cloud Service, I said mid-way through the article that I had to copy the Hadoop data into BI Cloud Service so that Visual Analyzer could use it; at present Oracle Visual Analyzer is only available as part of Oracle BI Cloud Service (BICS) so at some point the data prepared by Big Data Discovery had to be moved into BICS so that Visual Analyzer (VA) could access it. In the future once Visual Analyzer is available on-premise as part of Oracle Business Intelligence 12c we’ll be able to connect the on-premise RPD directly to Hadoop via the Cloudera Impala ODBC driver, but for now to get this early access to VA features we’re going to have to copy the data up to BICS and report on it from there. So how does this work?

With this second release of BICS there are actually a number of ways to get on-premise data up into BICS’s accompanying database service:

  • As before, you can export data as CSV or an Excel Spreadsheet, and upload it manually into BICS using the Data Load feature (the approach I took in this recent Oracle Magazine article)
  • You can use SQL*Developer to SFTP “carts” of Oracle database data up into BICS, where it’ll then be unpacked and used to create Oracle tables in the accompanying database
  • You can now also connect BICS to the full Oracle Database-as-a-Service, a full database rather than a single schema that also provides a SQL*Net connection that ETL tools can connect to, for example ODI or Informatica
  • And there’s now a new utility called “Data Sync” that we’ll use in this example, to replicate tables or files up into BICS’s database store with options for incremental refresh, drop-and-reload and so forth

In our case the situation is a bit more complicated in that our data sits in a Hadoop cluster, as Hive tables that we’re accessing through the Cloudera Impala MPP engine. OBIEE can actually connect directly to Impala and if we were just using Answers and Dashboards we wouldn’t have any more work to do, but as we’re using VA through BICS and BICS can’t access on-premise data sources, we need some way of copying the data up into BICS so VA can access it. Again, there’s many ways you can get data out of Hive on Hadoop and into databases and files, but the approach I took is this:

  1. First export each of the Hive tables I accessed through the on-premise RPD into CSV files, in my case using the Hue web-based user interface in CDH5
  2. Then use the Data Sync to upload the contents of those CSV files to BICS’s database store, selecting the correct Oracle datatypes for each of the columns
  3. Do any modeling on those tables to add any sequences or keys that I’m going to need when working with BICS’s more simplistic RPD modeller
  4. Then create a replica (or as close to replica) RPD model in BICS to support the work I’m going to want to do with VA

Again, there are also other ways to do this – another option is to just lift-and-shift the current RPD up into BICS, and replicate the Hive/CSV data into Oracle Database-as-a-Service and then repoint the uploaded RPD to this service, but I haven’t got a DBaaS instance to-hand and I think it’d be more useful to replicate using BICS and recreate the RPD manually – as that’s what most customers using BICS will end-up doing. So the first step then is to export the Hive data out into CSV files using Hue, by first running a SELECT * FROM … for each table, then using the menu option to export the query results to a CSV file on my workstation.


Then it’s a case of setting up BICS Data Sync to first connect to my BICS cloud instance, and then selecting one-by-one the CSV files that I’ll be uploading into BICS via this tool.


Of course anyone who’s been around Oracle BI for a while will recognise Data Sync as being built on the DAC, the ETL orchestration tool that came with the 7.9.x releases of BI Apps and worked in-conjunction with Informatica PowerCenter to load data into the BI Apps data warehouse. The DAC is actually a pretty flexible tool (disclaimer – I know the development PMs at Redwood Shores and think they’re a pretty cool bunch of people) and more recently it gained the ability to replicate BI Apps DW data into TimesTen for use with Exalytics, so it’s pluggable architecture and active development team meant it provided a useful platform to deliver something in-between BICS’s ApEX data uploader and fully-fledged ODI loading into Oracle DBaaS. The downside of using something built on the DAC is that the DAC had some UI “quirks”, but equally the upside is that if you know the DAC, you can pretty much pick up Data Sync and guess how it works.

As part of uploading each CSV file, I also get to sample the file contents and confirm the datatype choices that Data Sync has suggested; these can of course be amended, and if I’m bringing in data from Oracle, for example, I wouldn’t need to go through such an involved process. 


Then it’s a case of uploading the data. In my case one of the tables uploaded OK first time, but an issue I hit was where Hive tables had numeric columns containing NULLs that got exported as the text “NULL” and then caused the load to fail when trying to insert them into numeric columns. Again, a bit of knowledge of how the DAC worked came in useful as I went through the log files and then restarted parts of the load – in the end I replaced the word NULL with an empty string and the loads then succeeded. 


Now the data should be uploaded to BICS, you can check out the new tables and their contents either from within BICSs Data Modeller function, or from within the ApEx console that comes with BICS’s database part.


One thing I did know I’d have to give some thought to was how to do the types of RPD modelling I’d done in the on-premise RPD, within the more constrained environment of the BICS data modeller. Looking back at the on-premise RPD I’ve made a lot of use of aliases to create fact and dimension versions of key log tables (posts, tweets) and multiple versions of the date dimensions, whereas in BICS you don’t get aliases but you can create database views. What was more worrying was that I’d used columns from the main webserver log table to populate both the main logical fact table and another dimension whilst still keeping a single source table as their physical source, but in BICS I’d have to create these two sources as views and then join them on a common key, which would be tricky as the log table in Hive didn’t have an obvious primary key. In the end I “cheated” a bit and created a derived copy of the incoming log file table with a sequence number added to it, so that I could then join both the derived fact table and dimension table on this synthetic unique key column.


Now it’s a case of modelling out the various incoming tables uploaded via Data Sync into the facts and dimensions that the BICS data model will use; again something to be aware of is that each of these tables will need to join to its relevant dimensions or facts, so you need to leave the joining keys in the fact table rather than remove them as you’d do when creating logical fact tables in on-premise OBIEE.


Tables that only perform one role, for example the IMP_RM_POSTS_VA table that contains details of all blog posts and web pages on our site, can be brought into the model as they are without creating views. For the second time when I add in the time dimension table, this time to create a time dimension role table for the Tweets fact table, I have to create a view over the table that performs a similar role to alias tables in on-premise OBIEE, and I’m then directed to create a fact or dimension object in the model from that view.


Once this is all done, I end up with a basic BICS data model that’s starting to look like the one I had with the on-premise OBIEE install.


Then finally, once I’d amended all the column names, brought in all of the additional columns and lookup tables to provide for example lists of Twitter user handles, I could then view the model in BICS’s Visual Analyzer and start produce data visualisation projects off of it.


So – it’s admittedly a bit convoluted in the first iteration but once you’ve set up the BICS data model and the Data Sync upload process, you can use DataSync to refresh the replicated Hive table data in the BICS database instance and keep the two systems in-sync. As I said, OBIEE12c will come with Visual Analyzer as part of the on-premise install, but until then this is the way we link VA to Big Data Discovery on Hadoop to enable Visual Analyzer access to BDD’s enriched datasets.

Categories: BI & Warehousing

Introducing Rittman Mead’s New User Engagement Service

Thu, 2015-06-18 05:15


Although you’ve been hearing a lot on the blog recently about extending Oracle BI&DW with Hadoop and big data technologies, another initiative Rittman Mead have been working on over the past couple of months is user engagement. All-too often developers create BI systems that meet all an organisation’s technical goals, but then fail to get adopted by users for reasons we can’t understand; all we know is that our brilliantly-architected system just doesn’t seem to engage users, and that’s just as fatal to a project as the ETL not working or the underlying technology being out-of-date.

Surveys have shown that adoption rates for new BI systems are often as low as 25%, because we don’t focus enough on the user experience (UX) or user interface, queries run too slow, the data or reports just aren’t relevant or the overall experience just isn’t up to the standard that internet users expect now. If you’re a BI manager or a CIO for your organisation it’s essential that you know whether the BI systems you’re providing for your users are actually being used, and it’s quite often the case that a BI system provided by the IT department is thought to be well-used by the end-users, but when you check the usage stats you’ll find that engagement has really fallen-off since the initial rollout of the system – and the worst thing is, you probably don’t really know why this is, all you know is that users aren’t happy and they’re now looking to implement some self-service tools that’ll break your data governance model.

To help you improve user engagement for your BI system and increase the return on your investment in Oracle technology, Rittman Mead are developing a User Engagement Service to address these issues along with a User Engagement Toolkit developed by the likes of Robin Moffatt, Jordan Meyer, Tom Underhill and other OBIEE and UX experts within Rittman Mead. Initial details of the service are on our Rittman Mead User Engagement Service homepage and the Rittman Mead User Engagement Service Datasheet, look-out for more information on these services over the coming days and weeks, and if you’re interested in getting-involved in our early-adopter program you can sign-up using the form below and we’ll get back to you shortly.

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Categories: BI & Warehousing

Combining Oracle Big Data Discovery and Oracle Visual Analyzer on BICS

Wed, 2015-06-17 13:11

So now that Oracle Visual Analyzer is out as part of Oracle BI Cloud Service, and Visual Analyzer (VA) is due to ship on-premise as part of OBIEE12c sometime in the next twelve months, several of our customers have asked us if they need both VA and Oracle Big Data Discovery if they’re looking to analyse Hadoop data as part of a BI project. It’s an interesting question so I thought it’d be useful to go through my thoughts on how the two tools work together, when to use one, and when to use the other.

Taking our standard “big data” dataset of website log activity, Twitter mentions and page details from our WordPress blogging software, before Visual Analyzer came along the two usual ways we’d want to analyze these datasets is either a traditional BI metrics analysis-type scenario, and a data discovery/visualization scenario where we’re more interested in the content of the data rather than precise metrics. My half of the recent BI Forum 2015 Masterclass goes through these two scenarios in detail (presentation slides in PDF format here), and it’s Big Data Discovery that provides the more “Tableau”-type experience with fast point-and-click access to both datasets joined together on their common website page URL details.


Now we have Visual Analyzer though, things get interesting; in my article on Visual Analyzer within BICS I showed a number of data visualisations that look pretty similar to what you’d get with Big Data Discovery, and when we have VA available on-site as part of OBIEE12c we’ll be able to connect it directly to Hadoop via Cloudera Impala, potentially analyzing the whole dataset rather than the (representative) sample that Big Data Discovery loads into its Endeca Server-based engine.


So if the customer is looking to analyze data held in Hadoop and Visual Analyzer is available, where’s the value in Big Data Discovery (BDD)? To my mind there’s three areas where BDD goes beyond what VA can do, or helps you perform tasks that you’ll need to do before you can work with your data in VA:

  • The initial data discovery, preparation and cleansing that you’d otherwise have to do using HiveQL or an ETL tool such as ODI12c
  • Providing you with a high-level overview and landscape of your data, when that’s more important to you at the time than precise counts and drill-down analysis
  • Understanding how data joins together, and how best to use your datasets in terms of metrics, facts, dimensions and so forth

Taking the data preparation and cleansing part first, I’ve covered in several blogs over the past couple of years how tools such as ODI can be used to create formal, industrialized data pipelines to ingest, prepare and then summarise data coming into your Hadoop system, and how you can drop-down to languages such as HiveQL, Pig and Spark to code these data transformations yourself. In the case of my webserver log, twitter and page details datasets this work would include standardising URL formats across the three sources, geocoding the IP addresses in the access logs to derive the country and city for site visitors, turning dates and times in different formats into ones that work as Hive timestamps, and so forth. Doing this all using ODI and/or HiveQL can be a pretty technical task, so where BDD comes in useful even – if VA and an OBIEE RPD is the final destination for the data.


Datasets that you transform and enrich in Big Data Discovery can be saved back to Hive as new Hive tables, or exported out as files for you to load into Oracle using SQL*Developer, or upload into BICS to use in Visual Analyzer. Where BDD then becomes useful is giving you a quick, easy to use overview of your dataset before you get into the serious business of defining facts, dimensions and aliases against these three Hive tables. The screenshots below show a couple of typical Big Data Discovery Studio data visualisation pages against the webserver logs dataset, and you can see how easy it is to create simple charts, tag clouds and maps against the data you’re working with – the aim being to give you an overview of the data you’re working with, help you understand its contents and “shape”, before moving further down the curation process and applying formal structures to the data.


Where things get harder to do within Big Data Discovery is when more-and-more formatting, complex joining and “arranging” of the data is required; for example, BDD gives you a lot of flexibility in how you join datasets, but this flexibility can be confusing for end-users if they’re then presented with every possible variation of a three-table join rather than having the data presented to them as simple facts and dimensions. But this is how we’d really expect it – if you go back to the logical data architecture I went through in the blog post a while ago about the updated Oracle Information Management Reference Architecture, the trade-off in using schema-on-read data reservoirs is that this data, although quick and cheap to store, requires a lot more work to be done each time you access the data to get “value” from it.


OBIEE, in contrast, makes you define your data structures in-full before you present data to end-users, dividing data in the three datasets into measures (for the fact tables) and attributes (for dimensions) and making it possible to add more dimension lookups (for a date dimension, for Twitter users in this case) and separate the overall set of data into more focused subject areas. Working with the dataset on the on-premise version of OBIEE first, the RPD that I created to present this data in a more formal, dimensional and hierarchical way to users looked like this:


I can leave this RPD connected directly to the underlying Hive and Impala tables if I want to use just Answers and Dashboards, but for the time being I either need to export the underlying Hive tables into CSV files or into an Oracle Database before uploading into Visual Analyzer, but come OBIEE12c this should all be seamless. What users are then presented with when they go into Visual Analyzer is then something like this:


Notice how the various attributes of interest are grouped into fact and dimension table folders, and there’s a simple means to add calculations, change the visualisation type and swap chart settings around. Note also that the count on the screen is the actual count of records in the full dataset, not the sample that BDD takes in order to provide an overview of values and distribution in the full dataset. Whilst it’s relatively easy to create a line chart, for example, to show tweets per user within BDD, using Visual Analyzer it’s just a case of double-clicking on the relevant measures and attributes on one side of the page, selecting and arranging the visualisation and applying any filters using dialog boxes and value-selectors – all much more familiar and obvious to BI users.


Enrichment to the data that I’ve done in Big Data Discovery should in most cases be able to come through to Visual Analyzer; for example, I used Big Data Discovery’s text enrichment features to determine the sentiment of blog post titles, tweets and other commentary data, I could use the latitude and longitude values derived during the visitor IP address geocoding to plot site visitors on a map. Using the sentiment value derived from the post title, tweet contents and other textual data, I can create a chart of our most popular posts mentioned on Twitter and colour bars to show how positive, or negative, the comments about the post were.


The only thing that Visual Analyzer can’t yet do that would be useful, is to be able to include more than one subject area in a project. To analyze the number of tweets and the number of page views for posts in a scatter chart, for example, I currently have to create a separate subject area that includes both sets of facts and dimensions, though I understand BICS on VA will have the ability to include multiple subject areas in a forthcoming release.


So in summary, I’d say that Big Data Discovery, and Visual Analyzer as part of BI Cloud Service, are complementary tools rather than one being able to replace the other in a big data context. I find that Big Data Discovery is a great tool to initially understand, catalog and view at a high-level data sources going into VA, and then  to do some user-driven cleaning-up of the data, enhancing it and enriching it before committing it to the formal dimensional model that Visual Analyzer requires.

In its BICS guise there’s the additional step of having to export the Hadoop data out of your Big Data Appliance or other Hadoop cluster and upload it in the form of files using BICS’s data load or the new Data Sync utility, but when VA comes as part of OBIEE12c in the next twelve months you’ll be able to directly connect to the Hadoop cluster using Impala ODBC and analyse the data directly, in-place.

I’ll be covering more on BICS over the next few weeks, including how I got data from Hadoop into BICS using the new Data Sync utility.

Categories: BI & Warehousing

Can Better Visual Design Impact User Engagement?

Tue, 2015-06-16 04:44

For every dashboard succinctly displaying key business metrics, there’s another that is a set of unconnected graphs which don’t provide any insight to its viewers.

In order for your users to get value from your business intelligence and analytics systems they need to be engaging, they need to tell a story.

As part of its User Engagement initiative Rittman Mead has created a User Engagement Service. A key part of this is a Visual Redesign process. Through this process, we review an organisation’s existing dashboards and reports and transform them into something meaningful and engaging.

This service focuses on the user interface and user experience; here we will use our expertise in data visualisation to deliver high value OBIEE dashboards.

The process starts by prioritising your dashboards and then, taking one at a time, rebuilds them. There are 3 key concepts that lie behind this process.

Create a guided structure of information

The layout of information on a dashboard should tell the user a story. This makes it much easier for data to be consumed because users can identify related data and instantly see what is relevant to them. If a user can consume the data they need easily, they’re more likely to come back for more. ‘The founder of modern management’, Peter Drucker said “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” When users are in touch with their data, they will be more engaged with the business.


To achieve this, first we must consider the audience. We need to know who will be consuming the dashboards and how they will be used. Then we can begin to create a design that will satisfy the users’ needs. Secondly, we need to think about what we exclude as much as what we include on the dashboard. There is limited space, so it needs to be used effectively. Only information that adds value should be displayed on a dashboard and everything should be there for a reason. Finally, we need to consider what questions the users want to answer and what decisions will be based on this. This will enable us to guide the user to the information that will help them take action.

Choose the right visuals

One common design mistake is overcrowding of dashboards. Dashboards often develop over time to become a jumbled array of graphs and tables with no consideration of the visual design.

The choice of graphs will determine how readable the information being displayed on a dashboard is. We constantly ask ourselves “What is the best graph for the data?” Understanding how different types of graphs answer different questions, allows us to make the best visual choices. This is a vital tool for communicating messages to the users and providing them with the ability to identify patterns and relationships in the data more efficiently.

Thoughtful use of colour

The use of colour is an effective way to draw attention to something, connect related objects and evoke users’ emotions. Thoughtful use of colour can have a big impact on user engagement. To be sure we choose the best colours throughout dashboard design, the key question we need to ask ourselves is, “how will these colours make the user feel?”

Like the charts themselves, every different colour used on a dashboard should be there for a reason. Intentional use of colour could determine how a user will feel whilst consuming the information being displayed to them. Bright, unnatural colours will alarm users and attract their attention. Cool colours will give a restful, calming feel to the user and are most effective for displaying sustained trends. Through taking into consideration the most effective way to use colour, we can work towards creating an attractive visual design, which is engaging and enjoyable to use.

Applying these 3 concepts through Rittman Mead’s visual redesign process, has proven to result in engaging OBIEE dashboards. Users are equipped to make the most out of their data, allowing them to make informative business decisions.

Rittman Mead’s Visual Redesign process is a key part Rittman Mead’s User Engagement Service, for more info see

If you are interested in hearing more about User Engagement please sign up to our mailing list below.

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Categories: BI & Warehousing