Using BI Publisher as low-cost approach to generate correspondence from Siebel

Siebel Correspondence, technologically a dinosaur solution. Running Microsoft Word as single-threaded proces on a Windows-based Siebel Server… Well, it still works and there are plenty of implementations still using this good-old approach. But the side-effects are there. Scalability (only by adding servers, regardless of being small & virtual), little ability to include logic in the templates and sensitive to incidents such as hanging Word instances to name a few limitations. Still, use cases are still there.

Of course Oracle has alternatives in this area too. Our flag-ship product is Oracle Documaker, which came along with the aquisition of Skywire back in 2008. A full-fledged solution with enterprise capabilities including batch and interactive generation of documents, a full IDE called “Documaker Studio” with template design capabilities driven by business users (really), workflow driven and scalable build of Web logic server. But this post is not about Documaker.

I wanted to highlight a recent customer web cast:

Innovations with Siebel Correspondence for Customer Service at New York Justice Center

BIPCorr

For those who are not familiar with BI Publisher, this is an application allowing to generate reports, and is available as a standalone product but as well integrated in products such as OBIEE and Siebel. BI Publisher can work with different data feeds, but the integration of BI Publisher in Siebel is purely based on Web services.

Funny fact: BI Publisher was long ago sold as XML Publisher. Similar to Documaker it works with an XSD to map data elements into a report document, where Microsoft Word is the “editing tool” or IDE using a BI Publisher plug-in to support mapping the data. Under the hood, in Word you do no generate a true Word document but rather an XSL-FO (XSL Formatting Objects) template. Consider Word as just the IDE which was chosen in the past. BI Publisher can output in different output format including pdf, rtf, xls and ppt.

Where writing typical “report” template can be pretty straight-forward. Developing a true correspondence letter type-of-template though could easily become more complex. Think of hiding paragraphs or making distinctions based on recipients or recipient-related attributes. The cool thing is that in your XSD you can essentially provide all relevant data available in Siebel, as long as you can relate it to the business object on which you base your XSD (Integration object). And with XSL you have a lot of flexibility at your fingertips, but you need to have some level of comfort in writing XSL 🙂

So… defining a BI Publisher template document can easily become more an IT-task than a task for a business-type of user, because of the need to resort to custom XSL instructions / logic.

What Deloitte did for the New York State Justice Center was leveraging the Siebel Reporting business service to on-demand generate a Word document and allow post-editing. This is a nice alternative for traditional Siebel Correpondence and a fairly low-cost solution in terms of licensing too. But the limitations should be kept in mind with regards to template development and management in general. There is no such thing as a multi-user IDE with in-build version control, approval workflow and more of those goodies you would get with a solution like Documaker.

– Jeroen

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