Here are a couple of events that we’ll be at:
Northern California PeopleSoft RUG meeting
(June 15 at the Fremont Mariott)
I’ll be taking the following blog posting and presenting it here.
PeopleSoft NorthWest RUG Oracle Day 2007
(June 28 at Meydenbauer Conference Center, Bellevue, WA)
I’ll be presenting an updated version of the Advanced Reporting Techniques for PeopleSoft Enterprise.
In the past couple of days, we’ve received lots and lots of emails from folks who attended our sessions at the Alliance Conference and wanted to let us know how much they enjoyed the content. We also had a great time and really enjoyed meeting with all of you.
The best way to ensure that these conferences include sessions valuable to you is to provide feedback. The sessions with the highest historical satisfaction ratings will get preference in future conferences.
If you liked our sessions and would like to see more (believe me, we have all sorts of tips and tricks we could cover in future sessions), please fill out the Evaluation Survey (the link is here, if the email from the alliance conference folks isn’t handy).
Labels: 2007, Events
It was the first day the exhibit hall was open, and we had spent much of the previous day trying to iron out the kinks in our booth. 2 hours into that morning, a PeopleSoft customer made a bee-line to our booth, and started peppering us with questions, verifying features and pricing for one of our products. After about two minutes of talking with us, he paused and asked, “We’re in a hurry to get something put in for this. How long would it take for you to generate an invoice?” Needless to say, we got him an invoice. We subsequently helped him install the product from the Starbucks next to Moscone Center (while he was still here at the show), and now has it up and running in one of his environments. The customer expects to put it into production next week.We definitely want to thank all of you that came to our sessions and to our booth. Special thanks go out to Jeff Robbins and David Bain for being our co-presenters. Thanks also go to Mike Ni and Nadia Bendjedou for their upfront work in having us as presenters. Finally, we wanted to thank Jake Abrams for helping out in our booth. Jake has more expertise in implementing our products than anyone else, so having him help answer questions at our booth was great. And thanks to whoever planned out the evening event at the Cow Palace. That was fun (almost too fun – it was hard to work the next day). Our only recommendation for Oracle next year is to do something better with the Meet The Experts sessions. We went to visit some of the folks that we used to work with and they were hidden off in the mezzanine level where customers couldn’t easily find them.
Labels: 2006, Events
Our apologies to our loyal blog readers for the lack of content in the past few weeks. Grey Sparling Solutions has had all hands on deck for a go-live for a large financial institution with our Reporting Security and Distribution PeopleSoft Solutions Extender. Taking the lead from Joel Spolsky, a blogger that we at Grey Sparling Solutions follow, we thought it might make sense to discuss a little about the product and how the customer plans to use it.
As with most financial services institutions, financial reporting is a very important aspect of their ERP solution. This customer has several thousand financial reports that they need to run periodically, and need to secure and distribute to many users. The process of securing and distributing the reports is a very challenging problem for them (and in an era where controls need to be easily audited, the lack of good report security and distribution functionality in ERP systems is a challenge for them).
Additionally, most of the people receiving reports do not use the ERP system other than to look at reports and drill into results. Therefore, the customer would prefer that reports are distributed through email. However, many of these users receive several reports at once, and the customer would like the links to the reports to be consolidated into a single report.
The Report Security and Distribution PeopleSoft Solution Extender (we recently renamed it from the process scheduler extender) is what this customer is utilizing. This extender has the following major components:
- A means of defining the security rules: as in which users should have access to what data.
- A means of defining the reports to be run and linking in the security rules to ensure that the report data is filtered appropriately and the results are distributed to the right people. The filtering and routing happens automatically.
- A means of graphically organizing the nVision reports into jobs to be run on different schedules and organized appropriately. This allows the administrator to see the complete jobstream and all the times different reports are to be run in a single graphical view.
- A means of defining and personalizing the content of the emails with information in the ERP system. This allows robust, highly formatted emails to be generated with highly descriptive information about each report in the email itself.
- A means of generating the emails on a pre-defined schedule. This allows the reports to be distributed in bulk, with multiple reports in a single email.
- A means of auditing which users have access to which data and which reports. This allows the customer to determine whether the right people are getting the right data (which makes auditing for compliance purposes very easy).
Once this go-live is completed, the customer will implement the report manager part of the extender, which will provide a robust means of organizing and accessing the reports outside of email (through a browser). The users will be able to find reports based on the data in the reports, as well as setting up favorite reports that they won’t have to search to find. In addition, we will track which users have viewed which reports at what times (which allows the organization to understand which parts of the business are a compliance risk, because without reviewing the financial reports, they are probably not enforcing the appropriate controls in that area).
Actuate’s Managed Spreadsheet Solution
I was interested in this presentation specifically because when I worked at PeopleSoft, I worked on PS/nVision and part of this presentation seemed to be replacing the functionality of nVision. I was hoping to understand what part of nVision was problematic enough to replace with an entire product. Hopefully, I would be able to gain insight into issues with nVision and be able to help customers with those problems so they would not need to replace their exising nVision infrastructure and knowledge-base with a completely new technology.
The presentation pointed out some of the difficulties with nVision specifically that nVision requires a lot of database resources and the reporting itself is limited to PeeopleSoft data sources. Also, bursting, running the same report with different parameters and deploying the results to multiple users, is not accomplishable with nVision.
In general the results of the Actuate e.Spreadsheet product are wonderful and they can produce wonderful reports and deploy them to many users. However, there was one question came up after the presentation that might be of concern to customers thinking of buying the product. The question of how the actual e.Spreadsheet definitions are created. The presenter indicated that the typical scenario is that Actuate will come in and create the reports and teach the users how at the same time. It sounded like the Actuate product was difficult to use in a design sense. This was bolstered by the statement that nVision was best used as an ad-hoc mechanism for creating one-off reports.
While the product demos well and the savings of database resource may well justify a switch, it really comes down to whether the additional cost of the Actuate product and its resulting consultation time are offset by the better performance and any downtime required to make the switch from nVision-based reporting to e.Spreadsheet.
Also, since we at Grey Sparling worked on nVision, we are in a unique position to help customers retain their existing nVision knowledge and reports while augmenting the environment to add the bursting capability mentioned earlier in this blog entry and to mitigate some of the performance issues that they may be having.
The last large session of the day was the Technical Roundtable. Chris Heller and Larry Grey of Grey Sparling were asked to lead the discussion because of their extensive understanding of PeopleSoft and the underlying architecture. I filled in for Larry and mainly took notes since its been a while since I worked on the PeopleSoft products.
The issues brought to the roundtable break down in to the following categories: Security, version upgrade via service pack/bundle/maintenance packs, performance issues, problems with Crystal Reports formatting during upgrades, release testing and quality.
No one attending was using LDAP security but there was one person who was planning on testing it to see if using it would help solve some security issues. The first tip was to setup security at each level that requires security with the same user and password combination. This is fine for initial setup but maintenance of passwords and disabling accounts can get tricky.
Don’t delete PeopleSoft user profiles. Doing so ‘changes history’ by removing the who on the data in the system and there was confusion if PeopleSoft even lets you do that.
Since the security in PeopleSoft is exposed as part of the API, you can write scripts against the security in PeopleSoft to enable you to do bulk changes to security attributes. One example of a use for this is in the termination process of HR. Since large companies can have many employee terminations on the same day, it makes sense to create a script that can take the list of employees to be terminated and update the security to prevent the user access to the system. It takes the onus off of the HR employee who is probably manually doing that now. However, don’t forget to audit the changes!
Several issues of performance came up in the session.
WebLogic 8.1 bug affecting performance
Apparently, there is a bug that affects performance in the WebLogic application server layer that was introduced in WebLogic version 8.1 which is corrected in a later service pack (sp8 or sp9). This bug can generate enormous error logs on the application server. So large that they can consume the entire disk on the application server (thereby causing even more errors).
General User Education – “Please be patient…”
Another performance problem can be caused by users. If users become impatient with the application and begin to hit buttons multiple times (ex: the browser back button, run report, etc.), each button will generate a request for service to the application server which will try its best to service all of the requests, not just the last one.
Database server on same machine as application server?
The answer to that question is a resounding NO. This is a general issue for hosted web applications. The resource requirements for a database server are very large as are those for an application server. If both are on the same physical machine, they will starve each other of needed resources.
Be aware of demo certificates
The default installation will contain demo certificates for the application server which need to be replaced after installation. Otherwise, the application server will continually add to the error log with messages about the demo certificate. Note this may be related to the WebLogic bug mentioned above.
Use a performance monitor
Since no system no matter how well tuned and adjusted will have perfect performance, it helps to have a monitoring regiment in place to ensure that it is working well on a day-to-day basis. Some recommended applications were:
One other tip was not to use PS trace in the App Engine. Also PS-PerfMonitor is very time intensive to use.
SQL Server can sometimes get deadlocks (esp. when doing batch processing at peak times). In those instances, the Enterprise Manager is the solution. It identifies the deadlocks and can free them in real-time.
There were a set of problems and clarifications around Crystal Reports.
Odd font formatting
There were a couple of instances of problems, neither of which found a good way to fix the problem other than to manually re-format the reports. The first occurred after an upgrade and affected the behavior of the micr fonts. In essence the micr font used on a set of checks enlarged which shifted the information on the check. At issue may have been the fact that the font size was customized to a fractional point in order for the check to print correctly. The second occurred after a PeopleSoft upgrade (7.5 -> 8.1). The formatting in the reports simply didn’t stay put. This may have been the result of a change in the Crystal Reports version shipped with PeopleTools. In both cases the solution was to reformat the affected reports manually.
Poor linespacing in export to Word
Another problem centered around the export to Word function in an older version of Crystal. When the report was exported, the resulting Word document had incorrect line spacing making the result unusable. No solution for this one.
Use two versions of PeopleTools side-by-side for better reporting
PeopleTools depends on the name of database objects to do its magic. So if you install the 8.4x PeopleTools instances on a different database than the currently running 8.1x version, you can use database linking to link the 8.4x metadata to the 8.1x data and thereby create an environment where the 8.4x PeopleTools reporting tools can access the current 8.1x data.
What is included in the Crystal Enterprise license that comes with PeopleTools 8.46 & E1 (8.94/5)?
The Crystal Enterprise version shipped with PeopleTools is a limited 5 user license. These 5 users are concurrent runtime licenses not just development licenses (as mentioned by Chris in the discussion). In order to use a more expansive license for the Crystal Enterprise product you will need to contact your Sales Representative from Oracle or Business Objects.
Upgrading is always an interesting topic and this session was no different. Everyone seemed to have something to ask about upgrading PeopleSoft applications and Tools. Aside from the issues involved with upgrading Crystal Reports (as mentioned above), there were questions ranging from upgrading major PeopleSoft releases (7.5->8.x) and when should you upgrade via bundles or maintenance packages.
If you have the Payroll module, think about doing maintenance upgrades when tax tables change.
Since both state and federal payroll taxes can change during the year, if you are going update the payroll tax tables anyway, it makes sense to bring in and of the upgrade bundles that you are missing. Remember that auditing the changes is always a good idea.
When is a bundle upgrade apppropriate versus a maintenance upgrade?
This one really doesn’t have an answer. The best you can do is decide if the upgrade has enough merit to out-weigh the cost of testing the upgrade. This really depends on your immediate need. If you take individual bundles, you may start losing support from Oracle by virtue of the fact that you are venturing into un-supportable configuations. There will come a time when the ChangeAssistant starts giving you so many possible updates that Oracle loses confidence in the stability of the system (at least from an Oracle support standpoint!). When this becomes an issue you will (eventually) either need to upgrade to all of the supported bundles, or live with the fact that Oracle can no longer support your system. (Don’t despair, read a little further to the next section or click here)
Oh, and when do I get support if I only use bundles?
Yuck. The big problem with bundles (its also a feature) is that you are able to select which (potentially system damaging) updates to apply. If you do this often enough and you call Oracle support you will get the dreaded question, “Are you up-todate?”. The answer is usually: “No, I’ve only been applying the bundles that apply to my situation and am afraid to do a complete maintenance pack.” In that case support will probably cut you loose saying that you are “in an unsupportable configuration…” or some other nonsense. This leaves you in the position of saying, “… well, I’m not sure that we are up-to-date, but I think so.” or trying to fend for yourself and upgrading the system to the current set of maintenance packs.
And then you can use ChangeAssistant to help
ChangeAssistant is the link between you and Oracle support. If ChangeAssistant says you’re up-to-date, then you are. The basic idea of ChangeAssistant is to create an environment whereby you can check to find updates and download them in bulk. The benefit is that it removes the tedium of doing the checks manually, but at the same time it can be detrimental to the behavior of the system. The best advice is to use ChangeAssistant to update your PeopleSoft demo database. Since the demo database is not part of the production system, you can use it as a staging point for updates and still tell Oracle that you are “up-to-date”.
Release Quality and Testing of Upgrades
One of the strongest sentiments came as the question, “Why can’t you [Oracle/PeopleSoft] test the simplest functionality that I need before you release?” That is a powerful question in all of software development and one that many engineers lose sleep over. The answer is basically, “We can’t test everything.” A better answer is that software customers should follow the edict “caveat emptor”, let the buyer (you) be aware of what you are accepting from the vendor (Oracle/PeopleSoft). All software companies with which I have been associated (PeopleSoft included!), try to make the customer’s experience with their software positive. It is true that sometimes release dates can intrude on the quality of the software, however, the whole point is to make the customer more productive. The best tip shared for testing was to ensure that you (as the customer) have quality assurance tests that you feel you can trust and be able to run them on the PeopleSoft demo database or a static database that is functionally equivalent to your own either manually (not suggested) or automated (definitly a good idea). Then by downloading the changes via ChangeAssistant to the PeopleSoft demo database you can control the acceptance testing by running your acceptance tests.
What’s up with Fusion, SQR and COBOL?
Since Fusion is a product in development, we can only use the publicly available information as source. It looks like the WebLogic and WebSphere servers will be unsupported in Fusion. As for SQR and COBOL, remember that the SQR and COBOL in PeopleSoft are stable in the sense that both of the code bases for those languages have been included in the product for several years. They are not dependent on the language modifications imposed by the current providers.