Apple

Vlamis - Technology and the Individual

I have spent some time observing and coordinating with the people in the office in an attempt to understand how technology fits in our work and how it fits in our culture. Having also been the fulcrum for specifying and procuring equipment has given me a lot of information that I hope to delineate here in a set of suggestions for an ongoing internal IT procedures and (I hate this word > ) policies.

In the 14 years I have worked here, I learned that I was taught a lot of wrong-headed and "old" business theory that applies well to filing cabinets, but are awful for electronic devices. Business computer equipment in the 70's-80's was often built to be permanent installations and long-term investments like manufacturing equipment. In the ancient world of the IBM PC 286, it was advised to leave your computer on because the electricity it used was less expensive than replacing the power switch. In hindsight, that was not realistic. I have been told of an architect that purchased integrated workstations for his drafters that had an integrated pencil and paper drafting table with built-in CAD computer hardware and software. All encased in beautiful high-tech looking plastic, these were the top of the line and built to last. The architect spent $30,000 on each of these workstations. They were utterly obsolete in about 2 years and the "investment" helped sink his firm and it did not ever recover.

My first day at Vlamis Software Solutions (August 2000) revealed the stifling nature of how technology was viewed in the larger companies I had worked for. The mouse that was attached to the desktop PC I was assigned was a trackball. I abhor trackballs. I figured I was stuck with it. I gave it a shot. I couldn't do work with it. So I asked Dan where I could find a different mouse, and if we were out of them, what kind we were supposed to buy and from where. He looked at me like I didn't understand how life worked. "Go find a mouse that you like and will help you be productive, and if it is under $100, just buy it with your credit card.", Dan said (give or take).

My 14 years ago brain screamed, "What? No. You don't understand. There are approved things that are part of the company standards that are one-size fits-all. You buy these things in bulk and when it goes bad, you have to beg an IT person or other supply strangler to replace it with another sub-optimal thing. This man in front of me doesn't understand how businesses are supposed to work."

I have a scar on the tip of my middle finger. That scar wore a pattern in the plastic of the right-mouse button of the mouse I picked because I ended up using it so long. My productivity was increased and even though the mouse was one of the expensive new 'laser' mouses (mouses point, mice squeak), it cost less in the long term because I bought something based on my knowledge of my working habits and how I used technology. For the cost of $40, I felt more empowered, more respected, more trusted, and more of a part of this company than any results I had from the thousands of dollars spent by the corporations I previously worked for with their silly team building exercises and free bad-coffee and donuts training.

It was enlightening.

The incredibly personal nature of technology and the absolute impermanence of it makes a compelling case to allow freedom of choice with personal electronics.

There are some benefits to standardization. A stack of identical laptops will allow for trading and loaning power supplies. You can exchange parts from one to the other. You can test software and configurations on one machine and have reasonable expectation that it would work for all of them.

The reality of what actually happens in Vlamis is that a laptop and its associated hardware are given to one person and there is so very little "sharing" of that equipment. I cannot think of an example of it ever happening. Beyond that, each person's list of installed software is not the same and there has been little opportunity to realistically do "real" configuration testing. When our laptops have an expired warrantee, we move to a new one, not continue to repair them. After three years, laptop hinges are weak and the case is scratched/dented and worn. Bringing an out of date and worn laptop does not reflect the image of the exclusive boutique business intelligence consultancy we are. I believe that what little benefit there is to strictly standardize is far outweighed by the benefits of allowing a personal choice based on the users' knowledge of their work habits.

In visiting the development areas of a verly large company that is one of our clients, I noticed rather quickly that there was very little computer equipment that was not unique to each user. Laptops were of many shapes and sizes. Mouses and keyboards had rainforest-like "biodiversity". Some happily pecked away at a lightweight and very portable laptop, while others had powerful mobile workstations. Not once did I hear a single complaint about an electronic device that was issued by the company. If a corporation as large as the one I visited cannot gain an advantage at their scale for standardization of equipment for developers, how could we?

We do need ways to work together and whatever technologies we choose need to allow for this. The counter-point to this concern is that it isn't 1995. I saw a picture recently that parodied the Apple "Mac Guy" and "PC Guy" advertisements. The tagline was something like "It doesn't matter which one you pick. You are only going to use it to look at Facebook and Netflix anyway, so they are exactly the same thing." This is a curiously strong statement. The vast majority of what we do is now either browser-based or virtual machine based. The "thick client" Windows/OSX/*nix compatibility issue has been tackled by our esteemed Director of Technology. He uses virtualization to allow him to use Windows 7-based programs directly inside his OSX operating system. I've seen this in operation and it is really slick and just works. His choice of using a Mac has had very little impact on servicing our clients, even VPNs work for him. That doesn't mean that there haven't been challenges to configure cross-compatibility, but there hasn't been a problem that has not had a functional work around.

I find that I am pontificating. It doesn't seem to matter much what color, size, shape, or interface the machine is, as long as the person using it is comfortable with it and they can be productive with it, there is little benefit gained by insisting on standardizing on specific technologies and it is likely that constraining our staff to use only the one thing that some person has arbitrarily decided is "right" decreases productivity and morale.

So what do we do now? Give everyone a credit card limit and say "Go buy some happy!"? Well, that isn't very realistic. Some people have little interest in this at all and would go buy a nice red one, but it may not meet their needs because they didn't realize they even had the need. Some will need to have pre-chosen and pre-approved choices laid out in front of them or they won't ever chose. Some would much rather have a list of requirements that their machine has to fit and that they can go buy that one perfect machine for themselves.

Our laptop requirements, my top 3 picks, and the conclusions I came to are below the fold.

More iPhone BI Apps may be coming?

Not to be outdone, there may be other people in Oracle working on iPhone apps! I just found this over on the BI Publisher Blog regarding a possible BI Publisher application for the iPhone. Thanks to Tim Dexter for keeping us updated! They have also produced a demonstration of BI Publisher on the iPhone:
publisher_on_iphone_thumb.jpg

I understand that several people want to try the Oracle Business Indicators application to see how it looks. I have been able to get the Oracle BI Demos configured so that we can connect to them from the web without having to hack the phone.

We are considering setting up a separate instance to allow people to connect their iPhones to our server and look at some sample data. If anyone is interested send me an email: claterbos@vlamis.com. If there is enough interest I will see what I can do.

Stay tuned!

iPhone and Oracle Business Indicators - First Impressions

After waiting with several million other people to update their iPhones, or iTouch in my case, I finally got the 2.0 software installed so that I could test the Oracle Business Indicators app.

The Oracle application installed easily once it was downloaded from the iTunes appstore.  There is a PDF file on the oracle site that steps thru the configuration settings for the server and the iPhone. All the information is available here. The BI Presentation server needs to be modified so that it renders the graphics as jpegs instead of using Flash.  This is because the iPhone is not currently compatible with Flash.  If this change is not made the app WILL NOT WORK!  Once this is done it is very simple to use.  It is recommended to setup a separate instance for mobile users so the other users will not have the interactive charts turned off.  A side benefit of this change is that you can now using the iPhone/iTouch safari browser to login to OBIEE and see charts and tables.  Before we could only see tables, which severly limited the functionality.  So now we can use the app to view reports/favorites/alerts and run iBots or view the OBIEE Dashboard.

Any user that has a catalog of Answer reports can login and access the report.  Charts are not interactive but the tabular reports are and drilling and paging through data is supported.   If the report has a table and a linked chart then changing the data status on the table will change the chart as well.

I did have one issue that took awhile to get around.  Since I was working with VM images with OBIEE installed using the hostname of the VM, I had problems displaying the reports.  The iPhone does not allow for modifying the hosts file so that it could see the local machine.  By simply using the machine's IP address I was able to list the reports but I was not able to display the reports.  I was faced with installing a local nameserver or making changes to the OBIEE setup.   I ended up making a couple of changes to the httpd.conf and the instanceconfig.xml files and I was up and running.   This will not be required if the iPhone can resolve the address of the servername.

I am very impressed with this little application!  I was able to see just about any reports that were setup in all of my various user accounts and catalogs.  If the chart was wide I was also able to rotate the phone and it in landscape mode.  Zooming in and out was as easy as tapping or pinching or expanding my fingers.  Creating a custom Favorites list is supported and very easy to do.   These favorites are even editable using the web interface as well!  Once connected several of my alerts showed up under the alerts tab.  I did not have to do anything the number of alerts showed up and I clicked the tab and there they were!  iBots are also supported, remember to turn on the scheduler or they will not work!

Overall, for a first attempt at an iPhone app I think this is an excellent start!  I would encourage anyone interested to give it a try.

Let us know how you do!

Oracle BI Apps running on iPhone starting today!

Oracle just announced the first in a series of Oracle business applications running on the Apple iPhone!  These applications will run using the new application development capabilities of the iPhone SDK.

Oracle BI Aps on iPhone

The new applications leverage the SOA capabilities and Oracle Business Intelligence Web Services  available in Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition Pluss (OBIEE).   The new apps will be available today for FREE from the Apple appstore.   These applications will run on iPhone (original), iPhone 3G (available tomorrow) and iTouch using the new version 2.0 software.

This may start to answer the question whether the iPhone is a Business Phone or not!

I will be attending a conference call later today to find out more!  The big question is whether we will be able to link other OBIEE dashboards and data to an iPhone app or will this be limited to only Oracle BI Apps.   I have been working with the SDK myself and it should all be possible not that Oracle has opened the door.

The Press Release can be found at: http://www.oracle.com/corporate/press/2008_jul/iphone-apps.html

I will install the apps and link to my BI Apps ASAP!

More to follow!

JUST IN 2 PM CST:  I just spoke to Paul Rodwick at Oracle and it appears that this app can access the entire OBIEE Catalog not just what is discussed in the press release!   So as soon as I fire my OBIEE VM up and download the app from the appstore I should be able to see my dashboard reports on my iTouch!

Note: While it is technically true that the Business Indicators application is able to see and use the entire OBI catalog licensing of the application requires that the organization have a license for Oracle BI Applications.  Please contact Oracle if there are any questions about this.
Let you know how things go tomorrow!