Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Valdosta State Endorses Low Code Solutions

Valdosta State continues to use Oracle APEX for stand-alone applications as well as enterprise-level applications with thousands of daily users. 

Arthur Rinberger took time out of his day to explain why APEX is such a big part of Valdosta State's future plans. 

Briefly describe how you are using Oracle APEX

We have developed countless stand-alone applications, some very small and easy that only a handful of people use, but also others that are large enterprise-level applications with literal thousands of daily users depending on the functionality that APEX provides. It has become the preferred development tool on this campus and we have received numerous awards and international recognition for some of the applications we developed with it. 

How did Oracle APEX come to be used at Valdosta State University? 

One of our developers heard about HTML-DB (now renamed APEX) and suggested we give it a try. We stood up a couple of old servers and used it to develop an application we had been asked for. The developers that worked on the project raved about how easy the tool was to work with; the users were very happy with their application and how quickly they were able to get it; and, best of all, nothing had to be installed on the client machines! After that, all the developers wanted to try APEX and thus a revolution was born. 

What problems did it solve for Valdosta State University?

APEX brought modern-looking application development to our campus with extremely easy deployment to the users. It shortened development time, improved the functionality of our applications, and allowed us to take on projects that would have otherwise been either prohibitively complicated or “too small to bother with”. 

What technology did it replace? 

It was a mixed bag of PL/SQL (without APEX), .NET, and C. 

Was there an “Aha!” moment at some point with the staff and user base? 

Basically, the first time they saw and used it. Before that first APEX application, most of our in-house developed applications looked very basic because we were “too busy” to learn some of the skills we would need to polish them up. You can, of course, enhance your APEX applications with CSS and Javascript, but APEX took away the necessity of doing so to enable the development of attractive applications that would be easy to use. It became an instant hit when we started sending out applications that looked like commercial products. 

If you could add a feature to the next Oracle APEX release, what would that be? 

We can already use Oracle Text in APEX, but perhaps some wizard-driven support of it could help more developers take advantage of this powerful tool, possibly as an enhancement to the Interactive Grid region. 

What role do you see Oracle APEX playing in the future at Valdosta State University? 

The role of APEX will be, as it has been, to enable data collection; to enhance users’ ability to interact with all of the data available to us where it applies to them, whether collected via an APEX application or not; and to better enable the faculty, staff, and administration to educate and support the students’ journey to success. For a college or university considering Oracle APEX, what single piece of advice would you give? There are many technology stacks available to you, any one of which will work for your projects. The key, however, is to pick one of them and stick to it. This is because supporting one stack is much easier than supporting four. If most of your team is experienced with a tool that meets their needs, they’ll want to keep it. On the other hand, especially if there isn’t one specific tool you are already using for everything or your current team is relatively inexperienced with that current tool or it cannot easily meet the needs of some of your projects, you should give serious consideration to APEX. 

It’s easy for Oracle DBAs/Developers to learn because the basic language of it is PL/SQL; the default styling and actions give APEX applications a very modern look and feel. This includes responsive design patterns to help you develop for screens of varying size. Aside from that, it’s also easy for knowledgeable web developers to override/enhance those defaults because it provides many points where additional CSS or Javascript can be included. It’s easy to deploy a finished application to users because all they need is a current browser and the address to their application; the pages generated in an APEX application automatically include tags needed for support of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. APEX has great support. You have the APEX community, its development team, and Oracle as a whole, supporting it. 

Where do you go when you have APEX questions? 

I generally start with Google and wherever it’s results may lead me. If I can’t find an answer that way, I’ll try searching the Oracle Application Express Oracle Technology Network (APEX OTN) forum, in particular, to narrow down and improve my results. Then, if all of that fails to give me the answer I need, I’ll post my question on the forum. This way, community experts can guide me. This covers 99.9% of all questions I have ever had concerning APEX. On very rare occasion, I have tried to generate additional responses to my question by posting it on Twitter, but I always post the question and look for responses to it at the forum. 

Thanks, Art. Keep that APEX flag flying! 

...our journey continues

UC Berkeley's Journey to APEX

A bit ago, I was able to do a Q&A with Teal Sexton, Regional Director UC Berkley. She went into detail about how UC Berkeley integrated APEX into an Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE) dashboard.

Briefly describe how you are using Oracle APEX

We have integrated an Oracle APEX application into an OBIEE dashboard, to allow users to enter financial projections and then instantly view the impact on projected fund balances. We use this to project future costs for research contracts & grants so that faculty can make well-informed purchasing and hiring decisions to support their research.

What made you choose Oracle APEX at UC Berkeley?

We built an OBIEE dashboard for faculty to view their budgets, spending and current balances on research funds. After the release, they said it would not be useful without integrated projections. These also need to be entered by 150+ different research administration staff across campus, on an ongoing basis. After seeing APEX in use at another campus, I knew it was capable of providing data to assist with projections, and then could write updates directly to the database. that’s why I suggested we look into using it to meet the requirements for the Projections Project and after showing mockups of my design for the projections input form, we found consultants who could build it for us.

What problems did it solve for UC Berkeley?

Projections are now entered in the same standard format across UC Berkeley. And, they are available from anywhere in the world through the web-based OBIEE reporting platform. Previously, projections were done manually in Excel, using very different methods, and service was highly inconsistent. The research administration organization is now more sustainable and trainable as a result of the APEX projections input form.

What technology did it replace?

Manual Excel spreadsheets cobbled together with limited access to source system data

Was there an “Aha!” moment at some point with the staff and user base?

Absolutely! The first demos I came up with just blew away anyone who hadn’t seen the input form design. It provides human resources appointment data for personnel. Furthermore, this key information can be copied directly into the projections. This, in turn, automatically triggers associated projections for benefits and indirect costs. What used to take days now takes minutes!
If you could add a feature to the next Oracle APEX release, what would that be?

I think it is important to ensure that new releases do not cause existing APEX applications to become obsolete. Despite APEX’s amazing capabilities, our campus is still worried about continuing to use it. This is because they’ve been burned by Oracle’s new releases in the past. We often rely heavily on systems for a long time because higher education is slow to change. If a popular platform suddenly becomes “unsupported”, then we are left trying to figure out how to keep the lights on. This Projections application is so vital to our business process we hope it will survive a decade of use before new releases turn it into a dinosaur.
What role do you see Oracle APEX playing in the future at UC Berkeley?

I plan to use APEX to deliver additional functionality in our OBIEE dashboards across other areas of Finance. Of course, this would go beyond just research funding. The campus wants to be able to input comments about funds, and make projections across all sources, to assist with multi-year budgeting. I am also considering using APEX for request forms for purchasing and reimbursement, so users can choose their funding source from a drop-down list based on enterprise finance data, and the request will automatically process in PeopleSoft. I continue to think of ways APEX might be helpful because it is a great way to extend the functionality of our Enterprise Data Warehouse.

For a college or university considering Oracle APEX, what single piece of advice would you give?

Do not be afraid to give it a try! But also make sure you talk with experienced consultants who know how to get the most out of APEX. As a matter of fact, we have lots of “extras” built in using JavaScript. In a case like ours, it would be helpful to have a developer with that skill set.
Where do you go when you have APEX questions?

I reach out to my friends at Insum!

Thanks, Teal. Call anytime.

...our journey continues

Thursday, January 12, 2023

The Dichotomy of Oracle Forms and APEX

We live in a dichotomic world. It's always Heads or Tails? Left or Right? In or Out? So, isn't it refreshing to know that when it comes to Oracle Forms and Oracle APEX, the proper choice may just be....both.

I'm reminded of a presentation Insum's own, Francis Mignault, delivered a few years back at KScope. The session was titled "Oracle Forms and Oracle APEX - The Odd Couple". In it he did a great job laying out the entire gambit of options a Forms customer has. Everything from simply maintaining the status quo and continuing to support your on-premise Forms, to moving things to the Oracle Cloud, to extending Oracle Forms with APEX and finally rewriting everything in APEX thereby eliminating Forms completely. Today, I'm focused on the co-existence of Oracle Forms and APEX and why this odd couple, may not be so odd after all.

Here are three scenarios in which extending Forms with APEX makes great sense.

Upgrading the Presentation Layer

A common pain point of Forms is the look and feel. You could even say Forms has a face for radio.  Now that's fine for internal back office applications but for customer facing apps, expectations have never been higher. Users are demanding the same bells and whistles they enjoy on other websites. 

Providing Mobility 
A few years ago, the talk was "Mobile First" meaning applications should be developed with mobile functionality "top of mind". Although that talk has cooled a bit, if a mobile experience is needed say for field operations, Forms layouts will be too rigid and inflexible. A responsive layout using APEX is the answer.

Scratch, Dinero, Moolah
I'm always going to encourage customers to stay current and to stay within vendor support. The reality is sometimes companies decide against it for economic reasons. For example, upgrading to Forms 12c requires WebLogic Server. The increase in cost is significant. These companies are using APEX to deliver new functionality.

So there's no reason for Felix to kick Oscar out. Clearly they're better together. The same could be said for a different odd couple - Oracle Forms and Oracle APEX. They, too, are better together.

I'd encourage checking out Francis' original presentation here.

...our journey continues 

Monday, November 21, 2022

OCW Redux

I think this was number twelve for me. Hard to believe, really. But in a lot of ways, it's one of the most memorable because of the change in venue. 
The other eleven San Francisco ones seem to run together in my mind. Prior to the move to Vegas, we had OOW on auto-pilot. For 2022, all bets were off.

Well, for those unable to attend you missed a lot. Was it perfect? I wouldn't say that. But GAWD, it was great to get back to normal.

Here are my takes on Oracle Cloud World 2022.

 Most of the people I re-connected with at OCW I never saw that much in-person anyway, but this time around that handshake or that hug sure hit the spot. To me the conference was filled with an overwhelming sense of relief and of gratitude. We were able to put the past in the past.

APEX is in. For Insum, the sun rises and sets with APEX. So, you can imagine how we felt to have Uncle Larry include APEX in his keynote, "Solving the Most Complex Problems Across Industries"

And by golly, it wasn't just a passing mention. He discussed in detail how a low code tool like APEX provided the perfect blend of features and speed to build applications critical to combat COVID-19. APEX is here to stay.

ACE PROGRAM I hung out at the ACE Lounge. Felt I really needed to do that as Jen and Co. were kind enough to provide me a comp pass. Rubbed elbows with Oracle royalty at the ACE Dinner. It was a treat to have Oracle EVP, Juan Loaiza, present.  He even spent time at each table getting to know us and us getting to know him. Cool dude.

APEX MEET-UP One of the the things most missed regarding OpenWorld was the pilgrimage to Johnny Foley's Irish House. The APEX Dev Team and all the fan boys and fan girls would descend there on the Tuesday night for dueling pianos. Great times. Unforgettable times.

We wanted to continue that tradition so Tuesday night we stormed the nearby Yardhouse for fun and fellowship. The APEX Dev Team was well represented as well as others of us dependent on APEX to keep the lights burning. I got to say, Joel Kallman was severely missed but we soldier on and look to complete the work and the evangelism he started.

NAVIGATION The biggest negative issue I had was simply getting my bearings. The highways and byways of the Venetian meander a bit. While by the end of the week I pretty much had it down, the first day or two I travelled via the struggle bus.  A word of advice. Pay the difference and stay as close as you can to the Conference Center. I ponied up and stayed at the Palazzo, but the rest of my team stayed at the Linq. Nothing at all wrong with the accommodations at the Linq, but trust me your feet will thank you.

ATTENDANCE We'll never know the actual attendance. Even if a figure was provided, it would be met with extreme skepticism. I know how that game is played. One glaring thing I noticed was the exhibit hall aisles were as wide as the 405 but not near as busy. Food was surprisingly good. Much, much better than the Moscone sammich of past years.

You may have noticed I didn't review many sessions in the post. That's because in my current role I attend OCW to explore business opportunities and have as many B2B, B2C and B2O (Business to Oracle) conversations as I can.

So, should you plan on attending next year? Hells, yeah. Vegas has inked a long term agreement with Oracle to keep the conference right where it is. 
I expect attendance to slowly climb back to pre-pandemic levels. 

...our journey continues

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Thoughts on the Oracle ACE Program

Four years ago during ODTUG KScope14, I was designated as an Oracle ACE in the area of Database Development. Vikki Lira, who ran the ACE program at the time, surprised me on stage during the General Session. I could not have been more shocked.  I think my actual response was "You gotta be _hitting me!". While I wish at the time I'd been a touch more eloquent, I'm still not over the shock and remain indebted to Tim Gorman (and anyone else who had a part in it).

Truth is, while I really appreciated the recognition, I had a serious case of survivors guilt. Why me when there are thousands of qualified Oracle professionals more deserving?? I mentioned it to Deborah Lilly and she said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said "It's not what you know, it's what you share"
In ten words or less she made me feel deserving. She made me feel like I belonged.

Did Groucho Get it Right??

We've all heard the famous quote from Groucho Marx.

"I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member"
                                                                             Groucho Marx

Funny enough, I found a notable Oracle personality who had this to say about the ACE program.

"By and large, they tend to be people with low self-esteem who can be easily flattered into promoting Oracle for free.  These ACE Directors are sometimes "legends in  own minds" and they are the perfect fodder for this unpaid army of Oracle evangelists."

Really?? I know everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Since I'm entitled to one too, let me say I couldn't disagree more with that assessment of Oracle ACEs. That doesn't describe me, I assure you. Trust the amount of Oracle gear, free meals, etc. is nowhere near worth us prostituting ourselves as was contended. We do it because we've bought into the sense of community. We view it as a way to "pay it forward".

Yea, we all have different personalities. We all have different Oracle skillsets. Some of us are more introverted...more extroverted. But the resulting nerd gumbo is really something to behold. I've found the ACE community to be welcoming and I look forward to the social times Jennifer and Lori carve out for us at the various conferences.

What's It All Mean Really?

I guess it means different things to different people. Anyone who tells you they don't care about recognition isn't, in my opinion, being entirely honest. Recognition taps into basic human emotions. Some crave it more than others, but we all need it at some level.

Receiving Your Oracle ACE Should Be The Beginning

It's always been my understanding that the "Oracle ACE is recognition for past deeds and accomplishments, while Oracle ACE Director is recognition for what you will do in the future." I want to challenge that. Receiving your Oracle ACE should in no way be viewed as reaching any mountaintop. Even if you don't strive for Oracle ACE Director, you should continue to do those things that brought you the ACE in the first place.

I will close by encouraging those who aspire to be part of the ACE program to not be dissuaded. Always remember... it's not what you know, it's what you share.

...our journey continues

Friday, November 3, 2017

What Color is YOUR Tractor?

Martin Widlake, a giant in the Oracle Community, tweeted something to the effect that he had purchased a lawn tractor. In fact, here's the actual tweet...

To which I responded..."it's how well you mow fast"

...which referenced the John Deere series of commercials at the time which professed "It's not how fast you's how well you mow fast". I thought the commercials were hilarious. Decide for yourself.

Notice, my reply never mentioned John Deere...not a single hash tag..not even the entire quote from the commercial. So you can imagine my surprise when I almost immediately received a request to DM @JohnDeere. What? Are they going to make me take down the tweet? You've gotta be kidding. C'mon, really?? 

Nope, they just wanted to show their appreciation. 

And in the mail came this...

WOW! I know it was just a T-shirt, but I was blown away because it was so unexpected and unsolicited. I wasn't trying to get on their radar or curry favor. I was just trying to be a wise guy on Twitter. 

One thing is certain, you can guess the color of my next tractor....all for the price of a t-shirt.

...our journey continues.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Thoughts around the ODTUG Board Election

ODTUG Board Elections are in full swing. Nine qualified persons running for five open seats.  Among the nine are three incumbents. There's a very real incumbent advantage. I should know. I was the beneficiary on multiple occasions. But nine doesn't go into five. Something's gotta give.

During my own time on the ODTUG Board I resisted endorsing others. In private I would voice my opinion, but publicly, not so much. Now that I'm no longer on the Board, I'd like to speak on behalf of two individuals in particular. Peter Koutroubis and Eric Helmer. Why am I singling out these two when I'm friends with everyone in the field? Simple. They came and asked me. I could've declined, but I do think they each have what it takes to serve with distinction. It was an easy decision for me to endorse.

I've known Peter for a few years now. We share a close friendship. He's been very giving of his time to help me professionally and for that I'm grateful. Looking at his background I expect certain things if he were elected. You see, Peter served in the U.S. military. If elected, I expect the ODTUG trains to run on time. I expect order and organization. I expect he'd be one on the Board that you could assign a task to, then forget about it...knowing that he'll take care of it. A lot of time spent on the Board is in the area of planning and I feel that's a place he'll excel. I get a sense, too, that KScope is the highlight of his year where you actually come in contact with the membership. Like me, Peter's positively a people person. (say that three times fast)

Eric has run for the Board on a few occasions now, but I think this year may be his time. A big reason is that ODTUG's EPM membership numbers continue to grow. Since one must be a paid member to vote, he's been behind the eight ball in past elections. This year his chances are better than ever. Please take a minute to visit You can see he's put a ton of effort into the site. If he brings this much effort and focus to the Board, he'll make a helluva Director. In talking with Eric, he made it clear to me that he intends to represent the entire membership not just the EPM/BI communities. That's music to my ears.

In closing, I'd like to thank all those in the running for continuing to support our fantastic organization. To Peter and Eric, best of luck to you both. I'm happy to call you my friends and extremely proud to pledge my support.

...our journey continues