Monday, June 18, 2007

User tracking

This is so obvious - at least to us here - that it really kind of shook us up that we were not doing it. I was talking to ,y friend Jeremy, and he mentioned his company had rolled out an internally built APEX app for tracking users and their accounts across all of the applications in the company. It took him awhile of explaining before it dawned on me how good of an idea this is.

They (as do we) have a database that is used for tracking employee phone numbers, with the multitude of payroll systems acquired through acquisitions having a single repository of all the active employees in the company that can be referenced even if those employees do not have network accounts is very important. We use our central database basically primarily for a place to allow employees to store their phone numbers and other contact information that is then access via a few JP pages. Jeremy and crew went a few steps farther. They actually replicate the employee information into this central database from all their various payroll systems, so that the information in the central database for where the employee is working, name changes, terminations, new hires etc is automatically looked after, so there is no out of date information when somebody transfers or quits. They then (and this is the brilliant part) pull in all of the user information from every single application in the company into this central database giving them user lists from every application. That user list is then compared to their service desk software (incident tracking stuff) and then all of that information is compared against the employee information from the payroll systems.

With all of the data in a central spot, now, they can issue a simple query on a person, and every application tied to that person is displayed and if their account is active or not. They also flag new hires and terminations and automatically generate tickets in their service desk software to have a help desk person investigate if an account is needed, verify the request for a new account is actually a live person according to payroll, and termination notices no longer have to rely on a manager at some location filling in the proper paperwork and forwarding to the IT department. Now the IT department is aware of the termination and what applications the user had access to and the IT department can now pursue the site to make sure the paper work is filled out.

In the first few weeks they were able to reduce their user count by almost 10% due to duplicate accounts, people that were no longer with the company etc. May not seem like much, but he said it was $20K alone in Novell licensing. Some reports have been put together to give them detailed user counts by application and server for licensing and usage reports.

Very simple idea but yields so much information. Jeremy did it all in APEX and oracle 10gR2 on Linux on an old piece of hardware. I will see if I can get him to put together something technical for this, I can almost smell a business opportunity here.

Good show!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


We have been working on implementing Oracle Fusion middleware for our SOA solution, ESB and BPEL and all the other bells and whistles, BAM and BPA. I have to say, even for an old dog like me, this is an amazing concept. We had IBM and Oracle come and visit numerous times flogging their software and we decided on oracle simply because their products seemed to be more tightly integrated and basically looked better. The kicker was that everything is done via JDeveloper instead of 3 or 4 different products like IBM's SOA stuff (Websphere).

I have built a handful of adapters of some interfaces I know very well. I was able to retrieve data without a problem, I then took a crack at creating ESB and BPEL services to then "listen" for changes and move the data around. All I can say is wow, the ease at which data can be mapped and moved around is astounding. The largest time saving is an adapter only has to be made once per system and then a simple BPEL assign to do the mapping and presto, data acquired, transformed to a common format, and then transformed to what the destination system requires. Then the ESB process sits and waits for more data to come in. Wonderful stuff, no wonder everybody is talking about SOA, even though it is in hushed voices and darkened hallways. The learning curve is extreme and my knowledge of XML,XSD and XSLT has increased a hundred fold, but it is all worth it.

After this I am off to update by CV ;)

We have a few training classes scheduled to try and get the rest of the department some exposure to the products. BPA - Business Process Analyzer I believe is what the acronym is, there are just a few to try and remember. BPA is a product that I have just started to look at, we bought a lot of licenses for it, and as the marketing for it says, it allows business "super users" to actually map the work flow in an almost Visio environment, pass that to a developer and with a lot less work than I expected, the developer can turn that into a BPEL flow and deploy the application. The best part is the changes to the flow the developer needed (if any) are automatically passed back to the user that created the original document.

Really cool stuff.