Mark Rittman is a consultant, Oracle Business Intelligence expert, blogger, author, Oracle ACE Director, and frequent contributor to Oracle Magazine. Rittman recently sat down with Oracle Magazine Editor in Chief Tom Haunert to talk about how he got his start with Oracle technology, the benefits of blogging, and the evolution of business intelligence in the era of big data and cloud computing. The following is an excerpt from that interview. Listen to the full podcast at oracle.com/magcasts.
Oracle Magazine: How did you get started with Oracle technology?
Rittman: Many years ago, back in the late ’90s, I used to work for a bank in the UK that was putting together a marketing project. My role at that point was to bring together lots of customer data and to analyze it, and pretty soon I reached the limits of what I could do on a PC with a spreadsheet.
Then I heard about a new project going on at the bank—an Oracle data warehousing project. It combined the worlds of marketing and analytics. Oracle was an impressive company even in those days, so I knew I had to get myself on that project as a business analyst. Over the next couple of years, I worked my way into doing SQL queries, data warehousing, and reporting. I started off working with Oracle Database and then got more into data warehousing, ETL [extract, transform, and load], developer tools, and so on. I ended up leaving there after a few years and working for an automotive company on its data warehouse project. And after that I got into consultancy.
I suppose that for about the last 15 years, I’ve been working exclusively with Oracle technology within the data warehousing area, and it’s been good fun. The technology has been evolving over time, and it’s been an interesting area to be in.
Get stuff out there—make sure that you show your work and that you explain what you’re thinking, but get it out there and start interacting with the community.
Oracle Magazine: How did writing about Oracle technology start for you, and where has it taken you?
Rittman: I actually started about 10 or 12 years ago with blogging. At that time, I started posting links to articles, writing short comments, and so on. I was posting things about what was going on with the world and with technology, and as I worked with Oracle technology, I posted a few tips and mentions of things I was doing.
I found that writing things down and explaining them in detail in the blog was really helpful to me, and the feedback I got was also really helpful. Part of my consultancy job is going out and helping customers, but another big part of it is writing stuff down—communicating and showing what I’m doing.
I also got involved with the Oracle community many years ago, and through it I ended up writing for Oracle Technology Network [OTN] and Oracle Magazine, and about five years ago, I took on the task of doing an Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition book (Oracle Business Intelligence 11g Developers Guide, 2012) for Oracle Press. Writing that book was very rewarding. Of course, I learned a lot, but again, the feedback I’ve received has been fantastic as well.
Oracle Magazine: Tell us a little bit about the history of your company blog and what the goals and strategies are.
Rittman: We started the Rittman Mead blog (rittmanmead.com/blog) many years ago, and, for one thing, it was a way for me to write down what I was doing for the company. And one of the things we do at the company is try to recruit people who are good writers and communicators, so a lot of the current content on the blog over the last few years is from other people in the company.
We encourage the staff to post content, and part of the reason is altruistic. We really enjoy what we do, and we enjoy sharing it. We want to see the industry move on and develop, but blogging also acts as a way of verifying what we’re doing. We’re sharing our work, putting our arguments out for review, and trying to make sure we’re doing it correctly.
Oracle Magazine: Do you have suggestions for bloggers or would-be bloggers on how to keep and maintain a blog?
Rittman: One of the things people often say to me is, “I don’t know what to write” or “It’s been covered before.” People always feel they’ve got to cover something new or something that hasn’t been spoken about before. I say to people, even if you’re covering something that’s been covered before, your perspective on it can be interesting. There’s always an element that’s valuable. I think there’s almost a kind of race among bloggers wondering what new thing they can cover today, but a lot of people reading blogs are new to the technology or the area.
By writing things down, you’ll benefit yourself by putting your thoughts together in a coherent way. The feedback you get will build your confidence as well. Also, it’s really easy to publish things these days, so just give it a go. Get stuff out there—make sure that you show your work and that you explain what you’re thinking, but get it out there and start interacting with the community.
Oracle Magazine: How have your own study and coverage of business intelligence [BI] evolved, and how are you looking at big data and other technologies today?
Rittman: Having worked in the BI area now for 10 or 12 years and having written a blog for that period of time, I can look back and see how things have changed. When I started, BI was all about reporting in a single database, and often that database would have data from a single application and all the reporting was graphs and charts.
What’s changed over the years starts with the perception of the value of BI, which has gone up significantly along with its reach and pervasiveness. What that translates to in practice is an increase in the quantity and variety of datasources. BI is not just about databases now—it can also include other things: unstructured data, semistructured data, applications, and more.
The data that can be part of BI has changed a lot, and that obviously touches on what’s termed big data. Big data is a fascinating area, because people understand its value and there’s a lot of very innovative big data work going on outside the BI arena. And at some point, you want to bring that big data back into your structured environment and report on it in a nice way with your BI dashboards, alerting systems, mobile devices, and so forth.
Oracle BI tools are particularly well suited for combining traditional data with what’s going on in the big data world.
Oracle Magazine: What do you see as the key use cases for BI cloud services?
Rittman: I see two main use cases for cloud BI today. One is BI reporting in your cloud applications, such as CRM [customer relationship management] or HCM [human capital management]. Deploying this cloud BI, however, is a big, IT-centric task.
People use or want to use cloud applications in simple deployments as self-service consumers, so cloud BI needs to be about making it as easy to use as search engines or any other cloud application and having APIs and hooks into different new cloud datasources. That’s one use case.
The other cloud BI use case is all about business agility. You don’t want to spend six months provisioning new servers and hardware and so on for BI projects, so running BI in the cloud can help you get results more quickly. Cloud BI enables you to spin up virtual BI servers in the cloud.
So the two use cases boil down to these: one is BI running in the cloud and interacting with cloud applications, and the second is all about business agility and how you can use the cloud to get results and value faster.
Oracle Magazine: You’re an Oracle ACE Director. Tell us about that: what’s involved, what are the responsibilities, and what are the benefits of being an Oracle ACE Director?
Rittman: Oracle ACE Director is an interesting role. An Oracle ACE Director is very knowledgeable about Oracle products, has product experience, and can speak authoritatively about the products but isn’t an Oracle employee.
One of the requirements for the program is to share our experiences with the Oracle community, including user groups. Another big part is to interact with Oracle, so Oracle ACE Directors participate in beta programs and work with some of the product teams on new features and so on.
I guess we’re useful to customers, because we’re a good source of information, but also I think we’re useful to Oracle, in that we’re an honest friend and critic of some of the products. We can give good, informed feedback on what the market is saying, what the customers want, what needs to be improved, what is working well, and so on.
Oracle Magazine: What’s next for you and Oracle technology?
Rittman: Big data and the cloud are big focus areas for my company and me. New datasources, bigger volumes of datasources, different insights, and different ways of analyzing data are all very interesting. The things we’re moving to the cloud, how they work there, how we leverage that technology, and how we make ourselves more agile in the cloud are also very interesting from a BI perspective.
Releases of Oracle BI products will always be interesting, and I’m really intrigued by the upcoming in-memory option for Oracle Database. A lot of the work we do currently is in-memory, but it’s not been something that’s been embedded deep in the database before. There will be things you can do differently with the in-memory option, and the speed will change how you analyze things and deliver different kinds of insights to different users.
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