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Review: Oracle Designer

An analysis of Oracle Designer from a business modeling perspective. (April 10, 2001)

Background

Oracle has always been -- and will always be -- predominantly interested in the sales of databases. However, with that in mind, one of the best ways to sell databases is to incorporate them into applications. This has been one of Oracle's major strategies in recent times. In addition to this, Oracle has always been a provider of development tools to allow businesses to build their own database applications. As application development tools, these have never really made the big time because they are tied so very strongly into the Oracle environment. That does not mean, however, that they should be discounted completely.

Historically, it all began with Oracle CDE – later rebranded as Oracle CASE. This was a massive collection of tools that was used for the development of client/server applications. This cumbersome and confusing product set was later dismantled and a much smaller and meaningful development environment created. It was a two-part solution with Oracle Designer providing the modelling and definition capabilities and Oracle Developer being used to define the user interfaces, data models, triggers and so on.

As far as Business Modelling is concerned, it is Oracle Designer that flies the Oracle flag. It offers a variety of different visual tools for the development of application and database definitions – but that is roughly where it stops. This is a tool that is designed for use as a part of an IT applications development solution and does not really go the extra distance to gather the thinking or corporate structure that is behind it all.

Product

Oracle Designer was created to enable the development of database-oriented applications built upon the Oracle RDBMS. The three major functions that it supports are the capture of requirements and design – including reverse engineering legacy applications – modelling the design of databases and applications and then generating the complete applications as a result.

In general, this would not qualify as business modelling if it were not for the fact that Oracle positions Designer as having this capability. The reason for this is quite simple. One of the tools within the Designer toolset is the Process Modeller. This offers a graphical representation of business processes and also enables the addition of key metrics so that analysis of time, cost and resources can be carried out.

Process Modeller describes business processes in terms of steps, flows, stores, events and organisation. These components are displayed in a highly visual model that shows how different parts of the organisational structure are involved with the process over time. This becomes a workflow that shows how information is passed between each step.

All of the information that is held within the Process Modeller is stored in an underlying repository. This has the important role of ensuring that there is a single source for all of the components of the model, which ensures consistency and accuracy throughout the development process. It also allows the implementation of team development facilities and full integrity checking.

In addition to the Process Modeller, Oracle Designer also has an Entity Relationship (ER) Diagrammer for managing the data-centric components and database design and a Function Hierarchy Diagrammer that offers a higher level view of the business processes. It also provides function point analysis and links through to the final application design. Matrix diagrams and data flow diagrams are all available to support the ongoing development process.

Differentiators

No matter how good its tools are, with Oracle you are always left frustrated by its highly focussed viewpoint. Oracle Designer has always been a powerful product with excellent graphics and, over the years, it has become better integrated with its underlying repository to provide a strong modelling foundation. Then everything is ruined because Oracle chooses only to support its own needs – the Oracle database. There are plenty of features for translating definitions into PL/SQL triggers or database structures but there is nothing that allows the business philosophy or corporate organisation to be captured. There is nothing to support business processes that execute manually.

Having apparently damned the product, it is only fair to say that, for an organisation seeking to develop IT automation solution to support business processes using an Oracle database, then Designer has to be considered. It offers the strength of its underlying repository and connections to a whole range of development tools that can be extended to online e-business applications as well as standard client/server implementations.

Oracle Designer is a product that will take IT developers through each stage of a business process, create the model and generate the code. There are even some good quality simulation capabilities and features for optimising by cost, time or resource. This may be OK for most organisations, but those that are taking Business Modelling beyond the IT department will want to incorporate these tools alongside something that gathers the less tangible details of corporate activity.

Copyright 2002. IT-Director.com provides IT decision makers with free daily e-mails containing news analysis, member-only discussion forums, free research, technology spotlights and free on-line consultancy. To register for a free email subscription, click here.

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