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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Branding - LESS is MORE

Experience has shown me that, when people start learning how to change skins and style attributes in OBIEE, they tend to go overboard. There are literally thousands of Cascading Style Sheet elements that make OBIEE look and feel the way it does.

Additionally, it’s extremely difficult to locate certain elements, and many times you end up resorting to a trial and error strategy. I think once someone discovers an element where they can change a text font, or modify a background color, they do it.

Eventually, someone really digging into these skins and style sheets are going to come across a whole list of changes they can make… and they will probably make them. My thought is that, just because something can be changed, doesn’t mean that it should be changed.

With that said, here are some guidelines to follow when attempting to brand OBIEE:
  • Identify an inspiration source (company website, intranet, presentation template, etc…)

  • Create a color scheme before starting the branding process… stick with it (or as close as you can)

  • Follow the leader. There is no need to re-invent the wheel. Try to change existing colors verses introducing colors where they don’t belong.

  • Keep a neutral backdrop. It’s ok to leave white space on the screen… Google is a great example.

  • Many skins/style changes will effect more than one element in OBIEE… beware!

  • Periodically save a copy of the skins/styles folders as you go. Keep multiple versions on file so you can revert back to them any point in the design process. (ex. s_ver1, s_ver2, s_ver3, etc…)

  • Be creative and experiment… just don’t go overboard

These are simply guidelines and not meant to be rules since branding is a creative process. Just keep in mind that this is something everyone in your organization has to look at and use on a daily basis. It’s probably a good idea to get a second opinion at checkpoints during the design process. But try to limit the amount of input, as too many ideas can become overwhelming.

For additional assistance with branding, visit BI Consulting Group’s website. There is an entire service offering dedicated specifically to Branding OBIEE called Identity. They have even developed a tool to help identify certain style elements, and where to change each setting.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Branding - Dashboard Page Tabs

One of the most dramatic changes you can make to the dashboard design is the Page Tab color. In my opinion, this is where you really start geting the impression you’re working with a truly customized version of the software. I say this assuming there has already been a significant amount of customization done on the dashboard header. There has to be some level of congruence maintained. Modifying the page tabs, without a previously customizing the header to match would make it seem awkward and out of place.

Unfortunately, it’s not a simple process. There are multiple image files that need to be changed, consistencies that need to be maintained between these image files, and a handful of HTML modifications to go with it.
Fortunately, I know exactly what needs to be done… and plan to share it with you now.

Before you begin, you’ll need to choose a color for your “selected” an “not-selected” tabs. I suggest sticking with the “out of the box” theme of having your selected tab the same tone, but a slightly darker shade than the unselected tabs. Each tab (selected and not-selected) is made up of 2 images each, making a total of 4 image modification necessary to complete this task. Be sure to make copies of the original image files so you can revert back in the event of a mistake.

1. Open the file “bg_tab.gif” using an image editing software like Photoshop, or Fireworks.

2. Adjust the Hue, Contrast, and Lightness settings until you achieve your desired “Selected” tab color (be sure to document the exact setting adjustments as you’ll need them in the next step. Save the file.

3. Open the file “subtabr.gif” and apply the EXACT same setting adjustments made in step 2. Save the file.

4. Repeat steps 1-3 with the files “bg_dim_tab.gif” and “subdimtabr.gif” using the “Not-Selected” tab color you’ve already chosen.

5. To change the text color within the Selected tab, you’ll need to adjust the HEX color code (“color: #XXXXXX;”) within the file “PortalContent.css”, for the label - TabHiFont

6. To change the text color within the Not-Selected tabs, you’ll need to adjust the HEX color code (color: #XXXXXX;) within the file “PortalContent.css”, for the following labels:




I suggest choosing a text color slightly less bold than the “Selected” tab text color. I also recommend choosing a different color to utilize the hover functionality. Choose either Black (#000000) or white (#ffffff) for the label “TabDimFont:hover”

The final task is to set the color of the Tab Line to match the darkest color of the “Selected” tab. The goal here is to make the bottom color of the “Selected” tab seamlessly blend into the tab line.

7. Open the file “bg_tab.gif” you modified in step 2. Identify the HEX color code of tab at its bottom most point. Remember this code.

8. Open the file “PortalContent.css”, and find the entry “TabLineCell”. Edit the entry to look just like the example shown here, with “XXXXXX” being the HEX color code you identified in step 5.

.TabLineCell {background-color: #XXXXXX;}

9. Refresh your browser to see the changes… make adjustments if needed.

You may need to repeat steps 1 – 6 a few times until you achieve the exact feel you’re looking for. Just for fun, play around with making the “Selected” tabs a completely different color than your “Not-selected” tabs, or vice versa. You’ll be amazed at the difference it’ll make.

If you really feel ambitious… you can do the same to the 'Answers' and 'Delivers' Page Tabs and style settings. Realistically, it isn’t feasible for a do-it-yourself-er to spend the time to identify each individual setting and redesign every detail. It would probably take months… or even years just to find everything.

Some consulting firms who implement OBIEE will do a certain level of branding, if requested. BI Consulting Group advertises a service specific to branding called IDENTITY. They have even developed a tool that pinpoints and links to each of the 20+ CSS files where the bulk of these changes are made.

Check back for future updates where I’ll cover steps on customizing other areas of OBIEE.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Oracle BI Techology Day -- St. Paul (Free Event)

Oracle is conducting a free Technology Day with a focus on business intelligence. The BI Tech Day is set for Tuesday, December 9th in Saint Paul, MN. If you have plans to be in the area, this is a must-see half-day event.

Two tech sessions are scheduled to follow a keynote titled, "Drive Greater Business Insight Across Your Enterprise". The final closing session, titled "Building the Foundation for a Corporate BI Strategy", is being conducted by BI Consulting Group.

If your a sports fan, one of the really cool parts of this event is the free tour of the Xcel Energy Center. The arena is home to the Minnesota Wild and was named "Best Stadium Experience" by ESPN The Magazine.

The event is FREE, FREE, FREE. Click here to register online or call 1.800.820.5592 ext 5721.

Data Modeling Continued... Kimball vs. Inmon: The Basics

As I discussed last time, many in the field of BI are strongly sided with the methodology of either Ralph Kimball or Richard Inmon. As mentioned last week, there are more similarities than differences, but today I'll just point out the main differences between their philosophies for anyone unfamiliar with them.

The main difference is that Kimball's architecture, also known as the Bus Architecture, is based on loading individual data marts directly from the operational system through the data staging area using conformed dimensions. An operational data store or intermediate data structure may or may not be necessary depending on existing data sources and business requirements. In this design, what is referred to as the data warehouse is actually just the collection of data marts. Kimball's basic architecture is shown in the diagram to the left. Inmon argues that this approach is inflexible without a centralized warehouse and changes cannot be made as gracefully as with his approach, which is explained below.

Inmon's Corporate Information Factory, or CIF architecture, is based on the idea that a complete data warehouse should be created in third normal form. Data marts are then created separately using the warehouse as their source. These data marts can be denormalized as the designers see fit, often into a star schema. This architecture is depicted in the diagram below.Those in Kimball's camp argue that the design, implementation, and maintenance of this data warehouse, along with its associated additional ETL processes, are often unnecessary and take much more time to get off the ground than projects using the BUS archeticture.

The differences and arguments between these two approaches go far beyond what I've mentioned here, but this should help to explain the basic split between the methodologies. I've read many of the arguments for both sides out there, and although there are plenty of hard liners in both camps, the verdict seems to be that the answer to which architecture is better depends. Yes, boring I know, but I've read many comments by designers claiming that they have either used hybrids or, used both successfully at different times depending on the existing architecture and business requirements.

For every opinion I've read advocating one or the other, I read another praising the merits of both. I also read one claiming that Richard (not Ralph) Kimball's methodology is superior, which made me laugh, because I made the same mistake once in conversation shortly after learning his name. My colleagues somehow seemed skeptical that the fictional character from the movie "The Fugitive" has his own data warehouse methodology.

Hopefully this helped explain the main differences to anyone new to their methodologies. As I mentioned in the preceding post, I encourage anyone involved with a BI project at any level to pick up a book by both men to fully understand their ideas. Also, although this topic has already been argued at length, I encourage comments from anyone with significant experience using either or both methodologies.