Thursday Feb 12, 2015

How do I ...

An email came in this morning to an internal mailing list,

We have an Essbase customer with some reporting requirements and we are evaluating BI Publisher as the potential solution. I'd like to ask for your help with any document, blog or white paper with guidelines about using BI Publisher with Essbase as the main data source.

Is there any tutorial showing how to use BI Publisher with Essbase as the main data source?

There is not one to my knowledge but trying to be helpful I came up with the following response

I'll refer to the docs ...
First set up your connection to Essbase
http://docs.oracle.com/cd/E28280_01/bi.1111/e22255/data_sources.htm#BIPAD294
Then create your data model using that Essbase connection
http://docs.oracle.com/cd/E28280_01/bi.1111/e22258/create_data_sets.htm#BIPDM404
Use the MDX query builder to create the query or write it yourself (lots of fun :)
http://docs.oracle.com/cd/E28280_01/bi.1111/e22258/create_data_sets.htm#BIPDM431
Add parameters (optional)
http://docs.oracle.com/cd/E28280_01/bi.1111/e22258/add_params_lovs.htm#BIPDM306
Then build layouts for your Essbase query
http://docs.oracle.com/cd/E28280_01/bi.1111/e22254/toc.htm
annnnd your're done :)

Simple, right? Well simple in its format but it required me to know the basic steps to build said report and then where to find the appropriate pages in the doc for the links. Leslie saw my reply and commented on how straightforward it was and how our docs are more like reference books than 'how to's.' This got us thinking. I have noticed that the new 'cloud' docs have How do I ... sections where a drop down will then show maybe 10 tasks associated with the page Im on right now in the application.

Getting that help functionality into the BIP is going to take a while. We thought, in the mean time, we could carve out a section on the blog for just such content. Here's where you guys come in. What do you want to know how to do? Suggestions in the comment pleeeease!

Monday Feb 09, 2015

Have your say ...

Another messaging exchange last week with Leslie ...

OK, so we practised it a bit after our first convo and things got a little cheesy but hopefully you get the message.

Hit this link and you too can give some constructive feedback on the Oracle doc for BI (not just BIP.) I took the survey; its only eight questions or more if you want to share more of your input. Please take a couple of minutes to help us shape the documentation of future. 

Friday Dec 12, 2014

Paginated HTML is here and has been for some time ... I think!

We have a demo environment in my team and of course things get a little beaten up in there. Our go to, 'here's Publisher' report was looking really bad. Data was not returning or being rendered correctly on the five templates we have for it.
So, I spent about a half hour cleaning up the report; getting things working again; clearing out the rubbish. I noticed that one of the layouts when rendered in HTML was repeatedly showing a header down the screen. Oh, I know where to get rid of that and off I click to the report properties to fix it. But what is this I see? Is it? Can it be? Are my tired old eyes deceiving me?

Yes, Dexter, you see that right, 'View Paginated'! I nervously changed the value to 'true' and went back to the HTML output.
Holy Amaze Balls Batman, paginated HTML, the holy grail of HTML rendered reports, the Mount Everest of ... no, thats too easy, the K2 of html output ... its fan-bloody-tastic! Can you tell Im excited? I was immediately on messenger to Leslie (doc writer extraordinaire) 


Obviously not quite as big a deal in the sane, real world outside of my head. 'Oh yeah, we have that now ...' Leslie is so calm and collected, however, she does like Maroon 5 but, we overlook that :)

I command you 11.1.1.6+'ers to go find the property and turn it on right now and bask in the glory that is, 'paginated html.!'
I cannot stop clicking back and forth and then to the end and then all the way back to the beginning. Its fantastic!

Just look at those icons, just click em, you know you want to!

Thursday Oct 02, 2014

Multi Sheet Excel Output

Im on a roll with posts. This blog can be rebuilt ...

I received a question today from Camilo in Colombia asking how to achieve the following.

‘What are my options to deliver excel files with multiple sheets? I know we can split 1 report in multiple sheets in with the BIP Advanced Options, but what if I want to have 1 report / sheet? Where each report in each sheet has a independent data model ….’

Well, its not going to be easy if you have to have completely separate data models for each sheet. That would require generating multiple Excel outputs and then merging them, somehow.

However, if you can live with a single data model with multiple data sets i.e. queries that connect to separate data sources. Something like this:


Then we can help. Each query is returning its own data set but they will all be presented together in a single data set that BIP can then render. Our data structure in the XML output would be:

<DS>
 <G1>
  ...
 </G1>
 <G2>
  ...
 </G2>
 <G3>
  ...
 </G3>
</DS>

Three distinct data sets within the same data output.

To get each to sit on a separate sheet within the Excel output is pretty simple. It depends on how much native Excel functionality you want.

Using an RTF template you just create the layouts for each data set on a page(s) separated by a page break (Ctrl-Enter.) At runtime, BIP will place each output onto a separate sheet in the workbook. If you want to name each sheet you can use the <?spreadsheet-sheet-name: xpath-expression?> command. More info here. That’s as sophisticated as it gets with the RTF templates. No calcs, no formulas, etc. Just put the output on a sheet, bam!

Using an Excel template you can get more sophisticated with the layout.



This time thou, you create the layout for each data model on separate sheets. In my example, sheet 1 holds the department data, sheet 2, the employee data and so on. Some conditional formatting has snuck in there.

I have zipped up the sample files here.

FIN!

Friday Feb 28, 2014

Waterfall Charts

Great question came through the ether from Holger on waterfall charts last night.

"I know that Answers supports waterfall charts and BI Publisher does not.
Do you have a different solution approach for waterfall charts with BI Publisher (perhaps stacked bars with white areas)?
Maybe you have already implemented something similar in the past and you can send me an example."

I didnt have one to hand, but I do now. Little known fact, the Publisher chart engine is based on the Oracle Reports chart engine. Therefore, this document came straight to mind. Its awesome for chart tips and tricks. Will you have to get your hands dirty in the chart code? Yep. Will you get the chart you want with a little effort? Yep. Now, I know, I know, in this day and age, you should get waterfalls with no effort but then you'd be bored right?

First things first, for the uninitiated, what is a waterfall chart? From some kind person at Wikipedia, "The waterfall chart is normally used for understanding how an initial value is affected by a series of intermediate positive or negative values. Usually the initial and the final values are represented by whole columns, while the intermediate values are denoted by floating columns. The columns are color-coded for distinguishing between positive and negative values."

We'll get back to that last sentence later, for now lets get the basic chart working.

Checking out the Oracle Report charting doc, search for 'floating' their term for 'waterfall' and it will get you to the section on building a 'floating column chart' or in more modern parlance, a waterfall chart. If you have already got your feet wet in the dark arts world of Publisher chart XML, get on with it and get your waterfall working.

If not, read on.

When I first starting looking at this chart, I decided to ignore the 'negative values' in the definition above. Being a glass half full kind of guy I dont see negatives right :)

Without them its a pretty simple job of rendering a stacked bar chart with 4 series for the colors. One for the starting value, one for the ending value, one for the diffs (steps) and one for the base values. The base values color could be set to white but that obscures any tick lines in the chart. Better to use the transparency option from the Oracle Reports doc.

<Series id="0" borderTransparent="true" transparent="true"/> 

Pretty simple, even the data structure is reasonably easy to get working. But, the negative values was nagging at me and Holger, who I pointed at the Oracle Reports doc had come back and could not get negative values to show correctly. So I took another look. What a pain in the butt!

In the chart above (thats my first BIP waterfall maybe the first ever BIP waterfall.) I have lime green, start and finish bars; red for negative and green for positive values. Look a little closer at the hidden bar values where we transition from red to green, ah man, royal pain in the butt! Not because of anything tough in the chart definition, thats pretty straightforward. I just need the following columns START, BASE, DOWN, UP and FINISH. 

START 200
BASE 0
UP 0
DOWN 0
FINISH 0
START 0
BASE 180
UP 0
DOWN 20
FINISH 0
START 0
BASE 150
UP 0
DOWN 30
FINISH 0

 Bar 1 - Start Value
 Bar 2 - PROD1
 Bar 3 - PROD2

and so on. The start, up, down and finish values are reasonably easy to get. The real trick is calculating that hidden BASE value correctly for that transition from -ve >> + ve and vice versa. Hitting Google, I found the key to that calculation in a great page on building a waterfall chart in Excel from the folks at Contextures.  Excel is great at referencing previous cell values to create complex calculations and I guess I could have fudged this article and used an Excel sheet as my data source. I could even have used an Excel template against my database table to create the data for the chart and fed the resulting Excel output back into the report as the data source for the chart. But, I digress, that would be tres cool thou, gotta look at that.
On that page is the formula to get the hidden base bar values and I adapted that into some sql to get the same result.

Lets assume I have the following data in a table:

PRODUCT_NAME SALES
PROD1 -20
PROD2 -30
PROD3 50
PROD4 60

The sales values are versus the same period last year i.e. a delta value.  I have a starting value of 200 total sales, lets assume this is pulled from another table.
I have spent the majority of my time on generating the data, the actual chart definition is pretty straight forward. Getting that BASE value has been most tricksy!

I need to generate the following for each column:

PRODUCT_NAME

STRT

BASE_VAL

DOWN

UP

END_TOTAL

START
200
0
0
0
0
PROD1
0
180
20
0
0
PROD2
0
150 30 0
0
PROD3
0 150 0 50 0
PROD4
0 200
0 60 0
END
0 0 0 0 260

Ignoring the START and END values for a second. Here's the query for the PRODx columns:

 SELECT 2 SORT_KEY 
, PRODUCT_NAME
, STRT
, SALES
, UP
, DOWN
, 0 END_TOTAL
, 200 + (SUM(LAG_UP - DOWN) OVER (ORDER BY PRODUCT_NAME)) AS BASE_VAL
FROM
(SELECT P.PRODUCT_NAME
,  0 AS STRT
, P.SALES
, CASE WHEN P.SALES > 0 THEN P.SALES ELSE 0 END AS UP  
, CASE WHEN P.SALES < 0 THEN ABS(P.SALES) ELSE 0 END AS DOWN
, LAG(CASE WHEN P.SALES > 0 THEN P.SALES ELSE 0 END,1,0) 
      OVER (ORDER BY P.PRODUCT_NAME) AS LAG_UP
FROM PRODUCTS P
)

The inner query is breaking the UP and DOWN values into their own columns based on the SALES value. The LAG function is the cool bit to fetch the UP value in the previous row. That column is the key to getting the BASE values correctly.

The outer query just has a calculation for the BASE_VAL.

200 + (SUM(LAG_UP - DOWN) OVER (ORDER BY PRODUCT_NAME))

The SUM..OVER allows me to iterate over the rows to get the calculation I need ie starting value (200) + the running sum of LAG_UP - DOWN. Remember the LAG_UP value is fetching the value from the previous row.
Is there a neater way to do this? Im most sure there is, I could probably eliminate the inner query with a little effort but for the purposes of this post, its quite handy to be able to break things down.

For the start and end values I used more queries and then just UNIONed the three together. Once note on that union; the sorting. For the chart to work, I need START, PRODx, FINISH, in that order. The easiest way to get that was to add a SORT_KEY value to each query and then sort by it. So my total query for the chart was:

SELECT 1 SORT_KEY
, 'START' PRODUCT_NAME
, 200 STRT
, 0 SALES
, 0 UP
, 0 DOWN
, 0 END_TOTAL
, 0 BASE_VAL
FROM PRODUCTS
UNION
SELECT 2 SORT_KEY 
, PRODUCT_NAME
, STRT
, SALES
, UP
, DOWN
, 0 END_TOTAL
, 200 + (SUM(LAG_UP - DOWN) 
      OVER (ORDER BY PRODUCT_NAME)) AS BASE_VAL
FROM
(SELECT P.PRODUCT_NAME
,  0 AS STRT
, P.SALES
, CASE WHEN P.SALES > 0 THEN P.SALES ELSE 0 END AS UP  
, CASE WHEN P.SALES < 0 THEN ABS(P.SALES) ELSE 0 END AS DOWN
, LAG(CASE WHEN P.SALES > 0 THEN P.SALES ELSE 0 END,1,0) 
       OVER (ORDER BY P.PRODUCT_NAME) AS LAG_UP
FROM PRODUCTS P
)
UNION
SELECT 3 SORT_KEY 
, 'END' PRODUCT_NAME
, 0 STRT
, 0 SALES
, 0 UP
, 0 DOWN
, SUM(SALES) + 200 END_TOTAL
, 0 BASE_VAL
FROM PRODUCTS
GROUP BY 1,2,3,4,6
ORDER BY 1 

A lot of effort for a dinky chart but now its done once, doing it again will be easier. Of course no one will want just a single chart in their report, there will be other data, tables, charts, etc. I think if I was doing this in anger I would just break out this query as a separate item in the data model ie a query just for the chart. It will make life much simpler.
Another option that I considered was to build a sub template in XSL to generate the XML tree to support the chart and assign that to a variable. Im sure it can be done with a little effort, I'll save it for another time.

On the last leg, we have the data; now to build the chart. This is actually the easy bit. Sadly I have found an issue in the online template builder that precludes using the chart builder in those templates. However, RTF templates to the rescue!

Insert a chart and in the dialog set up the data like this (click the image to see it full scale.)

Its just a vertical stacked bar with the BASE_VAL color set to white.You can still see the 'hidden' bars and they are over writing the tick lines but if you are happy with it, leave it as is. You can double click the chart and the dialog box can read it no problem. If however, you want those 'hidden' bars truly hidden then click on the Advanced tab of the chart dialog and replace:

<Series id="1" color="#FFFFFF" />

with

<Series id="1" borderTransparent="true" transparent="true" />

and the bars will become completely transparent. You can do the #D and gradient thang if you want and play with colors and themes. You'll then be done with your waterfall masterpiece!

Alot of work? Not really, more than out of the box for sure but hopefully, I have given you enough to decipher the data needs and how to do it at least with an Oracle db. If you need all my files, including table definition, sample XML, BIP DM, Report and templates, you can get them here.

Monday Feb 24, 2014

Wildcard Filtering continued

I wrote up a method for using wildcard filtering in your layouts a while back here. I spotted a followup question on that blog post last week and thought I would try and address it using another wildcard method. 

I want to use the bi publisher to look for several conditions using a wild card. For example if I was sql it would look like this:

if name in ('%Wst','%Grt')

How can I utilize bi publisher to look for the same conditions.

This, in XPATH speak is an OR condition and we can treat it as such. In the last article I used the 'starts-with' function, its a little limiting, there is a better one, 'contains'. This is a much more powerful function that allows you to look for any string within another string. Its case insensitive so you do not need to do upper or lowering of the string you are searching to get the desired results.
Here it is in action:

For the clerks filter I use :

<?for-each-group:G_1[contains(JOB_TITLE,'Clerk')];./JOB_TITLE?>

and to find all clerks and managers, I use:

<?for-each-group:G_1[contains(JOB_TITLE,'Clerk') or contains(JOB_TITLE,'Manager')];./JOB_TITLE?>

Note that Im using re-grouping here, you can use the same XPATH with a regular for-each. Also note the lower case 'or' in the second expression. You can also use an 'and' too.

This works in 10 and 11g flavors of BIP. Sample files available here.

Monday Feb 10, 2014

Alternate Tray Printing

Since we introduced support for check printing PCL escape sequences in 11.1.1.7 i.e. being able to set the micr font or change the print cartridge to the magnetic ink for that string. I have wanted to test out other PCL commands, particularly, changing print trays. Say you have letter headed paper or pre-printed or colored paper in tray 2 but only want to use it for the first page or specific or for a separator page, the rest can come out of plain ol Tray 1 with its copier paper.

I have had a couple of inquiries recently and so, I finally took some time to test out the theory. I should add here, that the dev team thought it would work but were not 100%. The feature was built for the check printing requirements alone so they could not support any other commands. I was hopeful thou!
In short, it works!



I can generate a document and print it with embedded PCL commands to change from Tray 1 (&l4H) to Tray 2 (&l1H ) - yep, makes no sense to me either. I got the codes from here, useful site with a host of other possibilities to test.

For the test, I just created a department-employee listing that broke the page when the department changed. Just inside the first grouping loop I included the PCL string to set Tray 1.

<pcl><control><esc/>&l4H </control> </pcl>

Note, this has to be in clear text, you can not use a formfield.
I then created a dummy insert page using a template and called it from just within the closing department group field (InsertPAGE field.) At the beginning of the dummy page I included the PCL string to get the paper from Tray 2:

<pcl><control><esc/>&l1H</control> </pcl>

When you run this to PDF you will see the PCL string. I played with this and hid it using a white font and it worked great, assuming you have white paper :)

When you set up the printer in the BIP admin console, you need to ensure you have picked the 'PDF to PCL Filter' for the printer.



If you dont want to have PCL enabled all the time, you can have multiple definitions for the same printer with/with out the PCL filter. Users just need to pick the appropriate printer instance. Using this filter ensures that those PCL strings will be preserved into the final PCL that gets sent to the printer.

Example files here. Official documentation on the PCL string here.

Happy Printing!





Monday Feb 03, 2014

Memory Guard

Happy New ... err .. Chinese Year! Yeah, its been a while, its also been danged busy and we're only in February, just! A question came up on one of our internal mailing lists concerning out of memory errors. Pieter, support guru extraordinaire jumped on it with reference to a support note covering the relatively new 'BI Publisher Memory Guard'. Sounds grand eh?

As many a BIP user knows, at BIP's heart lives an XSLT engine. XSLT engines are notoriously memory hungry. Oracle's wee beastie has come a long way in terms of taming its appetite for bits and bytes since we started using it. BIP allows you to take advantage of this 'scalable mode.' Its a check box on the data model which essentially says 'XSLT engine, stop stuffing your face with memory doughnuts and get on with the salad and chicken train for this job' i.e. it gets a limited memory stack within which to work and makes use of disk, if needed, think Windows' 'virtual memory'.

Now that switch is all well and good, for a known big report that you would typically mark as 'schedule only.' You do not want users sitting in front of their screen waiting for a 10,000 page document to appear, right? How about those reports that are borderline 'big' or you have a potentially big report but expect users to filter the heck out of it and they choose not to? It would be nice to be able to set some limits on reports in case a user kicks off a monster donut binge session. Enter 'BI Publisher Memory Guard'!

It essentially lets you set those limits on memory and report size so that users can not run a report that brings the server to its knees. More information on the support web site, search for 'BI Publisher Memory Guard a New Feature to Prevent out-of-memory Errors (Doc ID 1599935.1)' or you can get Leslie's white paper covering the same here.

Thursday Oct 10, 2013

Mobile App Designer

Back in August a new Oracle mobile solution jumped out of the gate, the Mobile App Designer (MAD). I seem to have been on the road every week for the last, goodness knows how many weeks. I have finally found some time this week to get down and work with it. Its pretty cool and above all, its capable of providing a mobile platform independent reporting solution.

But you already have a mobile application! Yep, and I think they both sit quite comfortably together. The Oracle BI Mobile Application is available from the App Store for Apple users. Its a great app, build reports, dashboards and BIP reports for your browser based users and your Apple app users can take advantage of them immediately.

MAD takes the next step forward. Maybe you don't use or can not use Apple mobile devices? Maybe you need to build something more specific around a business area that provides users with a richer experience, beyond what Answers and Dashboards can offer. However, you do not want to have to rely of the tech folks to build the mobile application, thats just piling more work on them. You also want to be platform agnostic, you might have a mix of mobile platforms. MAD can help.

For those of you that have already used the Online Template layout editor with BI Publisher, you already know how to build a mobile application. The MAD interface is essentially the online template builder user interface, tweaked for a mobile destination ie a phone or tablet.

You build your data model as you would normally including the newer direct data model build on a subject area from OBIEE.

Then start to create the 'pages' of your application and the content to sit on those pages. All the normal stuff, tables, pivot tables, charts, images plus accordians, filters and repeating objects. On top of that is the ability to then extend the visual objects that are available to users. Maps (google or oracle), D3 visuals, gantt charts, org charts, if you can either write the code or leverage an existing javascript library, MAD has the extension framework to support it.

You can build and test in a browser and then deploy to your own BI App Store. Users, on their mobile devices, can then subscribe to an application. They can open and interact with your app using their phone or tablet's interactive features just as they would with a native application.  As you update your app and add new features the changes will be picked up the next time your users open the application.

Interested? Want to know more? The Oracle MAD home page has a ton of content including tutorials, etc. We are planning to dig into MAD in forthcoming posts. The geek in me wanted to be able to build plugins using the D3 and other visuals. I have been working with Leslie on some of the documentation and we'll be sharing some of that 'plugin' doc and how tos in the coming weeks.

Wednesday Sep 18, 2013

BI Publisher Trial Edition News

Whoooo hoooo! Theres finally a new version of the BI Publisher Trial Edition available for download from OTN.

http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/middleware/bi-publisher/downloads/index.html

11.1.1.7.1 is the imaginative release name. Nevermind your iOS7's get some blazingly fast BIP '.7.1'!

I'll be digging into some of the new features in the coming weeks!

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