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Best Practices for Oracle eBusiness Suite & Oracle Applications

Oracle Apps Tips by Burleson Consulting
October 24, 2007

 

Best Practices for Oracle eBusiness Suite Implementation

 

Large corporations have two choices when automating their business functions, writing a custom solution or purchasing a pre-written software package.  These off-the-shelf solutions are called Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) packages and include vendors such as SAP, Peoplesoft and Oracle eBusiness Suite. 

 

This document describes the best practices required to successfully implement an ERP package for a publicly-held company, and includes all areas of due diligence that are required by responsible corporations when implementing Oracle business solutions:

Oracle Corporation reported that more than 75% of unplanned system downtime was due to human error, and managers know that minimizing the risk of human error is critical to the success of all ERP solutions.  Dangerous dilettantes can destroy databases, and corporations go to great lengths to ensure that they use Oracle-certified professionals for all technical tasks.

 

 

Management due diligence for any Oracle eBusiness Suite implementation lies in the proper allocation of corporate resources and outside experts.  It can be considered misfeasance not to carefully vet all outside consultants, and may corporations avoid risk by going directly to Oracle Corporation for consulting services. 

 

However, in the wake of media reports of problems with Oracle Corporate consulting, some managers choose third-party consultancies with a proven history of success in the implementation of Oracle eBusiness Suite.  I've noted that one of the main causes of bumpy Oracle Applications implementations are the use of inexperienced consultants. 

 

Because ERP solutions effect every area of a business functional management, careful planning and management are an absolute necessity for a smooth transition from legacy solutions require significant investment of resources from all areas of the company.  Let's begin with an overview of my qualifications.

 

My Qualifications

 

My name is Donald K. Burleson and I have a Masters Degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Information Systems from the University of New Mexico.  I been a full-time database administrator since 1983, serving as a database architect, database administrator and management consultant for many Fortune 50 corporations.  I am a Oracle Certified Professional (OCP) and a Certified Systems Professional (CSP), with a Certificate in Data Processing (CDP) issued by the Institute for Certification of Computer Professionals (ICCP).

 

I am the author of more than 30 books on database technology and I was chosen by Oracle Press to write five of their "officially authorized" books on Oracle technology, including the Oracle 10g Application Server Administration Handbook.

 

I have also served as adjunct professor of Information Systems, teaching more than 50 courses in database and project management in MBA programs for several major universities.  I have also published more than 100 articles for academic journals and mainstream technology magazines including Computerworld, Software magazine the the Journal of Information & Management.

 

During my 25 years in database management I have gained extensive experience in the management of mission-critical ERP solutions. 

 

The scope of Oracle eBusiness Suite

 

The goal of ERP solutions is to provide an off-the-shelf solution to manage all aspects of a business, everything from manufacturing and inventory to complex financial reporting.  As such, these ERP packages are extremely sophisticated, consisting of millions of lines of computer code and tens of thousands of online screens and reports.  When an organization makes a commitment to move their business processes into an ERP package they make a conscious decision to change the way that they do business to accommodate the software. 

 

Accommodating the software package

 

Customizing an ERP solution is very tricky, and corporations who choose to make extensive modifications to ERP solutions may find themselves facing costs of over five million dollars when an upgrade is required.  Unless a unique business process is a competitive advantage, it is a best practice to re-train all functional workers in the business flow of the software, abandoning their old ways.  Obviously, this requires a commitment of significant time and effort. 

 

The standard best practices for publicly-held companies are greater, and management has a responsibility to ensure that the solution is implemented without significant interruption to ongoing activities.

 

While the costs of Oracle eBusiness Suite can be more than a million dollars, the original expense is only a miniscule part of the costs.  It is not uncommon for a large corporation to spend tens of millions of dollars to install, configure and implement Oracle eBusiness suite.  As a general guideline, large corporations will commit at least 15% of their gross revenue to their computer department, and it's easy to spot a potential problem by examining the expenses of the company.

 

ERP solutions have a direct effect on the finances of the corporation, and the greater the financial risk, the greater the investment in auditing and safety controls.  At an absolute minimum, these investments will include:

  • Functional Impact Analysis - A complete analysis of the business impact of the ERP solution, focusing on the challenges to each functional area of the organization.
     

  • Scope of Work document - The SOW is performed before the acquisition of Oracle eBusiness suite to ensure that the corporation understands the costs and commitments that are required for successful implementation.
     

  • Project plan - Implementing an ERP solution consists of tens of thousands of individual tasks and presents a formidable challenge to management, both in the computer department as well as the functional areas.  It's an absolute necessity to prepare a project plan that spells-out all major milestones of the ERP rollout and maps out all critical path tasks.  Many shops will hire an experienced project manager for this, a professional with demonstrable expertise in project management techniques including PERT and CPM. 
     

  • Data integrity - The polestar of any Oracle eBusiness Suite implementation is managing the integrity and safety of the data.  While Federal regulations (GLB, SOX, HIPAA) may impose strict data control requirements, all Oracle eBusiness Suite implementations will include these activities:

     

    • Audits - The integrity of the mission-critical corporate data is foremost, and corporations will have auditing in-place to data security and internal integrity.  All changes to the database are archived, and sensitive data will have a full audit trail indicating the "who, what, when, where and why" for all updates.  Additionally, financial data will be audited for integrity and fully tested prior to implementation.
       

    • Disaster recovery - The costs of unplanned downtimes can reach over $100,000 per minute for a large corporation.  Publicly held corporations are required to safeguard their data and implement full backup and recovery procedures.  These will always include the retention of Oracles archived redo logs, an electronic trail of all data changes.  In addition to the archived redo information, some corporations will also safeguard their data through geographical replication using one of the Oracle provided solutions (Real Application Clusters, Oracle Data Guard and Oracle Streams), and implement a solution that ensures system availability at all times.
       

    • Governmental regulatory compliance - Sarbanes-Oxley imposes requirements for information systems and controls, including proper security of sensitive information, documentation of internal processes, and appropriate policies and procedures for system operations.

Next, lets examine the steps in developing a sound project plan for an Oracle Applications implementation.  When faced with implementing such massive software packages, a corporation must implement extensive policies and procedures for version control, change control and quality assurance, often employing third party products.

 

But the most important areas of best practices for Oracle Applications relates to the technical infrastructure, an area where Oracle Corporation provides detailed guidelines for success.


Technical best practices

 

Thousands of corporations successfully implement Oracle Applications each year, and the guidelines for success are well-known among Oracle consultants.  These best practices include:

  • Intimate involvement - It is an absolute best practice that all technical and functional management be intimately involved in the implementation project.  Many companies try to distance themselves from the implementation by hiring third parties to do their data conversion, while others attempt to save money by using offshore companies.  Offshoring is a big mistake for many reasons, foremost the potential loss of data from no copyright protection and the risk of sub-standard programmers.  Computerworld magazine noted that in 2006, less than 5% of IT shops attempted offshoring.
     

  • Proper pre-implementation end-user training - Oracle Applications are an extremely robust and flexible business solution and they change the way that the organization does business, often in a very fundamental way.  Implementing Oracle Applications requires a huge effort from the functional community and all end-users must be properly trained and tested before implementing the new solution. 
     

  • Proper integration testing - Oracle Applications implementations rarely exist in a vacuum and the new software may have to interface with many external systems.  For example, it's very common for an Oracle Manufacturing and Inventory module to have a custom interface with an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) feed from the retail stores.
     

  • Proper technician training - Even through an organization may have competent Oracle database administrators on staff, the implementation of Oracle Applications introduces specific challenges to the Information Systems manager.  There are new job roles to be filled (The Oracle Applications Administrator), and extensive training for existing programming and developer staff in the nuances of the Oracle Applications software.
     

  • Proper testing environments - Even though Oracle Applications are a prepackaged solution, every corporation is unique and extensive customizations are part-and-parcel of any rollout effort.  Oracle Corporation strongly recommends that all customization follow a rigid quality control process to guarantee a smooth transition.  These environments include separate Oracle databases for customization testing and databases for system testing and quality assurance.
     

  • Proper data security controls - Oracle Corporation is very clear about the requirements for data security control and the need for monitoring.  Oracle Metalink web site contains standards such as the standards described in note 189367.1, Best Practices for Securing Oracle E-Business Suite.  It states:

"System security stands on three legs: good security protocols, proper system configuration and system monitoring.

Auditing and reviewing audit records address this third requirement. Each component within a system has some degree of monitoring capability. Follow audit advice in this document and regularly monitor audit records.

 

  • Standards - Oracle Corporation offers standards of development at both the database and applications layer:
     

    • Oracle Flexible Architecture - The OFA standard mandates the naming and location of important directories on the server.
       

    • Oracle Applications Standards - Oracle publishes standards for the proper implementation of the applications forms, the screen which make-up the online interface for the end-user.  These standards offer specific requirements for coding, managing the user interface and deployment.  These standards include requirements for version control and change control.

As the author of the packages, Oracle Corporation is the best source for implementation best practices.


 

Auditing an Oracle Applications implementation

 

When things go wrong with an Oracle Applications implementation it's not difficult to determine the root causes.  Auditing an ERP implementation covers several areas:

  • Data Integrity and security auditing - Auditing for data integrity includes checks of disaster recovery procedures, proper pre-implementation testing procedures and proper archiving of all system changes.  I have written a whitepaper describing the auditing requirements of 21st century information systems. 
     

  • Implementation audits - A audit of a substandard Oracle Applications implementation includes a review of failures at the business layer, seeking evidence of lost data and complaints from downstream users.  For example, customer complains are a valid indicator of a shoddy Oracle implementation.  Oracle standards also encourage a complete version control and change control subsystem to ensure smooth rollouts.
     

  • Management auditing - It's easy to review the project plan and identify misfeasance.  This might include willful under funding of the project, a failure to engage consultants with a proven record of success, and insufficient stockholder disclosure of problems with their Oracle rollout.
     

  • Financial Analysis - A lack of proper investment in the ERP project can be easily identified by a review of the financial records.

 

Best Practices for Oracle Apps financial data

 

by John Hays, CPA

The Oracle E-Business Suite is one of the most complete, integrated business intelligence systems.   It provides an end-to-end view across all lines of business and drive performance with consistent financial and operational information.  This suite of applications provides every employee with relevant, complete information tailored to their role. E-Business Suite is a highly adaptable global business platform, that operates globally while complying locally.

This great depth and breadth of capability also results in a system that is very large and complex. Each of the over 70 module within the E-Business Suite can have hundreds of different settings and thousands of different ways to configure. No part of the design, implementation, or use of the system should be taken lightly.

Implementing Oracle E-Business Suite is a complex process that must be well designed and organized. Generally, the process involves the following steps.

  • Definition – establish the business objectives and related requirements. Define the project work plan.
     
  • Operations Analysis – analyze the operations and determine fit between organizational requirements and standard application functionality.
     
  • Design – develop detailed designs for the optimal solutions to meet the future business requirements.
     
  • Build – create the physical software system configuration and testing.
     
  • Transition – deploy the finished solution into the organization.
     
  • Production – go live using the new system

The implementation process should also involve documenting each step and noting any issues that could negatively influence system performance.  

In addition to the new system implantation process, the training needs of the users must be accessed and addressed before the process can be truly successful. Dana Sohr of RWD TechnologiesTM sited the following example in the article Introduction: Why Worry about Training?

A 1998 Benchmarking Partners survey asked major companies to name the biggest obstacles they faced in getting optimal results from their ERP systems. Of the six obstacles mentioned by over 25% of the companies, four were directly related to end-user performance and training. They were: managing internal change (65%), inadequate employee skills (36%), training end users (36%), and ongoing user support

(26%). Only prioritizing resources (29%) and software functionality (28%) did not relate directly to training and supporting employees before, during, and after implementation.

Just what does it cost to avoid the kinds of problems cited above? A recent study by the Gartner Group showed that companies that met their goals for ERP projects spent at least 17% of their budgets on training. Gartner reported that companies that budget less than 13% of their implementation costs for training are three times more likely than companies that spend 17% or more to see their ERP projects run over schedule and over budget. On a $5,000,000 ERP implementation, the difference between a 13%

training budget and a 17% training budget is $200,000. Should that same project run just 15% over budget, the additional cost would be $750,000. Obviously, the cost savings that can be recognized by proper planning and execution of end-user training and performance support can be significant.

It is important that industry and module best practices are considered and appropriately utilized both during and after the implementation process.  Utilizing best practices leverages the experience of others in implementing and using similar processes or systems.  Not utilizing appropriate best practices needless exposes organizations and systems to problems.  

Safe guarding an organizations data is also a critically important consideration, and should be evidenced by an enterprise wide backup retention policy. The backup retention policy governs how long data backups are kept, or how many versions of backups to keep at any time. This policy should be set in accordance with company mandated and/or government regulated record retention periods.

The management letter to the external auditor usually makes certain statements regarding the reliability internal controls and statements of the Company. The problems and issues found in the system do not appear reflected in the related statements and opinions. What statements were made to the external auditor and when were they made?

Management typically makes specific certifications about the internal controls and financial reports of the organization.  When they are satisfied with they adequate and correct, they certify that:

The internal controls over the financial reporting process were designed by, or under your supervision, and provide reasonable assurance regarding the reliability of financial reporting and the preparation of financial statements for external purposes in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles and includes policies and procedures that:

·       Provide that records are maintained in reasonable detail and they accurately and fairly reflect the transactions and dispositions of the company assets.

·       Provide reasonable assurance that transactions are recorded as necessary to permit preparation of financial statements in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles, and that receipts and expenditures of the issuer are being made only in accordance with authorizations of management and directors of the issuer

·        Provide reasonable assurance regarding prevention or timely detection of unauthorized acquisition, use or disposition of the issuer's assets that could have a material effect on the financial statements.

FAS 48  specifies how an enterprise should account for sales of its product when the buyer has a right to return the product. The revenue from these sales should be recognized at the time of sale only if all of the conditions specified by the Statement are met.  If the conditions are not met, the revenue recognition is postponed. If they are met, sales revenue and cost of sales reported in the income statement should be reduced to reflect estimated returns and expected costs or losses shall be accrued. 
 


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