What Skills Does an Oracle BI Developer Need in 2011?

Back in 2009, I wrote a blog post entitled “What Skills Does an Oracle BI Developer Need in 2009”. At the time, OBIEE 11g was in the planning stage, Oracle had recently acquired Hyperion and so Essbase and Planning were coming into the picture, and the Oracle BI Applications were becoming mainstream.

At the time I said:

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.”

So how have things changed, now it’s 2011? Well, some things are much the same; OBIEE, if you’re an Oracle BI developer, is a mandatory skill, and as back in 2009, you tend to specialize in the backend (RPD development, possibly Informatica if you’re an Oracle BI Applications developer), or the frontend, creating the analyses and dashboards that are most visible to the end users. Take away all of the stuff about WebLogic, Enterprise Manager and Fusion Middleware, and the core of OBIEE hasn’t changed much since the days of Siebel Analytics, and we typically see the same old problems, misunderstandings and so on with RPD development that we’ve seen since first transitioning to the technology back in 2005. Expect things to change fairly rapidly in the next couple of years though, with a new Administration tool, possibly a new (or alternative) XML or database-based repository, and a lot of work going on within Oracle to make the whole process of developing and deploying repositories a lot more automated.

One skill that an Oracle BI developer will need, and that wasn’t such a requirement back in 2009 (even, in my view at the time, becoming a less relevant skill), is application server skills, specifically Oracle WebLogic Server. For the time being at least, if you’re deploying OBIEE 11g, you’re deploying WebLogic Server, and having skills in such areas as WebLogic security, WebLogic Scripting Tool, the WebLogic Admin Console, and technologies such as admin and managed servers, node managers and OPMN is pretty much a requirement if you’re going to be an end-to-end OBIEE 11g developer. You could pretty-much install OBIEE 10g and forget about it, but nowadays you need to have some systems administration skills if only to get the product installed and running.

Another skill I downplayed in 2009 but is increasingly relevant now, is security. OBIEE 10g took care of security and connectivity to LDAP servers from within the Administration tool, but now you need to know Oracle Platform Security Services, application roles and policies, and all the associated technologies around WebLogic’s implementation of security. In fact, one major skill you need now is the ability to read and digest reams of documentation, made all the worse by OBIEE’s content being folded in with the rest of the Fusion Middleware product line, making it tricky to pick out how, for example, you can connect OBIEE to third-party LDAP servers, or how to perform upgrades between releases of 11g. It’s all a lot more complicated now, and you can’t just charge in, ignore the documentation and not do your homework.

Essbase was something I highlighted back in 2009, and at the time, it seemed fairly imminent that all Essbase projects would use Oracle BI technology, and all Oracle BI projects would include an element of Essbase. Now, i’m not so sure; Essbase is going gangbusters and if you’re an Essbase specialist, you can more or less name your price, but for OBIEE projects, we see a bit of Essbase, but it’s not gone mainstream yet. Realistically, whllst OBIEE 11g solved a number of 10g-era problems with OBIEE/Essbase integration, it’s just introduced another set of new ones, and I don’t see many WebAnalysis, Financial Management or Interactive Reporting customers moving to OBIEE unless their application was pretty-much relational in form, in the first place. If you’ve got Essbase skills, it’s certainly a bonus, but unless you’re prepared to get to expert level, you’ll probably find most Essbase projects are handled by specialist Hyperion consultants, and your job is probably more likely to be raising SRs and working with the client to try and fix the OBIEE to Essbase connectivity issues.

I smile to myself when I look back at the comment on OWB. Certainly, in terms of new projects, OWB is dead now and every customers is moving towards ODI. Maybe it’s because it’s all that Oracle will sell on new projects, maybe it’s because customers don’t want to invest in products that have been sunsetted, or maybe it’s because ODI is better, but nowadays, you need to know ODI if you’re an OBIEE developer. This means knowing things like how to create knowledge modules, how to migrate projects from environment to environment, and how to use new features such as ODI OBIEE data lineage. But if you’re an OBIEE developer and you’ve got time to learn one more skill, make it ODI.

And so finally on to the Oracle BI Applications. My experience has been that most BI Applications projects have been handled by the big ERP integrators, occasionally calling on specialists if the OBIEE element goes wrong. Either you’re an RPD, DAC and Informatica developer, or you’re an OBIEE, RPD and OWB/ODI developer, and if you’re the former you’re probably a contractor or working for a large SI. The major bonus skill that you’d have as a BI Apps developer is knowledge of either Siebel or Oracle E-Business Suite as a data source, but all of this is going to change in the next couple of years as Oracle transition to the Fusion Applications, with the 11g release of the BI Apps focusing on the Fusion Applications first and then only with support for Apps Unlimited (basically, all the legacy ERP suites Oracle developed or acquired) coming later on. The big question though, at least in my mind, is whether you can still be a BI Apps developer in the future without also being a Fusion Apps developer, and a Fusion Development (ADF, JDeveloper, SOA Suite) developer; the 11g BI Apps will be embedded in the Fusion Apps, and whilst it’s possible to develop for the 7.9.x release of BI Apps as a standalone piece of technology, I wonder how much you’ll be able to achieve in isolation from the Fusion Apps.

So, to summarize, and to update my 2009 comments about what skills an Oracle BI developer needs, in 2011 I think you need:

  • OBIEE 11g skills, both in terms of new functionality (mapping, analyses, KPIs and Scorecards etc) and new infrastructure (WebLogic, EM, OPSS etc)
  • A smattering of Essbase skills, focused mainly on the integration with OBIEE and Essbase (and the many workarounds and gotchas)
  • Good ODI skills, both in terms of the basics, but also being able to write knowledge modules, integrate with OBIEE, deployment and migration
  • Solid database skills – OBIEE gave the illusion through aggregates etc that database tuning was redundant, but time has shown it’s by far the biggest success factor in a project – get the database design and optimisation wrong, and your project is toast. You need to know partitioning, materialized views, index types, and increasingly, you need to get yourself on an Exadata project as customers are buying the technology but you can’t teach it to yourself at home
  • BI Apps skills, but watch out for everything changing when BI Apps 11g comes out, and be prepared to learn the Fusion Apps and JDeveloper if you want to stay in the game
  • Looking to the future, keep an eye on technologies such as in-memory (TimesTen), mid-tier caching (Coherence), plus technologies such as Business Activity Monitoring (BAM), “big data” (Hadoop, large data sets, NoSQL), complex event processing and maybe products such as Qlikview, just in case Oracle buys them, or at least to know what the competition are up to, or more importantly pitching to your boss

The other thing to bear in mind of course, if you’re an Oracle BI developer, is that you need to have great business, communication and data modeling skills. But that’s another topic in itself, and maybe one of my colleagues will have some views on that.