What Skills Does an Oracle BI Developer Need in 2009?

One of the publications that I write for is the ODTUG Technical Journal, where I contribute a regular “business intelligence” column. ODTUG is aimed at technical developers and consultants, and so I was having a think about how the product skills required by such people have changed over the past five years. As someone who is responsible for recruiting consultants that we can make use of straightaway on projects, this is something that I think about quite a lot and I thought I’d blog about it on here as well, to see what other readers think.

If you look back to say 2002 or 2003, the typical product skills required of an Oracle BI consultant were:

  • Discoverer, for ad-hoc analysis
  • Oracle Reports (occasionally, though this was more often required if you were a Forms developer)
  • Oracle Portal, if you were looking to put Discoverer into a dashboard
  • Oracle Express, though even then this was considered “legacy”, or Oracle OLAP, though often more in theory than in practice as there weren’t that many new implementations
  • Oracle Warehouse Builder, though most customers were still unconvinced and hand-coded their data warehouse ETL routines

In addition to these product skills, you also needed to have a fair bit of database knowledge, partly because all of these tools worked directly with database data, so you had to know your indexing, materialized views, explain plans and so on, and partly because features such as Oracle OLAP were directly embedded in the database. If you were working with Portal, Discoverer or Reports, you also had to be fairly competent with Application Server development, so that you could use all the OPMN and DCM commands to stop and start the applications, and you had to know technologies such as Oracle Internet Directory, Oracle Containers for Java and so forth as these provided the security and hosting for your applications.

This set of skills would be reflected in postings on this blog, which were as much about database resource plans, setting up virtual private database and so forth as about using the tools themselves. In fact, to be honest much of an Oracle BI project was about actually getting the tools working in the first place, and then understanding the complexities of working with the application server, understanding how to apply row-level security and so on, to the point where actually delivering the bits the customers were interested in often ended up being less of a priority than actually getting it all working and in a reliable state.

Fast forward to 2009, and if I was recruiting an Oracle Business Intelligence developer now, what would I be looking for? Ideally, most if not all of the following product skills:

  • Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition, usually with a specialization in either the back-end (the BI Server) or front-end (Answers, Delivers, BI Publisher), would be mandatory
  • Essbase skills would be very desirable, and would be required far more than Oracle OLAP skills in the past.
  • Oracle BI Application experience is a definite bonus, with the real skill in being able to apply customizations to the ETL and RPD layers
  • Another very desirable skill is being able to implement at least Hyperion Planning, and ideally some more of the Hyperion financial applications. It’s rare though to find people with both good OBIEE and Hyperion skills, those that do can virtually write their own salary cheque.
  • In terms of ETL, OWB is now “mainstream” and is a mandatory skill. ODI is rising in importance, but I don’t see many “classic BI” projects that use it, at least at the moment.

Compared to five years ago, skills in the Oracle database, and in particular with the Oracle Application Server, are less of a priority, as security for example is usually handled now by the OBIEE BI Server, and fast access to data is typically done through Essbase. Also, now that Oracle’s BI tools (and Fusion Middleware) are designed to work across heterogeneous platforms, its more useful now for developers to have experience with Active Directory, for example, compared to Oracle Internet Directory, and it’s also useful to have knowledge of other database platforms such as Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft Analysis Services and the like as Oracle’s BI tools are increasingly being sold to non-Oracle database customers.

What I don’t see much of these days is demand for projects requiring Discoverer skills, or for that case Reports or Portal skills, as these are most definately “legacy” tools only really used by organizations who have no real need (or budget) to upgrade and probably have significant investments in the tools already. These types of customers typically resource new projects in-house or hire in contractors, and so whilst it’s nice to have these in the background I wouldn’t be concerned if someone new came on board who’d never worked with them before.

Going forward, the type of BI developer and consultant who will have the greatest job security, and can command the best salary in the future, will be one that can combine OBIEE skills (particularly around the BI Server and its federated query capabilities), Oracle BI Apps skills and Hyperion skills, particularly as Oracle converge the product lines over time. If I had to learn one ETL tool it’d be Oracle Data Integrator, and if I had to learn one OLAP server, it’d be Essbase.

Whilst there’s less need to know about database security, for example, a skill that’s not always obvious at the time but that can really add value to a project is being able to tune and optimize data warehouse queries, so knowing your way around an execution plan and understanding how concepts like partitioning, compression, materialized views and parallel query can be a bonus.

But certainly, a common observation you can make about the skills required for an Oracle BI developer are that they’re now much less Oracle database-centric, and much more based around what Oracle now call their “Business Intelligence Foundation” layer (the BI Server, Essbase, RTD) coupled with the applications that sit on top of it (the Hyperion Applications and the BI Applications, with EPM workspace now sitting on top). As such, not withstanding the effects of the recession and outsourcing, I’d say that job is even more demanding now and probably attracts a higher salary compared to before, and I certainly know from experience that people with all of these skills, and with real project experience, are still somewhat rare.