You may be starting to read this chapter and wonder what the Web has to do with data warehousing. One of the problems is that the Internet or Web has become a term that people use, but it has several interpretations. To distinguish between an internal Web and the World Wide Web, the term Internet is used to describe the global connection of public computers. Often, sitting behind the Internet is a company's own Web, called the Intranet, which is only accessible to people within that organization. It's the Intranet that we are primarily interested in. Most of us, when we first think of the Web, probably imagine checking out a company's product or placing an order, so what does that have to do with our data warehouse? Well, you could be very surprised at how important the Web could be to your data warehouse.
Today, most companies have some presence on the World Wide Web, but what many people may not realize is that within the company there can be a huge internal Web site used by employees only, where all business is conducted. Oracle itself is a good example of a company using their Intranet to communicate and conduct internal business. For example, when Oracle employees needs a new laptop or mobile phone, they access the internal iProcurement system and go shopping, just as if they were shopping on the Web. In some countries, payslips are only available on line, as well as all end-of-year tax documents. Numerous reports, status documents, and product specifications are all accessed via Web-based systems using a browser such as Internet Explorer. Therefore, information is quickly and easily available, no matter where in the world the Oracle employee is located, provided he or she is connected to the company network. So what does a company place on its Intranet? Well, the possibilities are endless, and here are just a few ideas:
Software to download
Payslips and HR systems
Trends and analysis
Many different types of reports and documents
At first glance this list looks like a typical Internet site, but it's the last items, such as sales information, historical data, and trends and analysis, that differentiate it from the normal Internet and indicate a role for our data warehouse.
Before we look at how we can use this Intranet, a concern many people have when data is published on the Web, even if it is internal, is whether or not this data is safe. Typically, company Intranets are not connected to the Internet and can only be accessed by either being in a company office, by dialing in, or through a secure VPN connection when outside a company office. Therefore, the information is safe and protected from hackers. Of course, if you are concerned about security within your organization, information can be protected so that only certain staff can review sensitive information.
Therefore, knowing that our data is safe, why would we want to consider putting our data warehouse on the company Intranet? Well, before the Intranet, if there was a report a manager needed, say sales by area for this month, the manager would have to request that report and then wait for the paper copy to arrive on his or her desk.
Now, the Intranet changes all of that, because standard reports can be created and then published on the Intranet for managers to review at a time that is convenient to them. Reports can be made readily available to everyone, no matter their location, once they have been produced. No longer do you have to wait for a report to arrive in the internal mail. If you are not in the office today but working from a hotel, home, or dialing in from some location, you can still review the report. You could even consider converting the report into a spreadsheet so that it can be downloaded and manipulated locally.
Although the report could be run and simply published on the Web, ideally our users should also be able to create the report using tools such as Discoverer Viewer and Discoverer Plus, which are described in Chapter 6. Using this approach, not only can our user get the report when they want it, but they are no longer restricted to getting a standard report. Because now tools such as Discoverer allow then some degree of customization of the report, such as only sales for the southern area or only a store whose sales are less than $10,000.
Hopefully, now you are beginning to appreciate how the Intranet can help solve your report publishing and distribution problems and provide a mechanism for your users to have access to the very latest information. For example, suppose you have a static report. You could automatically regenerate that report every hour and publish it on the Web, or refresh it on demand as users request it. On-line interaction with reports has traditionally not been feasible with a data warehouse, because queries can take hours to run. But now, with features such as Summary Management, described in Chapter 4, a query that used to take hours can be reduced to seconds or minutes. Thus, the report using that data can be run more frequently.
Now that we have an appreciation of what the Web can do, there are several different ways in which it can interact with our data warehouse:
It becomes the deployment platform for all your business intelligence information using tools such as Oracle Discoverer and Reports.
It can also be a source for our data warehouse by tracking activity on our Web site-this is known as clickstream data.
It becomes the platform where an application can be customized using Oracle Personalization, thanks to data from our warehouse.
Oracle offers a number of products that can help you publish the data from your data warehouse on your Intranet or Internet, understand how your Web site is being used, or use the access visitors made previously to give them a customized experience. The components that are of interest to us include the following:
Oracle 9i Application Server, which includes:
We will now look briefly at each of these products and see how they can help our data warehouse.