What Skills Does an Oracle BI Developer Need in 2009?

March 15th, 2009 by

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.

Comments

  1. Kimmo Says:

    Hi Mark,

    I agree totally that someone being able to combine reporting, consolidation and planning tool skills has high value in the market. That, though, is not an easy task. Both BI Server and Hyperion tools are today so powerful and yet so complex that it is very difficult to keep up with the pace of the development.

    With the BI Apps I would say that someone with the knowledge about the principles of the data models and ETL mappings is the ace. Especially understanding how different changes impact workflows and reports is very imported. I’ve come to realize how massive the whole system is and it feels quite often like steering a big ocean liner.

    I have to say that the change with other vendors has been quite dramatic also. For example working today with Cognos is far more than just playing around the cubes as it used to be years ago.

    And congratulations on conquering the “other” continent.

    BR,
    Kimmo

  2. Mark Rittman Says:

    Kimmo

    I agree with you about the complexity of the BI Apps. To new people learning it, the analogy I make is, it’s like joining a data warehousing department in a company that’s been using the technology for many years; there are many procedures, nuances etc of the technology that you need to learn before you can become productive.

    The irony is, with the BI Apps, that for a “packaged solution”, it certainly needs a lot of skills, maintenance etc to keep it running, and adding customizations is, for the moment at least, a very highly-skilled job. Any staff that you do get in this area, you’ll certainly want to retain.

    regards

    Mark

  3. jefftam Says:

    Thanks for your article, Mark as you help me to know more how the market nowadays.

    I am new to OBIEE, what I have been working is Cognos. I know there are three main vendors in this BI industry, OBIEE+, SAP-BO, IBM-Cognos. What do you think about these 3 BI products on the market?

    Except BO, I have been working Cognos and now working on projects with Essbase, Hyperion(EPM Workspace v.11) and OBIEE. I agree that I do not need to study in detail about Oracle DB’s security, instead, it can be done in Administration.

    Cheers,
    Jeff Tam

  4. Kranthi Says:

    Hi rittman,

    You gave what is needed in this 2009.I have been working on Discoverer and portal.How to go about starting OBIEE.what would be the best book you suggest.

    Thanks,
    Kranthi

  5. Denor Says:

    Hi Mark,
    You nicely dealt with the herculean task of becoming a BI expert. I agree with you finding a source with all the stuff you mentioned is really difficult. I feel it is difficult for any newbee to start Obiee and go thro all the path of the technologies is a great task because one just cannot learn expertise by just taking the courses one after the other in hurry to become an OBIEE expert. I feel for every technology one learns must spend a good amount of time to be come expert and only then move on to other.

    Thanks
    Denor

  6. Logan R. Says:

    I’ve been trying to put together a direction statement for our team on 1) when to use the Answers component of BIEE vs. Hyperion IR & Publisher. As an organization we are dealing with political issues of Inmon vs. Kimball, as such we are using both tools to deliver results. There seems to be a push to abandon the purchased data models Oracle gives us and instead use custom models to fit our business. I’m not in favor of this approach, looking for suggestions on how to handle this & what others are experiencing out in the market place?

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