Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Excel turns 30 !


One of the most popular and widely used software utility, the backbone of countless projects ,graphs, and computations, turned 30. No, this is not about JAVA or any other programming language. I am talking of Microsoft's gift to the modern software engineer: MS Excel. According to Wikipedia, Microsoft released the first version of Excel for the Macintosh on September 30, 1985, and the first Windows version was 2.05 (to synchronize with the Macintosh version 2.2) in November 1987. The reason they released it first for Mac was due to the huge popularity of Lotus 123, the king of spreadsheets at that time. Gradually though, Excel has worked its way up and today is the default spreadsheet application of choice.

Its surprising that even the most die-hard fans of Excel do not know of this little bit of trivia, and Excel continues to be the downtrodden, faithful servant it has always been. Excel's history is really colorful, they started with copying off the features of Lotus 1-2-3, but then started adding features of their own, adding a mountain of functions to VBA, its automation script tool, and even changed the file format multiple times to incorporate new features. Today, it is even available on the cloud, and Google too has taken a few ideas for their Google sheets system. But what had set Excel apart is the Recalc feature, instead of re-computing the values of every formula cell, Excel smartly re-calculates only the values of cells required, nothing more. The original project team members reveal that this was done for optimization and speed, but only a handful of people knew the exact underlying workings.

My first tryst with Excel  was in circa 1993. We had to learn computer applications in school, and Lotus 1-2-3 was the software of choice, both in offices, as well as in school curriculums. I quickly figured out that Lotus 1-2-3 had this nifty macro system, which could be used to write quick and small functions to automate tasks. It was difficult to write the macro code, I remember one had to use the '=' key to access macro functions. But someone had installed MS Excel on the school machine assigned to me, and I found what I thought was the newer and improved version of Lotus. It had mouse support and had more colors for its graphs, and was faster. Way faster. It was fun to use, and easy to learn. Even in my wildest dreams, I could not foresee that this little piece of software would end up being the main part of my day-to-day work as a Software Engineer. I have built various tools during my work on Siebel and BIP using VBA macros, and maintain project information and even my loan and finance details on good ol Excel. Who would have thought that a simple idea of maintaining data in rows and columns would be the best way to start out any project.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fusion HCM: Integration woes


Looks like Oracle does not want customers/consultants to integrate other applications to its new fusion cloud based applications. There is close to NO documentation available on Oracle SupportWeb about setting up and invoking webservices, the only information available is on some Oracle blogs, and even they don't cover the full extent of APIs. Some Oracle champs have shared information on using REST services of some Oracle cloud apps, but it is clear that each of Oracle's cloud offerings have a different topology and architecture driving the integrations. I have been playing around with the Fusion HCM webservices for some time now, and I have to say that Oracle definitely needs to work on their documentation.

All of Oracle's cloud apps are following a standard approach: they will not (read cannot) consume a WSDL of another system, but they expose a WSDL/REST service of their own, which has to be invoked from outside to get the integrations working.

Consider the Fusion HCM Wsdl, the location of which has to be taken from Oracle repository. Using the get/find methods in the WSDL proved easy, but using the create/update methods proved to be a different challenge.

Problem 1: Every element in the WSDL is optional !. Check out the CreateWorker service, which is meant to be used to create the employee records in the HCM system. Usually the XSD/WSDL gives a good understanding of the structure of the system's data model, the required fields are marked so the end system has an idea of what fields to send to create a record. In  Oracle's Fusion HCM wsdl, every element is marked as optional, even the name elements. This means the developer/consultant has to have an in-depth knowledge of the HCM system to start using the wsdls.


Really, Oracle ?

Problem 2: No useful/meaningful validation me ssages. As soon as one starts triggering the methods of the HCM wsdl, the errors come back. Or, shall we say, NO errors come back. Looks like Oracle developers have not handled every exception properly.


WTF is  "JBO-29000: Unexpected exception caught: java.lang.NullPointerException, msg=null: null" supposed to mean ?

Problem 3: No documentation whatsoever. Oracle has two kind of cloud applications running now. One is the group of apps they have acquired, like Taleo, Rightnow CX etc…The other are cloud applications built by Oracle from ground up, from square one. For the former group of apps, the original developers have , thankfully, provided considerable documentation of the APIs. But for Oracle's own offerings, they have decided that less is better, and there is no detail documentation of the APIs. On these new cloud applications, the APIs are the only way to interact with the system, in traditional On-Premise systems, you could always have access to the application, filesystem and even database.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

HCM: WebService integrations


I am turning over a new leaf and starting with Oracle's Fusion HCM Cloud Service, looking into its integration system. Looks like Oracle does not want developers to use its webservices, because there seems to be no concise document available on how to set up a simple webservice integration. After sifting through numerous blogs and forums, I finally decided to explore the Oracle Enterprise Repository for information. And this seems to be the unwritten golden rule for Fusion applications: if you need information, go to OER.

After logging into OER as guest, run a quick query in the left pane to get started. If you want to know about Fusion HCMs webservices, select "ADF Service" under Type, and "Human Capital Management" under Product Family. You can also choose an appropriate Version, though everyone will be on the latest version anyway.


Running the query gives a  list of Fusion ADF services which can be used for external integrations. For main Employee related webservices, choose the Worker services at the end of the list.


To find the WSDL address of this service, choose the detail tab and go to the end of the page.



And there, right at the end of the page, is the logical address of the service. You will have to replace the <hcm server> part with the actual hostname of your cloud service.

Simply entering this URL in a browser gives us the WSDL:


And providing this URL in SOAPUI downloads the WSDL and schema. The WSDL is very big, SOAP UI takes a couple of minutes to completely consume the WSDL and generate the sample messages.



And now for the really tricky part. The search request has to be built in the SOAP message so that the system can respond with data. After trying numerous combinations, I just tried a simple empty SOAP request. And…it returned successfully !


<soapenv:Envelope xmlns:soapenv="" xmlns:typ="" xmlns:typ1="">





Important: The userid and password has to be provided either in the soapenv:Header section, or in the userid/password fields of SOAP UI. If you enter a wrong password, the fusion system does not respond with an error message or exception. Instead, it simply sends back the request which it received. Completely. Without any indication of any error. So if you start getting back your request payload in the response, check the credentials.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Joy of Programming


The past four weeks have been very rewarding for me. After spending eight years as a Siebel consultant, and the last one year on various Oracle cloud technologies (Taleo, HCM) , I somehow ended up with a pure coding project. No packaged-application-configuration nonsense. No composer-nonsense. No fast formulas, and no flex fields. Just pure windows programming, in dot net C sharp (C#), and REST apis. I was tasked with exploring some new cloud apis, and how they can/should be leveraged via integration. After almost nine years away from pure programming language projects, I was sceptical if I could pull it off. But the last many weeks I have been tapping away in Visual studio's IDE, googling the interwebs for code snippets, and going back to the watch window in debug mode.

Boy I missed it.

I am going back to pure programming after more than 10 years now. And a lot of things have changed. I only recently learned that Microsoft have become generous with their tool offerings, there is now an express edition of Visual studio or the community edition. It is more than enough for you general coding needs, and it is completely free. All you need is an outlook email address to register. And the Visual studio system too has had multiple facelifts. You can now develop mobile apps for Windows on it. The IDE does on the fly syntax checks and even pretty prints the code as you type. The language itself has grown, now you can code a windows application with very few lines , its leaner than ever ! I remember when used the Win32 api bible to code things…and then was relieved to see MFC reducing the final code. And today even VB.NET has new functions borrowed from C languages…like local exception control..try catch. Code written in VB.NET is very easily convertible to C#.NET , this was never the case. And even support for integration standards like REST has never been better. Developers today can achieve much more writing very few lines of code, and therefore focus on the application design, instead of worrying about type casting variables and handling database cursors.

Even on the open source world, new languages are coming up designed for simpler and leaner code, which can achieve more functionality. And the community support is awesome, every problem I faced was solved looking at community code.

Now I have to check whether Oracle was able to keep up with the others, I am going to try Oracle PaaS services, their Java Cloud service and Integration Cloud service. Personally I hate the creepy world of Java, the multi-line error codes still scare me. But there is no denying that there is a special Joy in Programming, when you are able to create things without constraints.