Considering Replacing Oracle Discoverer?

By Thomas Williams posted 12-01-2020 13:13


Considering Replacing Oracle Discoverer?
Protect your investment by converting what you love into a platform built for your future needs

If your current ERP is Oracle EBS and you’re using Discoverer, it’s likely you’re looking to move onto something new to manage your transactional reporting. Although Discoverer has been a well-used tool for many decades, Oracle decided to stop supporting it some time ago. Some teams have been able to use unsupported versions, but several Oracle upgrades have caused Discoverer to have technical issues.  It’s difficult to know where to turn since there isn’t a straightforward conversion to any native Oracle products. As teams look to a new generation of products, an unbiased view of their current process shows there is room for improvement. Reporting teams, particularly in the core finance areas would often find themselves data dumping so that they could manipulate them in a familiar Excel environment. This time-consuming process can also introduce errors into the reports, and by the time the report has been created, the data is likely stale.

Although there are a few alternatives to Discoverer, most of these alternatives struggle with the detailed transactional reports where Discoverer exceled. The tools are not purpose-built for business users, leading to a lot of reliance on IT. Many groups, especially finance teams have tried to manage their transactional reporting through Business Intelligence (BI) tools. These are very powerful tools but tend to fare poorly with detailed drill downs required by the finance and transactional reporting teams. Because of the many data complexities, they’re asked to handle, BI projects can have a long implementation times and ultimately may not address the detailed type of reporting required. If your team immediately looks for the “Export to Excel” button from the BI tool, the data dumping problem still exists!

 A real-world look at Oracle Discoverer processes

Discoverer can be described as Oracle’s transactional reporting workhorse because of its ability to help teams work with transactional details used in financial and operational reporting. Oracle’s decision to de-support the product without a clear alternative and conversion path has moved many teams to stay on Discoverer if possible. Changing the reporting process and adopting a new tool can be a change management challenge. But is Discoverer the perfect tool? Not really – even though it works, a realistic assessment shows many teams have several extra unnecessary steps that had to be taken in the reporting cycles.

Once you hit run on the report, you’d then expect to have to do the following:

  • Export to Excel
  • De-duplicate the data
  • Create your calculations
  • Insert any formulas or macros
  • From there, create pivot tables
  • Add a chart to present your findings
  • Format the data
  • Check your data for errors and then fix them
  • Manually update any findings that included the errors in Oracle itself
  • Check the data again
  • Email your Excel file over to those asking for the report
  • Answer any queries that arise
  • Update Excel again off the back of those queries
  • Email the file back over to those asking for it
  • Repeat until all queries have been answered
  • Start again next month

By the time this is complete, there’s a high chance your reporting data are outdated. With such a disconnect between the data you’re working with and the data within the ERP, there’s an increased chance of errors in your reporting. Data dumping into Excel can cause these errors for example if the data you’re copying across are incorrectly formatted, which can throw out any formulas within your worksheet. Furthermore, as highlighted above, any errors in the report, or any amendments that come about from queries, would require updating your whole spreadsheet. All told, you’ll likely want to protect the investment of time and development within Discoverer, while looking for ways to improve manual process.

Vendor Requirements for a Reporting Tool

When looking for a new reporting tool, it’s important to consider what elements  need to be included to suit your business, and streamline your reporting process. One for the foremost requirements is the ability to report in real time. Linking your reports directly to the data source provides assurance that your numbers are up to date, and any changes you make to your report are easily refreshable when using live data from your ERP. This saves you time you previously would have used to check the data in your report against the data in your ERP.

It’s also important to check how a vendor tool manages data security. Leveraging existing Oracle security will lead to faster implementations and overall stability and confidence in the product. Its likely your teams have built out many roles and responsibilities within Oracle and a direct utilization of those security components should be included in your decision criteria. A direct, secure, refreshable link from your ERP is a stable starting point in your reporting change journey.

Oracle EBS is a complex tool and not everyone in your business is as tech savvy as is needed to navigate the modules and tables. This often means that reports are being pulled by the IT department. This can be time consuming as requirements for reports necessitate clear communication between the business and IT. Changes or modifications to the requirements require multiple reporting iterations. If the business users, particularly in finance, don’t own their reporting process the lack of self-service can cause friction and delays.

One of the first ways to enable self-service to the business users is acquiring prebuilt reports from the vendor. These pre-built reports can be very powerful in enabling the business users in conjunction with any converted reports that are brought into the new tool. Many tools on the market have a limited choice of reports out of the box, and this leads to the IT department having to put their time into building out the required reports. You want the ability to use prebuilt reports that are purpose-built for finance teams, with the flexibility to customize and add rows and columns where you want.

You’ll likely have a few user preferences for how they’ll visualize the reports that have been built. Many will want a tool a tool that helps with report visualization, such as dashboarding key information, to make it even easier for users to have access to insights from their data. Others, particularly your core finance group will be comfortable with Excel based reports – if you can get them real-time, refreshable, formatted reports in Excel, that will make the change management much easier! Finally, these core finance users and many business users will want a tool that can drill right down into transactional details. Some platforms, particularly BI tools, are aimed at a sales, marketing, or general audiences and are not likely to have the level of drill-down needed. A tool purpose-built for finance and transactional reporting teams will include the level of detail that is needed.

Alternatives to Oracle Discoverer

Now that you have your list of requirements, it’s time to go shopping! Ideally, you’ll want to find a tool that closely matches Oracle Discoverer’s functions, while also upgrading to a a tool that will meet future requirements. Below are a few options of the most popular choices:

Oracle APEX

Although it wasn’t purpose-built for report creation, Oracle APEX (Application Express) has been adapted to fit that purpose if it is needed by organizations. Unfortunately, this option wasn’t built with the business or finance user in mind. Although it can run SQL, it’s difficult for the tool to be called “self-service” for a finance team member. It’s exceedingly difficult to change or develop new reports within the tool, usually handed over to the IT team. Additionally, if data are dumped into Excel, they’re static, so you’re back to the manual data manipulation you struggled with when using Discoverer. Maybe not the best option for you.

OBIEE/Oracle Analytics Servers/Oracle Cloud Analytics

You might be considering OBIEE or other similar Oracle products, as they are the most obvious choice to replace Discoverer. However, this isn’t quite the case. The tools aren’t a straight path from Discoverer, which means long implementation times trying to match up all the reports. Tools such as OBIEE might be implemented when a business is looking for a tool for more than just transactional reporting. However, when trying to use such tools for transactional reporting, finance teams can find it extremely cumbersome and not user friendly at all, so we’re back to our reliance on the IT dependent. In fact, a lot of OBIEE customers are now (a couple years after implementing it) looking to replace elements of the implementation with a tool specifically designed for reporting, as they weren’t getting their desired results when trying to run transactional reports.

BI Tools

BI Tools, such as Tableau or Power BI, are very powerful, and might be a costly fix to an easy-to-solve problem. Your organization might already have a BI Tool integrated within another department, such as sales or marketing, so it may be tempting to pull it across to finance too. However, a tool that isn’t built with finance in mind is likely not going to meet the needs of the finance team. Financial data are multi-dimensional, and you need the ability to drill down into the detail. Additionally, BI Tools don’t offer direct integration into the ERP as a data source, so you must manually move data from the source into the BI Tool. This requires IT to not only have to move the data but also maintain them.

Insightsoftware for Oracle: Wands + Intellicast

Insightsoftware provides a toolset built for business and finance users. The toolset serves those users, particularly finance, who love Excel. The toolset also serves users who prefer web-based reporting, dashboards and KPI management. We’ll start with the Excel based tools. Wands for Oracle is built with a business and finance user in mind. Based in Excel, the tool allows real-time data manipulation with the ability to refresh spreadsheets (including pivot tables) to populate with the most up-to-date information within your ERP. Wands has a Discoverer Converter to complement hundreds of pre-built reporting queries designed specifically for EBS. The converter plus the library of queries rapidly accelerates implementation and change management. Easily managed by the IT team and Power Users, this library of queries can also be supplemented with your own custom queries to get to all areas of Oracle EBS. Powers users are easily able to navigate the library to build new reports and tailor pre-built reports. Wands allows you to add more columns and fields without having to rely on IT.

The tool has a template repository, enabling you to save files and share them with colleagues. While anyone can save into the repository, only an admin or the person who originally created the report can make edits, meaning you uphold a single source of truth in your report.

Intellicast is our web-based distribution, reporting and dashboarding tool that integrates seamlessly with Wands. The tool uses that library of queries to make web-based reporting and dashboarding easy. Many users are combining Oracle EBS data with other data sources such as other databases and Excel files.

To see a demonstration of how Intellicast and Wands help with financial reporting, look at this webinar.

Once you’ve found the right replacement for Oracle Discoverer, you’ll realize it wasn’t the only transactional reporting tool you might have initially considered it to be. Now you and the rest of the finance team are free to create reports, without having to lean on the IT team. Using a tool that directly accesses real-time data from your ERP means there is less chance of error, providing you with even more time to feed your findings back to the business. You won’t even look back at the “way things used to be” with Discoverer.

Learn more about Oracle Discoverer replacement options now!




12-11-2020 07:59

Thanks for this article Thomas,

You mentioned some good points here, for example that BI tools such as OBIEE and others are typically not the best fit to replace Discoverer, which was used in most companies for operational reporting to get EBS data quickly into Excel.
There is a hub discussion on this topic: Looking for a Discoverer Replacement Tool.

And a list of the main third party products in this area:
-GL Wand/Reports Wand from insightsoftware, previous company name: Excel4Apps
-Spreadsheet Server from insightsoftware, previous company name: Global Software
-Hubble from insightsoftware, previous product name: insightsoftware
-SplashBI, previous company name: EIStech
-Orbit from Polaris Associates, previous product name: Reports Wand
-Blitz Report from Enginatics