I’ve been thinking recently about the intersection between Oracle’s Application Express technology and my own field of data warehousing. Not so much from the technical side, although I do see ApEx and a potential for knocking up a pretty reasonable and low cost executive dashboard against a data warehouse, but more strategically.
I’m reminded of reading stories about EDS, who got into deep waters when they won an enormous contract to manage the US Navy’s IT infrastructure, and who found after signing on the dotted line that the number of applications to be supported had been underestimated by an order of magnitude in the pre-contract work. I seem to recall 3,000 being the estimate and 30,000 being the actuality. Of course the vast majority of that are the little skunk-works applications that seem to sprout up like blades of grass in the cracks of the sidewalk as soon as the heavy tread of configuration management is falling elsewhere.
There must be thousands of companies like that though — little spreadsheets being used to hoard planning numbers, cost allocations, all the things that the enterprise applications couldn’t integrate in time. Integrating data from such desktop-based applications and spreadsheets into a data warehouse is an enormous effort on the ETL side, very prone to error and requiring much manual coordination. This seems to be an ideal breeding environment for ApEx applications. Once the data is tucked up snugly in the Oracle database then we can read it at our leisure, and the data volumes are almost always trivial. A few hundred or thousand rows, maybe. Oracle have released a beta of the Application Express Application Migration Workshop which seems promising. I don’t have anything to hand to test it with, though the way that it “absorbs” spreadsheets is very neat.
Well ApEx is something that I have a look at now and then, poke around the demonstration applications and maybe try some of the walk-throughs, but it has never clicked for me. It must be too intuitive or something, and I’m trying to out-think it. I’m glad to see from John Scott’s blog that he and Scott Spendolini have a book coming out on the topic. From the publisher’s description it looks like it goes into the conceptual stuff that I and at least one other have been struggling with so I’ll put that on my shopping list “toot sweet”. Maybe this will become one of the essential applications for future Oracle data warehousing environments.