Wednesday, 3 August 2016

First Thoughts on Application Builder Cloud Services - another PaaS4SaaS

If you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that I am on a mission to use PaaS to extend the SaaS HCM & ERP applications, and now I am finally getting to play with ABCS

A year ago I was excited about a new Oracle offering Application Builder Cloud Service, a PaaS offering for the Citizen Developer. This should heave been just what I need, no development skills – remember ‘I’m not technical’ and connected to SaaS, Oracle Cloud (or Fusion) apps.

I saw my first demo at Kscope15 and my thoughts at that time were:
  • This is a totally new product, developed, I hope, specifically for building simple extensions to SaaS
  • How will this connect to SaaS when I have the lack of APIs highlighted as a constraint for Java Cloud Services?
However I volunteered to repeat the Proof of Concept I had for PaaS4SaaS that used JCS. A few weeks later my suspicions were confirmed, it was working with CX but not HCM & ERP. This is not the fault of the ABCS team, the APIs needed to come from apps development.

When we got to Oracle Open World, in the ACE briefings, this was still being ‘sold’ as PaaS4SaaS, rather than PaaS4CX. This annoyed me, it showed a lot of promise but simply didn’t work with my SaaS, the HCM & ERP. The ACE briefings should be about discussing with technical experts (my ACE colleagues), where Oracle are and where they are going. This is not the arena for marketing.

However this year in June OTN bought the ACE Directors together again for a PaaS Developer Challenge, and in an update at that event it was announced that ABCS was in beta testing for HCM. I was excited at this prospect especially when it was explained that it was because there are now REST APIs from HCM, but rather disappointed that I hadn’t been asked to be part of the beta program, I guess in my inflated opinion of myself I thought I would be an obvious choice.

Anyway I soon got that resolved and got a trial version of ABCS. Thanks again to OTN the trial is being extended, so I can build demos and include them in my presentations. 

The APIs are in controlled release, I was told there was a patch that was needed and I raised an SR for this, to be told they were standard in Release 11, and the patch was only valid for Release 10. As Certus beta test Cloud HCM (&ERP) for Oracle we were already on R11. 

By this time it was Kscope16, exactly a year after I first heard of ABCS, and I attended a 'hands on lab' session to build a stand alone (not integrated) ABCS application. My honest belief was this isn’t a Citizen Developer, you do need to understand a few basic concepts, but these can be fixed with some kind of training. There are some youtube videos and documents and I think that a simple sample application and perhaps a script to replicate the 'hands on lab’ would help even more.

ABCS is simple to create your own apps

I arranged to spend a day with Oracle in the UK replicating the PoC and was very excited. Susan Duncan in the Product Management Team and I sat down and started. The first problem was that although I had the APIs they were not authorised (or rather switched on). 

Thanks Oracle Support, when I raised my initial SR to have the patch applied, was it not obvious I wanted to use the APIs? Telling me they were already there at R11, does not make them available, at this stage they should have told me I needed a business justification to be included in the controlled release, but no, I had to raise another SR to get that information!

Very Simple to create screens based on custom objects

However Susan had access to the APIs on a sales demo system so we were able to start our testing. Neither of us really knew how to use ABCS with apps, but with a bit of trial and error we did find our way around and create a simple record we wanted to populate. Two of the fields needed to come from HCM, which in the original PoC we had to extract using BI Publisher and populate in JCS periodically. Now using the API the list of values came direct from HCM. 

SUCCESS, this is a big step forward. 

The LOV comes from Cloud HCM, via the new EMP API
However, whilst we could select a record from HCM we could not save it in ABCS, this is because the rowid in HCM (&ERP) is alpha numeric and in CX it is numeric. Not a big issue to fix, and the next patch (the beauty of the Cloud) will fix it for everyone. Thanks to the UK developers who were able to tell me this straight away and save time.

What I really, really like is the UI. ABCS offers either a SaaS or an Alta UI. The SaaS UI really does look like SaaS, which means my extensions will not be obvious to the standard SaaS user. This is a fundamental objective for any extension that Certus delivers to customers. 

There were a couple of things in this current release that disappointed me: 
  • There is a wizard that builds your objects in ABCS. As you follow it, it creates a view, an edit and a create page. If you edit after the wizard you are editing just one of the three pages. This is a different UX to what we have in SaaS, the pages behave differently. However it doesn’t detract from the functionality.
  • There is a concept of Save & Continue, which allows you to edit a record you have just created. This is set up by the wizard and in most use cases I can think off we would want to add another record in a data entry mode. Product development tell me I can do what I want through editing, but not via the wizard. Again a different behaviour. 
I am very excited about moving this forward. This week I have presented to the development and product management teams and am confident that like the error, things will move quickly, this is the beauty of cloud. I said I had shown this to colleagues and to our development partners at eProseed. In fact Luc from eProseed has also been testing ABCS from a stand alone perspective and together we will find more and more ways to exploit this. 

And yesterday whilst on the OTN tour of Latin America I gave my first live demo of ABCS!

I am positive as I use more and more of this it will become easier and I do see lots of opportunities for us to use this especially during implementation projects, and for simple customer requirements. The JCS option adding the processing, integration, document storage and mobile clouds as needed is still the answer for more complex extensions, and the APIs are available to any of these options.

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