Sunday, March 29, 2009

Playing around with CRM Gadgets

Siebel CRM Gadgets have been introduced along with Siebel 8.1.1 in November 2008.

Recently, I had the opportunity to poke my nose into the zoo of gadgets.

As you can read from the documentation (Installation Guide and User Guide on Oracle Wiki), this is the first version and it supports Siebel CRM and Siebel CRM OnDemand.

In this post I would like to summarize my first impressions.

Prerequisites
  • Have access to a running Siebel Server or CRM OnDemand instance.
  • Download and install Adobe Air (which is obviously the platform of choice)
Download and install Siebel CRM Gadgets

You can download the Gadgets from edelivery.oracle.com. The package includes .air files for each of the gadgets.

First you install and start the Oracle Gadget Manager. Enter the application URL, username and password and click Save. The Oracle Gadget Manager connects to the Siebel Application via http (my assumption is that it uses the SWE API) and retrieves data for the gadgets. It does a data refresh any time you click the Save button or every 30 minutes automatically.


You have to leave the Gadget Manager open for the other gadgets to work.

You should also install the Oracle Tune Up Tool For Gadget Manager which allows you to configure the gadgets. For example, you can specify the Siebel view which is used to retrieve the data (which controls data visibility by choosing the respective "My", "All" or "All across" views).

Next you can start installing and using the other gadgets. I tried the following two:

Contacts

The Contacts gadget lists contact data from Siebel. You can categorize contacts as customers, references or prospects (which happens in the gadget only and is not written back to Siebel CRM). If you have access to Contact Center OnDemand, you can click on the phone number to call the contact. When you click the email address, your mail client opens a new email form. There is no write-back, so when you use the gadget to send emails, no activities are generated in Siebel CRM.

The search option allows you to enter names or filter for categories. You can also click a social network button which initiates a web search (in Google) for the selected contact.


Top Accounts

The Top Accounts gadgets lists account data from Siebel. The interesting part is that you can assign a stock symbol to each account (again, this is not written back to Siebel) and the gadget displays the current stock quote.

Click the RSS feed symbol and marvel at a list of current news about the selected account.


Conclusion

Siebel CRM Gadgets allow users to quickly review Siebel data without having to connect and navigate in the Siebel client. You can also associate Siebel data with web based information such as stock quotes and social networks. However there is no write-back functionality (at least in this release) so no emails or phone calls are documented as activities.

Also the configuration options for the gadgets are somewhat limited (colors, number of records and refresh interval is all you can set).

The Tune Up Tool is a bit awkward to use but at least lets you select the Siebel view and the fields you wish to display.

For a description of the other gadgets (Quota, Search and Top Deals) please refer to the User Guide.

Have a nice day

@lex

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sample Workflows

Somewhere between the Siebel CRM versions 7.0 and 7.8, the sample workflows were removed from the standard repository. These workflows did not serve any purpose but showcase typical uses of Siebel Workflow.

Several guides in Siebel bookshelf reference these sample workflows.

You can find workflows showing EAI mechanisms, data copy and creation, Inbox usage and the like.

But where are the workflows?

If you have installed the Siebel Industry Applications sample database you will find them as .xml files (ready to be imported in Siebel Tools) in the following directory:

SIEBEL_INSTALLDIR/sample/workflows


Have a nice day

@lex

Sunday, March 22, 2009

More Dynamics in OBI EE Physical Layer

During a BI project there are numerous opportunities to go down the stony road and establish redundancies where you do not really want them.

When I am in a provocative mood (which I am not very often, I assure you), I use to ask "Do you want a 'B' project or a 'BI' project?". There are so many pitfalls waiting for us to stumble into and reveal our bad (or sometimes even non-existent) design.

There are many triggers for this post, as there are many fine people blogging about OBI EE (here and here to mention just two of them, keep up the good work!) and I would also like to thank the many people who contact me with questions regarding OBI EE design and architecture.

Today I would like to examine options we have to make the physical layer definitions more dynamic. Of course we all know about aliases in the physical layer, so I will omit these.

1. Multiple Connection Pools (and permissions)

As John Minkjan points out in his post on multiple connection pools, these object types have a security permission button which allows us to define which user (or group) uses which connection pool.

This can be very convenient, if you want to "switch" the users to different connection pools. The connection pools could even point to different data sources so you can implement a simple solution to use the same set of requests/dashboards/business model against different databases (such as DEV or PROD).

In the below screenshot (click to enlarge), please note that we can set permissions for a group/user in the General tab for either a presentation layer object or connection pools (the only object type in the physical layer that has permission management options).


2. Dynamic Names

The dynamic names feature is described in several places across the Oracle BI EE and Marketing Segmentation documentation.

Simply put, it enables us to assign the value of a session variable(!) instead a static name to the following object types:
  • Physical Catalog (useful for accessing different db schemas)
  • Physical Table (for switching between tables)
  • Alias
A real life example is the sampling factor in the OBI EE Marketing Segment Designer. Instead of issuing a lengthy count statement against the original table (with let's say 10 millions of records), you can do a count against a sampling table (with a sample of 5%, that is 500.000 records) and then multiply with the necessary factor (20 in our example) to get an extrapolated result.

Sampling factor setting in Segment Designer

Remember you can set session variables not only using Initialization Blocks but also from the presentation services using either a dashboard prompt or the SET VARIABLE operator in an advanced SQL prefix.

3. Variables

As many of you savvy readers are aware, we can use session and repository variables all over the place in the Administration Tool to make our lives easier (or more complicated?). For example you can specify a connection pools' data source as VALUEOF(OLTP_DSN) and use a repository variable named OLTP_DSN to carry the value (which is the way it is done in Oracle BI Applications).

4. More?

Do you have more ways of bringing your physical layer to dynamic life? Let me know by adding a comment to this post.

Have a nice day

@lex

Friday, March 20, 2009

Automating DAC

I am frequently asked about options to automate the DAC. In most cases the question is around controlling or monitoring execution plans.

There are two command line utilities available, both of which are well documented, so for details please refer to the documentation links. This post is intended to give you a quick overview and point to the often overseen DAC documentation.

1. DACCmdLine.bat

This is a rather well-known batch file which resides in the DAC folder. Before you can use it you must edit it and insert the path to your Java SDK and the DAC home directory. It comes along with two other files
  • dac.properties
  • DAWSystem.jar
where dac.properties is a text file which needs some editing before first use and DAWSystem.jar is the main executable. You can copy all three files on a different machine if you need to work with the DAC remotely.

Please click here for more information about the initial setup

You can use DACCmdLine.bat in a command shell with 5 different commands basically allowing you to start, stop and monitor an execution plan as well as retrieve the status of all registered databases and Informatica servers.
  • StartETL
  • StopETL
  • ETL
  • DatabaseStatus
  • InformaticaStatus
all of which are described in the Bookshelf. Click here to access the documentation.

2. AutomationUtils.bat

The second option for DAC automation is another not-so-well-known batch file which allows you to do the following from the command line:
  • Import and export DAC metadata
  • Create or drop a DAC repository schema
  • Analyze the DAC repository tables
  • Upgrade the DAC repository
  • Set the password on Informatica servers and data sources
Please click here for the documentation of AutomationUtils.bat

Have a nice day

@lex

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Results of the Upgrade Poll

Overwhelmed and flabbergasted are words that express my feelings when I marvel at the participation and results of the Upgrade Season Poll I initiated weeks ago. A big "Thank You very much!" to the Siebel webciety for your participation.

Let's review and discuss the results.

As is the case with blog polls, the poll does neither represent a statistical significant sample nor does the poll technology of blogger/google prevent multiple and/or joke entries. But let's assume that the answers are distinct and from honest Siebel project team members.

Question #1: Your current Siebel CRM version


As this is answered on an individual team member level, we can devise the following:

3% of the poll participants currently work on a Siebel 6 project
0% currently work on a Siebel 7.0 project
8% currently work on a Siebel 7.5 project
20% currently work on a Siebel 7.7 project
20% currently work on a Siebel 7.8 project
27% currently work on a Siebel 8.0 project
20% currently work on a Siebel 8.1 project

(Yeah, I know that doesn't match up to 100% but please don't blame me for google's math ;-)

So Siebel 6 aka 2000 is still around, soon to mark its 10th anniversary. Also we see that 7.0 is most probably not used anymore and 7.5 comes second after Siebel 2000.

87% of the poll participants work on Siebel 7.7 or later, so most of you have access to the significant features that were introduced with Siebel 7.7.

Almost half (47%) of the participants work on a Siebel 8.x project. This shows the wide adoption of the latest major releases.

Question #2: Your upgrade plans for Siebel 8.1.1


From the individual answers we can conclude that

6% of the participants work in a Siebel CRM project that is already live on 8.1.1
17% of the poll participants currently spend their time upgrading to 8.1.1
20% work in a project which has plans to upgrade in 2009
18% work in a project which has plans to upgrade in 2010
26% work in a project where there are (currently) no plans to upgrade

There is much buzz in the project world around upgrading to Siebel 8.1.1. It seems that end of 2010 we will see a vast majority of projects on Siebel 8.1.1 (or even a later version).

Question #3: Your Siebel CRM upgrade experience


30% of the individual respondents have no experience with upgrades so far
17% are currently working on their first Siebel CRM upgrade project
32% have already completed one upgrade project
19% have already completed more than one upgrade project

A somewhat heterogenous result which shows that half (47%) of the Siebel techie population has a rookie status on upgrades while the other half (51%, yeah, I know there are some % missing ;-) has been able to collect experience on upgrade projects.

Let me advertise once again on the Oracle University Upgrade Workshop which is offered on request. Let me know if you are interested.

Have a nice day

@lex

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Scriptless Siebel - A Challenge

Those who know my professional me, are well aware of the fact that I often act as an advocate against scripting. Let me define scripting vs. adding functionality (that doesn't yet exist) to Siebel CRM.

Personally, I define "scripting" as the attempt to solve requirements such as automation, validation or integration in Siebel CRM by inserting custom code into the event handlers exposed by the Siebel application.

As we all know, Siebel CRM has four object types that expose event handlers:
  • Applet
  • Application
  • Business Component
  • Business Service
I define adding code to the first three object types as "scripting". I consider business services the only place where custom code should reside. One reason for this is that we can apply professional coding concepts such as reusability and encapsulation.

During the past 8 years which I mainly spent either in the front of a Siebel classroom or on various projects, I came to the conclusion that (increasing with the Siebel version number) there are fewer valid reasons to use scripting (objects other than business services) than we all might think.

Siebel 7 introduced so many standard business services and with Siebel 8.1 we currently have so many non-script options (workflow being only one of many) to solve automation, validation or integration requirements.

In a previous post (Close to the Standard) I tried to point out how to add functionality to Siebel CRM while behaving like a standard developer. When standard developers at Oracle engineering need to add new functionality to Siebel CRM, they write business services and orchestrate them in workflows.

So this is the way we should solve requirements in the 3rd millenium:

Write business services (or re-use existing ones, of course)
and orchestrate them (if necessary) using Siebel Workflow.


Now here's my challenge for you:

Please use the comment function to send in requirements from your project experience where you believe that scripting (that is adding code to the Application, Applet or Business Component event handlers) is the only way to solve it.

I will investigate the requirements (for Siebel 8) and I am convinced that there is either a non-script solution or that the functionality can be implemented as a reusable, upgradeable and encapsulated business service.

Is @lex out of his tiny dirty little mind? Well, I have taken over the task of creating a scripting workshop and before I start I would really like to know if I shouldn't rather be doing a scripting alternatives workshop ;-)

Anxiously waiting for your comments


@lex

Friday, March 13, 2009

Time to say good bye [updated]

...what a shocking headline...

...or how smart answers become
dead parrots.

Ok, you can calm down now. The Siebel Essentials blog is here to stay ;-)

Thanks to
Lennard for pointing me to compile a (hopefully) complete list of 3rd party tools that have been part of our lives with Siebel and are officially made obsolete with Siebel CRM 8.1.1.

The following list contains products that are no longer sold or supported by Oracle. Most of this applies to new customers. Please refer to the official Oracle documentation for legally correct information.

You also might want to review the previous post "Brace yourself for Siebel 8.1.1"

Actuate Reports

No longer sold to new customers. Existing Siebel CRM customers need to migrate to and purchase Actuate 8 from Actuate or migrate to Oracle BI Publisher (deadline is end of 2009).

InstallShield Installer and Packager

Siebel Mobile/Developer Web Client and Siebel Tools are now installed using Oracle Universal Installer. Packages for distributing the software across the network must be created using OUIs respective functionality.

Update Server (Flexnet publisher by Macrovision)

Maybe "stillborn" is the appropriate word for this module which was introduced with Siebel 8.0.

CTI Connect

Oracle now only supports the homegrown/self-purchased Contact Center Anywhere product. Slightly displeasing side effect is the inability to run the CTI demo against the sample database (using the /ctsim switch).

Smart Answer

A product which I personally have a lot of admiration for. The semantic engine was developed by Banter which was acquired by iPhrase and finally was acquired by IBM. The product is no longer sold to new Siebel CRM customers but existing customer investments are preserved/supported.

FAST InStream Search Engine

Barely introduced with Siebel 8.0, Oracle removed the search engine with norwegian roots (FAST is a subsidiary of Microsoft since April 2008) from the list of supported software, of course to make room exclusively for Oracle Secure Enterprise Search.

Hope this is a complete list, if you miss another 3rd party tool in Siebel CRM 8.1.1 please let me know by dropping a comment.

[Update]: Siebel Universal Queueing

As I just found out via the Deployment Planning Guide 8.1, the Siebel Universal Queueing product is a dead parrot, too.

have a nice day

@lex

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tu felix Austria

Just in case you really need a reason to travel to lovely Austria...


Oracle Austria is hosting 4 Oracle Technology Roadshows between March, 17th and March, 26th 2009 in the following cities:
  • March, 17th: Innsbruck-Igls
  • March, 19th: Linz
  • March, 24th: Graz
  • March, 26th: Vienna
The event registration (in German) is online (did I mention that the events are free?) and the topics range from Middleware, Oracle BI to Enterprise and DBA 2.0.

Have a nice day

@lex

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rich Enterprise Applications

wanna get rich?

Oracle Technology Network (OTN) has brought an interesting site online (late 2008).

http://rea.oracle.com



This site serves as a demo and tutorial platform for Oracle's rich enterprise applications which (so says OTN) "deliver highly interactive user experiences that are pre-integrated to enterprise class server technology".

The technological basement for REAs is the Oracle Application Development Framework (ADF) which is something that is on the list of things to learn this year for all Siebel people who are into the new Siebel 8.1.1 eCommerce and eSupport applications.

Using ADF, you can build applications in JDeveloper and deploy them using Oracle Web Center.

So if you have some time, you could start at the REA home page, navigate to the Sandbox and play around with some hosted demos. Or you can view tutorials.

Here are some hopefully mouthwatering and download-initiating screenshots.

A gantt chart with some familiar sample accounts (at least to Siebel guys and gals out there)

A demo application built with ADF

Have a nice day

@lex

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Oracle Enterprise Manager 10gR5 - What's in it for Siebel CRM?

Oracle has recently launched Release 5 of its Enterprise Manager application management software.

Starting early with Siebel 8.0 (Siebel 7 is also supported in the meantime), customers can use the Enterprise Management Pack for Siebel to configure and administer their Siebel enterprises across the network from a central location.

The new features list for release 5 has some interesting bites regarding Siebel CRM.
Have a nice day

@lex

Friday, March 06, 2009

Setting BI Publisher Output Format in a Dashboard Prompt

...a case study

some days ago, I came across an interesting requirement:

"End users should be able to download a BI Publisher report from a dashboard..."

"...so far so good..."

"...however they should also be able to select the output format."

"Fine, they can use the controls displayed when you embed the BI Publisher Report..."

"No, they should select the output format (html and pdf only) and then click on a link that opens the report in a new browser window."

"...say again?!"

Here is a short POC:

1. Create an Answers request as usual

2. Create a BI Publisher report based on this request (as usual)

3. Obtain the URL for the report document


BI Publisher has a nice feature which is implemented in the report viewer. You click the "Link to this report" link at the upper right corner and then select "Document only". Now you can copy the URL to your clipboard.


Keep the URL ready for the next steps

4. Create a dashboard prompt

Now we have to create a prompt which allows the user to select either pdf or html (for the sake of this demo). Because we do not want to modify the rpd file, we do a shortcut using SQL for the prompt. The trick is that you select any column and then you modify the "Show" section as follows:

select 'value1' from SubjectArea.Table
union all
select 'value2' from SubjectArea.Table

etc...

We use the prompt to set a presentation variable.

So this is the final prompt definition. Note the SQL in the Show section and the Presentation Variable.

5. Create another Answers request for the download link

We will now create a "dummy" request which will display the hyperlink to the report. Each answers request must reference at least one column from a subject area. Select any column which has a record count below 10.

Create a narrative view and paste the URL for the BI Publisher report in the body.


Ensure that you select the "Contains HTML Markup" check box and set the "Rows to display" field to 1.

Edit the HTML so that you have a hyperlink which opens in a new window. Replace the format parameter value (the string after &_xf=) with a reference to the presentation variable you set in the prompt. You can reference presentation variables using the following syntax:

@{variable_name}{default_value}


6. Bring everything together

Create a dashboard page and position your Answers request, the prompt and the download link. Select a report output format then click the Go button. Click the download link.

A new browser window should open and it should display the BI Publisher report in the desired format.




Have a nice day

@lex

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Zero footprint browser

Recently, I came across a nice way to test web-based applications such as Siebel CRM or Oracle BI EE in different web browsers without the need to install them (the browsers that is).

Sometimes it is even impossible to install several browser versions in parallel such as Microsoft Internet Explorer 6,7 and 8 on a single machine.

Xenocode is offering a software virtualization engine and on their homepage they made several browsers such as Firefox, Chrome, IE and Safari available as a single .exe file. This allows you to run any of these browsers without the need to install/uninstall. Just start the .exe and enter the URL.

So how does Siebel 8.1 feel in IE 8?


And how about Oracle BI EE in Safari?

Doesn't do flash, does it, but a nice icon anyway ;-)

Have a nice day

@lex

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Dashboard Humor

Time to give your day a smile and go to Timo Elliot's blog post on alternative dashboards.

Maybe there is more to good dashboard (or even mashboard) design than we think ;-)

Have a nice day

@lex

Monday, March 02, 2009

First Encounter with the BI Publisher Actuate Reports Conversion Assistant

as promised in an earlier post, I took the recently released BI Publisher Actuate Reports Conversion Assistant for a ride.

Before we start, let me report that during the Creating Siebel Reports class (which teaches how to create Actuate reports for Siebel CRM), I usually ask students whether they are using any of the out-of-the-box Siebel Reports. There is a 99% consistent answer: "No".

So when I decided to give it a try with the new conversion tool, I did it with real-life (of course scripted) files from a current Siebel CRM upgrade project.

Here is what I found:

1. Get the .bas file

This is a fairly straightforward task as you most probably have these in your folders from compiling the reports in the Actuate Designer.

2. Get the conversion tool

As described in my previous post, you have to download the tool from My Oracle Support using Patch number 8288024. Unzip the archive to any location. You must have a windows machine and JRE 1.5 or later installed.

3. Run the conversion tool

As described in the user guide (inside the patch archive), you simply open a command line and execute the run.bat file using either a folder name or file path as the input argument. You have optional arguments for the log and rtf output paths. If you do not specify them, the log and rtf output files will be generated in the folder where the .bas file resides.

I used a command similar to this:

d:\temp\actuate2bip\run.bat -i d:\temp\actuate2bip\reports\report1.bas

The utility will produce a log file and (in case of success) an .rtf template file.
Aufzählung
With the custom report used for testing, I had the following issues with the Actuate Basic code:
  • Open: the utility throws an error when it encounters a file open statement
  • Like: the utility does not like the Like operator (sorry for the pun)
  • Function calls without input: the utility throws an error when a function is called with no input
As the Actuate Basic code is only used to create a layout template and (in an upcoming version of the tool) a Siebel integration object for delivering the data set, I decided to iteratively comment out the respective lines of code and - voilá - an .rtf file was generated in the end.

4. Inspect the rtf template

Open the rtf file with Microsoft Word and inspect the output. At first glance, the utility manages the task nicely. Of course there must be plenty of time planned to fine-tune the layout and to re-implement the nifty scripted features. You can double-click the gray fields and click the Add Help Text button to see/modify the underlying xsl-fo code.


Of course, the report does not yet show up in Siebel CRM, so there are additional tasks necessary which have been described in a previous post.

Conclusion
:


The first release of the BI Publisher Actuate Reports Conversion Assistant does an acceptable job of converting the layout of an Actuate report into an rtf template for BI Publisher. However I see a significant amount of time to be spent on reformatting and re-implementing the report especially if the Actuate report was heavily loaded with script logic.

Also creating the integration object for Siebel CRM manually might be a cumbersome task, so I believe that most Siebel customers will eagerly wait for the upcoming version which is supposed to deliver that very functionality.

Last but not least, report developers will need proper training on BI Publisher.

You can learn more about BI Publisher here (Oracle University course), here (online documentation), here (online tutorials) and here (Tim's splendid blog). More useful information might also be found in the Siebel Reporting Migration Guide for Reports Developers (available as Document 764191.1 on My Oracle Support). A special Oracle University course for BI Publisher reports in Siebel CRM will be released later this year.

Have a nice day

@lex