Maps! Everyone Loves Maps!

We love maps! We bet you do too. In the following article, Arthur Dayton of Vlamis Software Solutions explains why many companies aren’t using them and how that can all change with Oracle DB 12c and OBIEE 12c. Reexamine use cases for maps today!

Map views in OBIEE (within Answers) are a powerful built-in functionality. Sadly, in my experience, they are among the most commonly unused features. There are number of reasons I think contribute to this reality.

First, for a long time, the support for external background maps was a little kludgy and required an organization to pay either Google, Bing, or Here a not insignificant amount of money for licensing those background maps.

Second, every organization I have ever come across has the need to create custom geometric shapes to define territories or regions relative to their business. In the 11g version of the Oracle Database this required licensing the spatial and graph option ($17k+ per processor), which even in a modest size data warehouse meant a company could be north of $100k in licensing, plus the additional yearly support.

Third, because map views are produced via an integration between the Oracle database, MapViewer and OBI, an OBI developer needs to have access and understanding of all three components and many people are just plain intimidated by the process of creating a map.

For a lot of companies these three reasons, especially the money, are enough to ignore map functionality in OBI and either not use it at all or use a separate application for map visualizations (such as ArcGIS). Visual Analyzer, in OBI 12c, makes basic map views far easier to use by including several common prebuilt map layers, but doesn’t address the issue of custom maps very well (a subject for another time) or do anything for Answers users.

Several unheralded changes have occurred over time to make map views easier and, probably most important, cheaper to implement. First, Oracle has made freely available to OBI users. Organizations such as Natural Earth, the US Census Bureau, and hundreds of government organizations have made shape file data freely available online. The Oracle Map Builder tool has a simple import utility that allows users to import any shapefile into the database. Because of these two changes, companies no longer need to pay for background maps. Another unheralded function is Oracle Map Builder’s support for WMTS (Web Map Tile Service) layers. This means, for example, if your organization has licensed content from ESRI for other applications (a pretty common scenario) you may very likely have access (read free!) to ArcGIS online, which has an extensive library of map layers that can be used as background maps for OBI. What makes these layers so great is they can be combined with other layers to make rich interactive map backgrounds.

Second, in the 12c version of the Oracle Database (even Standard edition) the functions (SDO_GEOM.SDO_UNION, SDO_AGGR_SET_UNION and SDO_AGGR_UNION) for combining geometries (think zip codes, states, counties, countries) into new aggregate geometries are now included with the database license. This is a big deal, and in my mind, enough justification for any OBI shop to upgrade their Oracle 11g databases today.

Third, the integration part, well, that hasn’t really changed. But the actual integration is done out of the box. It’s the moving through the three components part that intimidates people. I personally think it’s easy, but I’ve done it a thousand times. I have found that with a couple hours of training on the basics (YouTube videos or this post on Vlamis blog) anyone can do it, and now that’s really about the only barrier left to utilizing the full power of map views in OBIEE. So, what’s your excuse?

Arthur Dayton is a Senior Consultant with Vlamis Software Solutions with 15+ years’ experience working with financial and business intelligence systems. He enjoys evangelizing technology as an adjunct professor and conference speaker, and in his free time likes to watch his two boys play hockey.


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