Oracle (and other) Chatbots

I’ve completed the Oracle Intelligent Bots online course and must compliment Oracle on their Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). With videos, hands-on exercises and quizzes, this is a great way of learning their technology. I encourage you to check out the list of Oracle MOOCs.

Since chatbots require a cloud subscription, participants got access to a number of pre-built service instances. Afterwards, of course, you’ll have to buy Oracle Cloud. The intelligence in the bots lies in the way it translates the actual phrases the user enters into intents. You then program how to handle each intent. The flow syntax is not trivial and very picky (you get an error for indenting a line by one space too much). For back-end logic, we accessed a pre-built REST service. Send me an e-mail if you are interested in details on the technology.

Should you learn Oracle Intelligent Bots? Well, I agree with techemergence: “chatbots are still bumbling their way through the business landscape, trying to find applications that can consistently drive real ROI for businesses.” If your company believes they have found one of the rare real use cases, it makes sense to try out Oracle’s offering if you are a loyal “red stack” customer, especially if you already have an Oracle Mobile Cloud Enterprise license.

If you are personally interested in chatbots, it makes more sense to go with one of the big four (Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, or Google). All of them have free offerings and/or better trials than Oracle, and they do have the advantage that their AI will have much more language data to learn from than Oracle will ever gather.


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237 security vulnerabilities in Oracle – do you patch?

At a recent conference presentation I attended, the presenter asked how many in the audience worked in an organization where all Oracle security patches were evaluated and installed as relevant. Less than 20% raised their hands. The remainder were evenly distributed among “we often install” and “we sometimes install”. That’s not good enough.

The end of January is one of those scary times of the year when Oracle announces the quarterly Critical Patch Update. This time, there are 237 vulnerabilities fixed, many of them of the worrying type that can be exploited remotely without authorization. These are the security holes that can be used by any hacker with access to your system. Pretty much the whole range of Oracle software contains vulnerabilities, including database, WebLogic, Identity Manager, WebCenter and almost all of the applications (E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards). As always, there are also a number of Java vulnerabilities.

On a positive note, Oracle has published patches for the Spectre and Meltdown CPU bugs for Oracle Linux 6 and 7, both for the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel and Red Hat Compatible Kernel. See Oracle support doc 2348448.1 for detail (Oracle support account required). 

Does your organization have a process in place to evaluate and install Oracle CPUs? You should have. Your organization might lose money and reputation if you don’t. And somebody might lose their job.


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How Clever are Oracle Intelligent Bots?

Today, I’ve started on a three-week Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Developing Chatbots with Oracle Intelligent Bots. With 1171 people signed up, the course is full!

Oracle chatbot MOOC

I’m curious to see what Oracle can offer to distinguish themselves in the crowded chatbot space. I’ve investigated 14 of the best chatbot building platforms for developers, Top 10 Platforms To Build A Chatbot For Your Business, A Comprehensive List of 25 most amazing chatbot platforms that will rule in 2018 and beyond, and the remaining 10 top hits from Google for “chatbot platform” from the last six months. They disagree strongly on which tool is currently the best, but they agree on one thing: Oracle Intelligent Bots service is mentioned nowhere. One reason could be that it is part of Oracle Mobile Cloud Enterprise, and another could be that Oracle is once again entering a crowded marketplace late.

If you are a loyal “red stack” Oracle customer, it probably makes sense for you to buy your chatbot platform from Oracle, especially if you have a need for some of the other features of Oracle Mobile Cloud Enterprise. The most intriguing question is whether Oracle can leverage some of their other cloud services, for example getting customer or order information from an Oracle SaaS service. That would make Oracle Intelligent Bots a killer addition to the Oracle cloud for these customers.

I’ll be back with more information as I learn what the Oracle chatbots can do. If you are using chatbots (proof-of-concept or in production), I’d love to hear what platform you have chosen.


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Do you need to learn something new in 2018?

You can change your life on any day of the year. But for some reason, incrementing the year counter in the Gregorian calendar makes more people aware of this fact. So should you change your life as an Oracle professional in 2018?

If you are a DBA, the autonomous, self-driving database is not going to put you out of work in 2018. As as matter of fact, the Oracle Database 18c is not an Autonomous Database. Oracle has announced an Autonomous Data Warehouse Cloud, but even that is still “Coming soon.” But do keep an eye on what this technology can do for you and your organization once it ships.

Autonomous database not here yet

If you are a database (PL/SQL) programmer with more than a few years from retirement, you’ll need a new gig. Consulting companies are laying off PL/SQL developers and most Oracle shops have more PL/SQL developers than they know what to do with. In the short term, if you don’t know APEX, definitely learn. In the long term, learn something outside the Oracle ecosystem.

If you are a Java developer, you’re good. There are billions of lines of Java code that will need maintaining for the next several programmer lifespans.

And don’t forget to eat healthier, exercise more, drink less, and stop making unrealistic promises to yourself. Happy new year!


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The new Excel-killer from Oracle

For a long time, APEX was Oracle’s Excel-killer. With the ability to upload a CSV file and create a matching table and then build an application on top of that, this was the easiest way to convert a spreadsheet into a secure multi-user application.

Visual Builder Cloud Service (VBCS) has now appeared as a serious challenger, offering some improvements over the way APEX handes Excel files. For example, the December 2017 version of VBCS has the ability to import Excel files directly without having to turn them into CSV files first. Separate worksheets in the Excel files become separate business objects. During the import, you can also define reference relationship for lookup values. This allows you to upload an Excel file with one master worksheet and a number of value lists as separate sheets, and produce a business object with all lookups in one operation.

Creating lookups

(image from Oracle VBCS documentation)

VBCS is one of Oracle’s cloud-native applications, so it only runs in the cloud and requires a subscription. But if that is not a problem for you, I encourage you to take a look. If you are already using VBCS, I’d love to hear from you.


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How cool is Oracle?

In my short DOAG video, I opined that the APEX community wants to be cool. Many APEX developers took umbrage at that.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be cool. But as Oracle developers, we must realize we start at minus 10 on the coolness scale.

Oracle has never been a first mover in development tools, and have never made any serious effort to promote their tools. That’s a major reason why Oracle is seen as uncool in the wider developer community.

However, using cool tools is beside the point. Being an Oracle developer is about solving a real business problem in the fastest possible way. Historically, we used Oracle Forms for that. Today, many use APEX. Some use Oracle ADF, and some are starting to use Oracle JET.

What I like about the Oracle community is the focus on solving real problems, even with “uncool” tools. And that is cool.


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Oracle Forms is Not Extinct

I was at the German Oracle user group conference in Nürnberg last week, and one interesting observation was that there was a lot of Forms-related content. The distribution of development topics looked like this:

One interesting feature presented by Oracle Forms product manager Michael Ferrante is the Forms Application Deployment Service (FADS). This functionality allows you to create a .FAR file (Forms Application Archive) with all the files you need for your entire Forms application, including FMB, configuration, SQL etc. With these complete packages, it becomes easier to distribute new versions of Forms applications.

There are still no signs of an Oracle Forms cloud service. For now, the only way to run Oracle Forms in the cloud is to buy some machine power in the form of an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) instance. And if you are just buying machine power, Oracle is unlikely to be the cheapest provider. However, with FADS Oracle is one step closer to being able to offer such a service.

I also spoke with the people I know from AuraPlayer. They have produced some cute stickers that inspired the title of this post:

Their product creates REST web services from an existing Forms application and also offers testing and monitoring for Forms applications. This is a very promising approach – if you have a Forms application and are interested in modernizing it, send me an e-mail and let’s discuss if that’s right for you.

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What Oracle developers think

I’m speaking at the German Oracle user group conference this week. This is one of the two big Oracle user group conferences in Europe and they have good technical content for Oracle developers. I’ve attended Forms, APEX, ADF and Oracle JET presentations, and it’s interesting to observe the differences between the communities.

  • Oracle Forms developers are proud professionals who take their responsibility for keeping critical applications running very seriously
  • Oracle APEX developers want to be cool and use every new technology with APEX (Docker, Alexa, etc). There is lots of hand-waving enthusiasm and an “open mic” show.
  • Oracle ADF developers know they have selected the best tool and wonder why not everybody is using it
  • There aren’t really any Oracle JET developers yet, but there is a lot of interest in learning this technology


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Should I work with ADF or PLSQL?

I was asked on Quora “I have been given a choice to work either in ADF or PLSQL. What should I choose?

My answer is ADF, for many reasons:

  1. The programming language in ADF applications is Java, which is the most popular programming language. That means whatever you learn is applicable for the rest of your career.
  2. PL/SQL is only used in Oracle databases, meaning you will be building skills that will only be valuable in the subset of companies using the Oracle database seriously
  3. ADF development is a sought-after specialty. Just google “Oracle ADF Developer” to see a list of open jobs.
  4. There are many PL/SQL developers with 10+ years of experience, and the amount of PL/SQL work out there is declining. You’ll be competing with very capable and experienced PL/SQL programmers for this work.



Which Oracle tools are popular?

I’m soon heading to Nürnberg for the Deutsche Oracle-Anwender Gruppe (DOAG) annual conference. I’m on the agenda with two presentations, both on Tuesday, Nov 21:

  • “APEX, ADF, or ABCS? A real-life application built in 3 tools” in room Oslo at 8.30am
  • “The Seven Ways of Building Oracle Applications” in room Hongkong at 2.00pm

I know from the conferences I am part of arranging how hard it is to put together a good program. A lot of thought goes into the selection, making conference programs good indicators of which tools are popular with real-life developers. The 2017 DOAG agenda looks like this:

DOAG 2017 development tool presentations

We all know that APEX is a popular conference topic, and the DOAG conference is no exception. More surprising is the fact that Oracle Forms takes second place. There are a lot of Forms applications still running, and a lot of Forms developers. These people have nowhere to go at Oracle’s conferences, but fortunately, user groups are providing the Oracle Forms content developers are looking for.

It also seems the conference committee is not convinced about the Oracle mobile solutions – both Mobile Application Framework (MAF) and Mobile Application Accelerator (MAX) occur just once. And that is only because I have included them with one-seventh part of my presentation about the seven ways of building Oracle applications.

Please join your local Oracle user group and attend their events. That is another place to get the same straight talk on Oracle tools as you get from my emails. I hope to see you at DOAG 2017 in Nürnberg or at another conference somewhere.


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