Sunday, 25 March 2007

NZOUG 2007 conference report

As reported earlier on this blog, the New Zealand Oracle User Group (NZOUG) kindly invited Penny Cookson and I to present one paper on "Good Forms programmers never die, they just switch to JDeveloper (JDeveloper for Oracle dinosaurs)", and a double presentation from me on "All you (ever) needed to know about Java", at their 2007 Auckland conference.

I thought, while waiting for my flight back to Australia, I'd write a little summary on the conference.

NZOUG has a strong relation with the Australian Oracle User Group (AUSOUG) going back to the days when both user groups where under the single banner of ANZORA (Australian New Zealand ORAcle user group). Overtime since I'd moved from Perth to Melbourne, I'd had a chance to meet some of the NZOUG committee who had jumped the big blue bit to come to our conferences. The good thing about the New Zealanders, among many amicable attributes, is they are an extremely friendly bunch, always willing to have a chat, and have a great quality on being interested in what their members' want, rather than focusing on the politics that committee work seems to throw up.

The NZOUG 2007 conference was held in Auckland over 2 days. I've been told by some of the old hands in the NZ Oracle market that the conference has been held in better locations in NZ..... but that always seems to be the way; regulars on the conference scene always seem to rave about one conference or other in the past where they "party-hardy-ed" and got up to all sorts of shenanigans. I suspect the difference is a few extra years, family & kids, that makes all the difference now.... but wouldn't want to insinuate that some of my colleagues, are just, well, old ;)

The 2007 conference was held at Auckland's Skycity, a missmash of hotel, casino, conference facilities and the Skycity tower. Overall while the casino and hotel facilities where the usual commercial glossy cheese, the conference centre facilities were well laid out, staff friendly and diligent, and I thought a good choice of venue.

This year the conference attracted 240 delegates from around NZ and elsewhere, including a few Australians. While this number doesn't compare anything like San Fran OOW, and about 1/2 as small as the equivalent AUSOUG event, with each conference in mind, the pool of people that can be drawn is significantly smaller. OOW draws from the America population of 300 million and many overseas delegates, Australia 20 million, and NZ just 4.6 million. Given this the 240 result for NZ is a strong one and shows that the local Oracle community is doing well.

One of the problems with a subjectively small delegate numbers is that vendors and sponsors won't attend, with the perception small attendees means small sales. But again NZOUG was ahead of the game with strong turn out from vendors, including Oracle, RedHat, Quest Software, HP, and what appeared to be a whole array of local vendors. This strong turn out, and I'm told a regular turn-out by vendors, shows the vendors' confidence in the NZ event in providing business.

Of course most members don't head to the conference to see vendors, but rather attend presentations.

Luckily both my presentations were on day 2, so I had the chance to attend several presentations on day 1.

Day 1

Day 1 kicked off with 2 keynote presentations, one from Ian White, the ANZ Oracle head, and another from RedHat, both sponsors of the conference.

Ian White has the reputation (and don't tell him this) for bring a bit of dry presenter being an ex-accountant type, and a Perth boy to count (knowing full well that I'm also a Perth boy ;). However in today's IT world, in presenting in a 45m slot, Ian had a hard sell, as he had to talk about the breadth of Oracle's business and recent acquisitions, as well as address the local NZ market. So where I was expecting to be bored, I'll give credit where credit is due, I did actually take interest and learn a couple of things during Ian's presentation (like what TimesTen and the Berkley db releases are actually aimed at). Of particular interest was how in specific vertical industries, such as retail, comms, banks etc, how Oracle through its acquisitions can now supply nearly every business system such industries need - this was presented diagrammatically and clearly; impressive stuff.

Ian was followed by Gus Robertson from RedHat. I'll be blunt and say RedHat wasted its chance here with the keynote. RedHat, honestly, get over the Open Source is good message, it's a 2000 message, not a 2007 message. And, when you come to an Oracle conference full of Oracle users, rewrite your presentations to be Oracle specific, know your audience. And while we're at it, maybe have the b@lls to address Unbreakable Linux directly, rather than blathering around our customer support is best approach.

Next the real presentations started. Of particular note to myself was Gilbert Matthew's presentation. Gilbert and his team who works for the Agriculture Department of Western Australia, and a previous JDeveloper client of mine, presented a case study of their adoption on ADF BC/Faces on their most recent project. Though the presentation was a bit too hard core for the locals attending who didn't seem to have been exposed to JDev in any great way, I was interested in seeing how Gilbert has attacked and solved coding problems that were beyond what JDev supports out of the box. Why? Well it showed that given the intro to JDev, Gilbert's team were able to go beyond the standard drag & drop JDev app, and successfully implement some complex solutions. I think this shows JDev, or more specifically ADF is maturing as a framework allowing coders to leap over the ADF learning curve to focus on solving other coding requirements.

During Gilbert's presentation, with my handy camera, I snuck next door to see how Penny's Application Express Workshop was going. Penny who runs Sage Computing Services (and I must declare, my boss), is a regular supporter of user groups, and somewhat of a personality in both Australia and NZ. As usual, Penny's hands-on workshop room was full with keen students, hacking away in Apex. It shows, even though JDev is the future for Oracle, EBS and so on, many are looking for a simple, quick and ultimately productive tool for creating small and medium sized applications.

Following this I sat in on Paul Whitehouse from Asparona double hands-on slot for XML Publisher (aka BI Publisher). Given my previous committee duties at other conferences, I hadn't yet seen this tool in action, and was keen to finally sit on in a session. I was very pleasantly surprised how simple XML Publisher is. Its quite obvious why this tool will survive over the older Oracle Reports.... because it builds upon the user's MS Word knowledge, rather than some proprietary WSYWIG report designer. Paul did a great job of showing the attendees how to produce a dare I say "pretty" invoice based on an XML data file.

Finally day 1 I dropped in on Oracle's Barbara Beattie's presentation on EBS 12. I've made as a general rule in my development role, to avoid any system that deals moving $$$$s around. However I was keen to see EBS 12 in action as I wanted to see the new ADF Faces screen making an appearance.

I quite liked Barbara's approach to presenting EBS 12. The marketing collateral for EBS 12 is that focusing on "global business". Read this 1 way and that means it's a new release that supports more countries/locales. That's a hard sell. Why, as an NZ/Australian EBS customer would I care that there is better overseas support?

Barbara managed to switch this message around though and indicated that EBS 12 allows the one EBS system to do business in multiple countries, meeting as example the tax and regulatory requirements of each country based on the same set of ledgers. This is a more applicable selling strategy to the local market.

I often wonder why a company like Oracle, lets the American marketing division dictate a single message of a new product, that may not be applicable to overseas local markets, particular in the business market as separate to the IT core-tech areas. In TV advertising, you often see marketers change the actors and the accents for whichever local market they are advertising on to make the watchers more at home and comfortable. Surely, with the huge marketing resources at Oracle's disposal, they could develop messages for the different markets..... and by different markets I don't mean different cultural markets, but different scale of markets. Obviously the ANZ market is not the size of the USA or EU markets, so a sales pitch of "global solution" is going to be a poor sell. Yes yes, the ANZ market is only small change for Oracle compared to elsewhere, but it's still a relatively profitable market so should be worth the effort. Is this just another case of The-American-Way is best?

But I guess the localised marketing responsibility is the job of the local Oracle representatives, and Barbara filled this role well, by addressing some of the EBS 12 enhancements and matching them to some of her ex-customers sitting in the same presentation. Also the last section on "Why should I upgrade?" directly addressing this question was a good addition.

As mentioned, of particular interest to myself was to see some of the EBS 12 ADF Faces-JDev developed screens, and I wasn't disappointed, with about 20 screens demoed. What did surprise me as a 1st impression was how vanilla the EBS 12 interface looked. Barbara mentioned that Oracle had performed R&D on developing the look, feel and usability of EBS 12, but in my opinion it looked like the EBS team were trying not to complicate the interface with too much visual colourful information.

However as we looked at further screens my impression changed. This is the first time I've seen a major data intensive app done in the web world (unless you consider OEM such an app), and as I suspected, I think at this time the layout and controls to navigate between screens looks clumsy.... there was just too many tab controls, header sections, and links on the screen. I think Oracle has going to work on a better way of doing this sort of data-intensive app in the browser world.... some sort of new control that allows easy navigation but hides the clutter, or a new way of laying out the screens where it works on a top-to-bottom approach, or, I dunno, something, it just looked cluttered. Just ideas on my part, but the screen layout looked immature and needs work.

One thing I will note however, is that I've seen the JDev 11g ADF Faces demo, and I noted that the EBS 12 screens seemed to be laid out in such a fashion to make use of those new slider controls, collapsible menu-trees, and so on, that in a form would address my comments above. I've a sneaking suspicion that Oracle has done this deliberately, and we may see a release of EBS of the future that is an interface upgrade, with very little work on Oracle's part, with instant useability benefit to the EBS users.

Day 1 was ended with a social dinner which was good fun, with a local actor troop keeping the crowd happy with an art-robbery mystery, and the venue providing what was considered d@mn-fine-grub.

Day 2

On day 2 I switched over to being the actual presenter instead.

Penny and my presentation "Good Forms programmers never die, they just switch to JDeveloper (JDeveloper for Oracle dinosaurs)" went well, and I hope we sold the message that JDeveloper and ADF now provides an alternative to traditional Oracle Forms where ADF is both simple and flexible whichever you require; simple based around declarative development, and flexible on the idea you can drop down to the Java ADF framework when required for more complex code solutions.

My 2nd double presentation for the day, "All you (ever) needed to know about Java" was a natural extension of the JDev presentation, where among showing the basics of Java, the messages of Java is simple, and even easier when all your doing is plugging in code into frameworks like ADF, rather thank writing your own APIs.

The 2nd presentation was a bit of a hard sell, being the last 2hrs of the conference on a Friday straight after lunch.... always a hard timeslot.... but luckily I had some "hard-core" coders interested, and received a good array of questions. The best bit about teaching Java is when you see the penny drop about by-reference variables and casting, especially for the PL/SQL coders who know nothing about such things (pointers? um, what? ;)

Overall the Sage presentations went well, and I was pleased to have delegates thank me afterwards and ask even more questions.... that makes presenting worthwhile, certainly the kind gratitude, but also the interest to ask more questions and the chance to discuss something that I'm interested in and share ideas. That's what user groups are about.

As summary the 2007 NZOUG conference was a good event. I'd like to thank the NZ committee for inviting me to present, and I hope I can visit again next year.

The final point I'd like to make is that the key goal of a conference should be to inspire its attendees, to take what they've learnt and head back to work with new ideas in hand. The NZ conference did this for me, giving me a new found interest in looking at some of the alternative database technologies, and a mental note to get into XML/BI Publisher really soon. So thanks NZ, you did a good job.