Reflections after Oracle OpenWorld 2015 – Content & Process (or Collaboration & Engagement)

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This article gives an overview of some of the most eye catching stories from Oracle OpenWorld 2015 around Process and Content, aka Collaboration & Engagement. It discusses Line of Business user oriented cloud services such as OSN, DCS, PCS and Sites CS as well as on premises products such BPM Suite and the WebCenter Suite.

Various Oracle presentations employ different terms for this area. In addition to Content & Process the label Collaboration & Engagement is also used. It is perhaps somewhat telling – this confusion – for an area that has been a struggle for Oracle for a long time. How to exactly define the products, how to make the work together and how to position them. These questions have hung over WebCenter in its various incarnations for many years. It seems obvious that around collaboration, human workflow, web content & documents and communication any enterprise will have requirements. And IT products from a company such as Oracle are a viable option. Yet, in the past the Oracle offerings never around collaboration & engagement quite lived up to their promise. The still very poor integration of Sites in Portal – over four years after the acquisition of FatWire and in stark contrast with the initial statements immediately FatWire was acquired- speaks volumes.

So what is different – if anything? Obviously, the world is changing rapidly. The Cloud introduces new opportunities for those bold enough to step forward – and threats for those who are not. The Oracle Cloud certainly seems to bring a new chance for a proper integration between services, an opportunity for some of the services in this area to play a role in supporting other Cloud Services as well as a time for a new user experience.

Human Centric Content – Document Cloud Service

One of the earliest platform cloud offerings from Oracle was the Document Cloud Service (DCS). Positioned as the enterprise edition of well-known document services such as Dropbox and Box.com, Document Cloud Service has a very clear proposition – as well as a strong one. Sharing documents across devices and locations – for yourself and for colleagues. In a way that is secure, way more secure than alternative offerings, and with rich integration with MS Office and Office 365, Windows file system and native apps on multiple devices.

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Additionally, DCS UI Components are available for embedding in other applications and cloud services – including, as we will see shortly, Process Cloud Service, Oracle Social Network and custom applications (JavaScript widgets for picking, uploading, downloading and previewing documents) or extensions to SaaS applications. DCS offers APIs that allow custom UIs to be created and programmatic access to be realized. Managed File Transfer (on premises and Cloud Service) and SOA Suite can both interact directly with DCS. DCS supports URLs directly to documents that can be shared to unauthorized users and have a defined expiry time.
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Free format conversation – Social Network

Closely related to the Document Cloud Service is the Oracle Social Network (OSN). Labeled as Facebook for the Enterprise – or compared to Yammer – OSN revolves around conversations. These are interaction threads – shared timelines – where colleagues interact around topics. Note that OSN allows the introduction of outside stakeholders into a conversation – and permits them to start conversations.

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Documents in DCS can be the trigger of a conversation or can be included as reference material in a conversation. Conversations can be attached to documents – and vice versa.

The Oracle SaaS applications have defined some 50 Social Objects

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– business objects such as Opportunity, Service Incident, Bank Statement and Purchase Order – that can have OSN conversations attached them and to which conversations can refer. OSN can be integrated in custom SaaS extensions as well as in custom applications – and custom business objects can also be designated social objects and become subject of or supporting resource in such conversations.

OSN should be considered a building block, a key capability in the Oracle Cloud platform – similar to DCS – that can be integrated in higher level services, such as the SaaS offerings or custom applications or even other platform services such as Process Cloud Service or WebCenter Sites.

For the future, Oracle suggests it will “harness the collective intellect [of an organization] with Oracle’s Social Intelligence engine”. This means that through smart analysis the platform can guide you to the people who are knowledgeable and/or influencing in certain areas.

 

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This intelligence will lead to recommendations about who to approach, connect to or follow or what [resource] to read.

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Human Workflow – Process Cloud Service

The conversations in OSN can be very informal and unstructured. They can however sometimes represent unstructured workflows or even very loose instances of case management. Here they border on and overlap a little with the Process Cloud Service (PCS), a service that has been generally available since June 2015. This service represents the Oracle Cloud Platform capability to define a human workflow in a structured way – along with supporting flow logic, task definitions, business rules, deadline controls and user interfaces. A predefined workflow captures the ’way we go through a certain process’ – to ensure completeness, consistency and compliance and also support the execution of the process when it occurs and the recording of its progress for audit purposes.

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A workflow in PCS can be triggered in several ways – for example as result of events in DCS regarding a document – or based on the explicit input from a human actor. Documents in DCS can be associated with a workflow [instance] in DCS and a conversation in OSN can be started from and associated with a workflow. It is not a strange thing to assume that during the execution of a human task in the workflow some conferring takes place in the form of an OSN conversation.

Sites Cloud Service

The Sites Cloud Service is newly announced – to be launched in the Spring of 2016. This service offers [users the ability to create] Mobile-First Digital Experiences for Marketing and Communities. The objective for this service is visual assembly of Rich Mobile-First Digital Experiences by any LOB user. Think marketing micro-sites around a product launch, a campaign or event. And think communities with engagement sites for employees, partners and customers. Some features indicated for this service are vanity URLs, SEO support, mobile and desktop sites from same tools and content, collaboration with external agency, project management for site development, easy preview and publishing.

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Further down the line, integrations are indicated with Oracle Cloud services such as DCS, PCS, OSN, Marketing Cloud and Application Builder CS.

Service Cloud

Another component in the Oracle Cloud portfolio in the interaction that enterprises engage in with their customers is Service Cloud (which contains the RightNow product). Service Cloud provides engagement across multiple channels – portal, telephone, chat, email – around questions, complaints, suggestions through [self service] answer wizards, knowledge base, frequently asked questions and smart guided dialogs and – when all else fails – interaction with a support agent. The mutual integration between the services for engagement described above and Service Cloud is not yet well-defined it seems. The potential for making these services work together seems quite strong – workflows in Service Cloud based on PCS, documents in the knowledge base based on DCS, incident tracking and resolution using an OSN conversation are just a few.

On Premises

Very carefully, I have not mentioned any of the underlying products for the cloud services described overhead. We know them of course. We can easily point out the on premises technologies that power the DCS, PCS and Sites CS – although we cannot do this for OSN and Service Cloud. And as far as I am concerned, we should forget about the underlying technologies for DCS, PCS and Sites CS. These services may at some point, by our PaaS providers – have been based on technologies we know and perhaps use on premises, but that is and should not be relevant. These services are all cloud only services, targeted at the Line of Business users or citizen developer. They are not for IT staff.

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Because of the similarities between technologies, perhaps we have an easier integration, for example between DCS and WC Content. However, we as consumers of DCS should not be aware of the fact that WC Content powers DCS. It may not always be the case, we do not want to become dependent on it and Oracle should not be restricted because of it. DCS and PCS should evolve freely, independently of WC Content and BPM Suite.

However, I believe that all on premises products in the area of Content & Process should be available on the cloud as well. There should be a WebCenter Portal CS, a WC Sites CS and a BPM Suite CS. For now, all we have is certification of these products to run on JCS; we can run them in the cloud, but Oracle does not consider them proper cloud offerings, not in terms of management nor in terms of licenses vs. subscriptions. Hopefully, that will change in the near future. Note that at this point there is an option to export human workflows from PCS and import these workflow into BPM Suite. These workflows can be starting point for a business process designed, implemented and executed with BPM Suite; however, they can never be uploaded again to DCS. I believe that is a good thing.

WebCenter

The heart of the on premises product offerings for Content & Process (aka Collaboration & Engagement) is WebCenter. This product consists of three fairly independent offerings, with some mutual integration:

· WebCenter Portal (the original WebCenter, homegrown and first announced in 2005)

· WebCenter Content (based on the acquisition by Oracle of Stellent’s Universal Content Manager in 2006)

· WebCenter Sites (based on FatWire, also acquired by Oracle, in 2011)

In addition to these products, BPM Suite contributes to the proposition around Content & Process. Note that BPM Suite has a somewhat bi-polar nature: sure, it helps to implement human workflow and as such is closely associated with collaboration and content, yet it also plays an important role in straight through processing (STP) and business process automation, which can be much closer associated with the domain of integration.

Technically speaking, BPM Suite is closely integrated with SOA Suite – design time and run time – and many of the BPM Suite developers are also SOA Suite developers. The decision within Oracle to brand BPM Suite primarily together with WebCenter for human collaboration and also to move the product management and product development teams close together with the WebCenter teams, away from their previous partners in integration crime on the SOA Suite team seems to take away a little from the strength of BPM Suite for complex integration flows and STP. Hopefully, this trend can be reversed.

All four products mentioned above have been released as part of Fusion Middleware 12.2.1 – generally available just prior to the conference in the second half of October. For BPM Suite, 12.2.1 did not add a great deal of change – but a lot of much desired stability and robustness. Additionally, BAM was functionally enriched in several area and both BAM and BPM have been overhauled in terms of the (Alta) user experience. For BPM Suite, REST APIs have been exposed as well as reusable UI components – both help with the creation of custom user interfaces on top of BPM tasks and case management. Integration into WC Portal 12c is also available for BPM Suite 12.2.1. Further ahead loom integration from BPM process instances with OSN and DCS, support for multitenancy – just like WLS and SOA Suite – and hopefully better design time support for Adaptive Case Management.

For the WebCenter components Portal and Sites, this release was no small thing at all.

WebCenter Portal

It feels like WebCenter Portal has had an extreme makeover.

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The product has been struggling for quite some time – very little evolution took place and it felt as if with the loss of momentum the relevance of the product might slip away. That now seems changed completely – for the better. The 12.2.1 release has many important new features and the relevance of the product is definitely not in question now. The roadmap for 12.2.2 and beyond looks quite robust as well.

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In 12.2.1, instead of being sort of an advanced ADF developer’s toolkit, WebCenter Portal has a much clearer distinction between the Portal administrator/content manager – the citizen portal creator – and the developer of interactive, transactional [ADF] user interface components. WC Portal 12.2.1 is a real portal product with a great user experience. The portal is created and maintained complete through the browser. Custom user interface components can be developed as ADF Taskflows, outside the portal, and then deployed to the portal’s resource catalog (without having to jump through complex deployment hoops or portal restarts). Subsequently, the portal manager can decide to add the Taskflow to a page and can also wire up any input parameters and events, both published and consumed by the Taskflow.

The Page Composer has been redesigned – to provide a much more intuitive experience with WYSIWYG editing and drag & drop manipulation of page components. The integration of content from backend enterprise content management systems, such as WC Content, DCS and others, has been enhanced; content can for example be edited inline within the portal. Integration of existing data sources – either relational database objects or web services – is easy using declarative wizards and the creation of user interfaces on top of these data sources in the portal is simple too.

Life cycle management of portal assets has been improved substantially. Propagation – through DTAP – of portal assets, including those that were designed in the browser environment, including all dependencies has become much easier and intuitive. All in all is WebCenter Portal 12.2.1 a very pleasant surprise.

Beyond 12.2.1, the roadmap brings more integration leading to a potentially hybrid architecture with WC Portal on premises – or on the Oracle Java Cloud – integrated with OSN and DCS as well as PCS (for Task list and Web Forms). Integration with WC Sites on premises and Sites CS through a Sites Content Presenter is also on the roadmap. Content annotations and redaction are announced as well as integration with the Application Builder CS. Oracle SES (Secure Enterprise Search) will be replace with Elastic Search.

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The roadmap also lists the WC Portal Cloud Edition – though without further details.

WebCenter Sites

The evolution in Web Content Management is from static websites (long time ago) via Web Experience Management to Customer Centric Digital Experiences that WebCenter Sites helps enterprises to manage.

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The top five focus areas in Sites are:

image· Content for Cross Channel Marketing – access CMS content in other systems for use in campaigns, social pages, apps, email, commerce

· Integrating web into the Data Experience – build up a profile for the visitor (customer) and tailor the digital experience around that profile (associated with Oracle DaaS – Data as a Service – and the wider CX cloud).

· Embracing the cloud, to drive speed (quick time to market) – this includes on premises and in the cloud integration of web content management in SaaS and PaaS, such as microsites to be embedded

· Marketing Meets Self-Service & Commerce to Drive Unified Experiences – interoperability between web sites and transactional systems; seamless transition from glance and scan (in the web shop) to commit (edit profile, inspect orders, execute payment)

· Content Delivery for Mobile – deliver content in formats for all types of devices

Release 12.2.1 delivers already many features in these areas.

Some noteworthy improvements are:

· Composite visitor profile across multiple profile data sources, that is used for segment calculation, A/B testing and analytics; the profile is exposed as a service

· In-context A/B/C/D/X testing with inline reporting, the ability to promote the winner (the features best evaluated in the test), in-context analytics on pages and assets

· Integration with the Marketing Cloud

· Accessibility features, OAUG certification and RTL language support

· Server Side API with hooks for Java developers

· On the core system: removal of filesystem dependency (use database as file system), publish job management in Contributor console, Tag management updates

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Next on the roadmap are several important areas, such as the integration with WebCenter Portal, more integration with the Marketing Cloud (Bluekai, Eloqua, Maxymiser), integration with Cloud Services such as DCS, OSN, PCS and MCS. Also certification for running WebCenter Sites on the Java Cloud Service.

WebCenter Content

WebCenter Content was revamped too as part of release 12.2.1 – and was already substantially updated in the 11.1.1.9 release of May 2015. The Content Viewer and Content Manager taskflows for interaction with WC Content from WC Portal is reinstated (and improved). The WebCenter Content document viewer now has added support for doing annotations directly on the document being viewed. This enhanced capability provides business users the ability to easily collaborate and comment directly on a documents.

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WebCenter Content 12.2.1 now has support for Telestream’s latest video transcoding product technology: Vantage. Vantage transcoding products utilize the latest technologies to deliver pristine quality, exceptional processing speeds, plus the industry’s most extensive workflow automation and system support. WebCenter Content 12.2.1 also now has support for adding in other 3rd party video transcoders.

The mobile app was improved (iOS 8 optimized, support for Android 5, revision history added) and large file support was added. The capture capabilities have been improved – for example with external conversions. Additionally, extensive support for document attachments has been added to Enterprise Capture. This includes support for new classification for attachments: attachment types, ability in the import processor to import and associate attachments to documents when processing a list file, support for exporting of Attachments with a batch through WLST and ability to ignore or convert attachments.

Integration of Desktop Integration Suite (DIS) with Office 2013 has been added – along with Office 365.

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One handy feature: check in of multiple email attachments.

The performance is much improved – as a result of replacing many synchronous calls with asynchronous interactions and also with simple things as paging through large framework folder listings. Trash support in the Native UI: users can easily recover deleted files. Note that in 12.2.1, the Imaging Server has been consolidated into the Content Server.

Beyond release 12.2.1, themes on the roadmap for WC Content include

· usability – the somewhat outdated UI itself and issues with search; Oracle Text may well be replaced with Elastic Search

· completion of some existing features– Records and Document Management in latest UI and support for Sun Storage Archive Manager (SAM-QFS), enhanced support for framework folders in Archiver

· dynamic thresholding for capture

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· cloud integration – for example for new capture channels and interoperability with DCS, such as surface Oracle Documents collaboration within WCC UI, share with external users and yourself, do a Desktop Sync and/or copy between WCC and DOCS
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Conclusion

It feels like we are witnessing a rebirth of WebCenter. A shiny new release 12.2.1 with substantial improvements across the board, a very interesting roadmap, clear signs of real integration even with Sites and a reasonable positioning cloud-wise with the LoB offerings (OSN, DCS, PCS and Sites CS) that are for now well demarcated from the on premises products – that are certified to run on JCS. BPM Suite needs to get going and needs to find its place in this Collaboration & Engagement; to a large extent, that product is also an integration component – and trying to pretend that is not the case will help no one in the long run.

About Author

Lucas Jellema, active in IT (and with Oracle) since 1994. Oracle ACE Director and Oracle Developer Champion. Solution architect and developer on diverse areas including SQL, JavaScript, Kubernetes & Docker, Machine Learning, Java, SOA and microservices, events in various shapes and forms and many other things. Author of the Oracle Press book Oracle SOA Suite 12c Handbook. Frequent presenter on user groups and community events and conferences such as JavaOne, Oracle Code, CodeOne, NLJUG JFall and Oracle OpenWorld.

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