Thursday, March 16, 2006

UKOUG Combined SIG 2006 Report

This was the second time three UKOUG SIGs - Development Engineering, Modelling & Design, and App Server - have combined to offer a shared experience. I like this event because it offers the crucial aspect of the conference (choice) without the boring bits (keynotes from marketing VPs).

The DE Stream

I'm very happy with the DE Stream of this event. Each presentation was valuable and worth attending (no, honestly).

Ivan Pellegrin's presentation turned out to be only tangentially related to Customer Data Hub, which was a bit disappointing. However, his summation of Service Oriented Architecture was very good and interesting; I have sat through a lot of talks on SOA, BPM, BRM and BPEL recently and Ivan's was the most coherent overview of the topic I've heard.

Most interesting fact: SOA is the Dutch acronym for STD (that's the medical STD not the telco meaning).

Jonathan Ellard gave a thorough overview of Oracle's new XML Publisher. Now that Oracle have extracted it from Apps and packaged it as a standalone product this looks set to replace Reports as the tool of choice for producing documents. By modularising the various aspects of a document - data logic, layout and format - it makes documents easier to manage and quicker to modify. It also hands control of the appearance back to the business users. Jonathan demonstrated the cardinal virtue of having a demo in your presentation: you can squeeze it if you're running short of time without affecting the overall shape of the talk. Although he really ought to have had the licensing details to hand. People will always ask that question.

Most interesting fact: Oracle Apps has ~90,000 RDF files.

Rob Baillie's talk on Agile Database Development was really interesting. He avoided the sort of buzzwords that seem to annoy people (refactoring, pair programming) and concentrated on the practices that are key to success in a database project regardless of whether it's "agile": properly implemented source control, a simple, robust and tested build script, and clear demarcation of development code from working code. Rob started his presentation by saying that he hoped everybody else in the Oracle world was building systems liked this and that therefore everybody would feel he had wasted their time. I think it's safe to say that nobody in the audience felt they had wasted their time listening to Rob. It was his first presentation but you wouldn't have guessed it: he was fluent and confident, and his talk was well-structured.

Most useful piece of advice: Assume that the person performing the upgrade is an idiot.

We had a full house for Sue Harper's demonstration of SQL Developer, which I think is testament to the interest there is in this part of the tool space. Sue's an old hand at UKOUG presentations but she's only been on the SQL Developer team for a couple of months so I think it was still an edgy prospect for her. In the course of the demo she discovered a couple of (very minor) issues to raise when she got back to the office. Overall, a good introduction to an exciting new product.

Most interesting fact (actually not from the presentation but gleaned whilst chatting to Sue afterwards): every person on the SQL Developer team (even the managers) has to build and maintain an addin as their own personal project. I think this is a very good idea: it keep everybody aware of the quality of the user experience and it should provide some useful extensions.

The event overall

As it goes, so it went.

I must say that the turnout was a little on the low side, disappointingly so. Down a third on last year. Why is this? Slough's not that bad. Perhaps it was due to the lack of Forms presentations but I doubt it. Rather it is symptomatic of the broader problem we have on the development side of things. We usually have a much smaller turnout for developer/designer/deliverer SIGs than the DBA-oriented SIGs get.

I confess to being a bit puzzled by this: on any project I've ever worked on, the DBAs have been outnumbered by analysts, designers, developers and project managers by at least five to one. So how the disparity in turnout? I have a couple of theories. One is that the UKOUG memberships tend to be managed by DBAs. This kind of makes sense: Oracle's a database and the DBAs manage the database so why not have them manage the user group stuff too? But I suspect that many memberships are managed by gatekeepers who attend the meetings they are interested in but don't publicise the other SIGs to people throughout their organisation.

My other theory is that developers are only allowed to attend meetings that deal with stuff that is immediately relevant to their current job. This also makes sense. Sending someone out of the office for a day costs, both in lost productivity and expenses. The DE SIG has to cover a very broad waterfront: traditional tools like Forms and Reports, new kids like JDeveloper and TAFKAH, plus PL/SQL, XML and Java generally, third party products, development practices, architecture, etc. It's a rare individual who's going to have a job that requires immediate knowledge of all of those things. But in the fast moving world of technology it is important to have an awareness of all the things that are going on, even if we're not using them right now. So you're a Forms shop: does that mean Java is not relevant to you? Even now Java is a way to add functionality into a Forms application. But Fusion is coming and Fusion is going to be pure J2EE. Once Oracle Apps has completely replaced all its Forms how long will Oracle keep the tool going? Well the roadmap says Forms will be supported at least until 2013 but that's actually not very far away (Forms 6.0 is almost as old now as Forms 10 will be by then).

What is the solution to the case of the missing developers? I haven't got one yet. I think it's what Sherlock called "a three pipe problem".

Last word

I did a quick survey of blog awareness amongst the audience. Whilst just about everybody used some forum or other less than half of them read any blogs. And only six people actually maintained one (including me). Everybody else must have a life or something.


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