Vendor Overview: Oracle APEX

Zaid Ali, the Director of an Oracle Gold Partner company contributed this article about Oracle APEX. Zaid’s contact details are at the end of the article.

IT departments are under ever increasing pressure to deliver projects faster and cheaper. Many new tools that enable this are coming to market but this also means additional cost in terms of absorbing these new technologies and defining exactly how they will integrate into your existing architecture.

So why don’t we take a look at what we may have already paid for and integrated into our organisation? We should ensure that we maximise the return on the investment and exploit what we currently have to deliver applications in a Fast Track way.

Most organisations already use the Oracle database in some shape or form; it is pretty much an industry standard and also an expensive investment for any company. The Oracle database comes with a web based rapid application development tool called Oracle Application Express or APEX for short, it is included with every Oracle database licence and even comes pre-installed inside the database itself.

APEX is described by Oracle as its “primary tool for developing Web applications” and it allows you to reuse the skills you have in house in terms of SQL and PLSQL to develop robust, scalable and secure applications for both web and mobile with very effective user interfaces.

The tool is accessed simply through a web browser and is also designed for Cloud deployment, in fact Oracle have a cloud based instance that anyone can try here, just request a workspace and off you go.

We have used it for a wide variety of solutions from eCommerce web applications (e.g. LV Travel Insurance – click Get a Travel Quote) and other corporate intranet based systems to major enterprise applications for the UK government (e.g. Ministry of Justice – Offender Assessment System) supporting 30,000 users across England and Wales.

Recently we did an engagement for a UK multinational. They had a requirement to develop a new web based risk assessment tool for use by their offices around the world to record and report on risks, losses and recoveries and generate board level summary reports. By working with the users we were able to create a fully fleshed out prototype with all the screens (about 40) including corporate branded look and feel with a rich user interface with enhancements designed to increase productivity by incorporating a number of jQuery plugins. We even created prototype functionality for documents being created dynamically in Word format. Finally we created a number of KPI dashboards with drill-down capability that provided a snapshot view of key areas that would require business attention as well as the board level summary reports. This was all achieved in just three and a half weeks and the customer was really impressed in terms of what was achieved in such a short timescale.

The user interface for the APEX development tool is actually written in APEX itself which gives a good idea as to its flexibility:

         apex_page_attributesapex_create_page

APEX is specifically designed for rapid application development and includes many features out of the box such as the ability to declaratively create forms, reports and charting based applications with a choice of built in themes to choose from for both traditional desktop browsers and mobile devices.

In fact for mobile devices it can be used to create jQuery Mobile user interfaces as well as responsive style applications that will run on any device.

APEX is often misunderstood and labelled as a tool only for small departmental applications or spreadsheet and access replacements but such claims simply are not true. Of course it can be used as such but it offers so much more and therefore warrants deeper investigation.

The beauty of APEX lies in its simple architecture, presented in the diagram below. Oracle have used their classic approach of using the Oracle database to store application definitions as metadata within the database and deployment to other environments is straight forward, all you need is SqlPlus.

apex_architecture

Compared to other technology stacks including the many Java stacks which can rapidly become over complex, difficult to change and deploy to, APEX provides a refreshing simplicity as you can create applications that can easily be adapted, changed and deployed as business requirements evolve.

In terms of reducing costs another interesting APEX configuration exists that is free to develop, deploy, and distribute – yes, entirely licence free. If you are thinking of smaller scale development and you can live with the key restrictions of 11GB of user data, 1GB of memory and a single CPU, you can use Oracle Database 11g Express edition. It provides all the key features of its bigger brothers but none of the costs and lets you fully utilise Oracle APEX.

APEX can be upgraded independently too and is very simple to do, just download the latest patch set or version and install over your current version.

APEX offers the following capabilities:

  • Create Forms, Reports and Charts declaratively
  • Create Forms, Reports and Charts non-declaratively using your own PLSQL or packaged PLSQL API routines
  • Create Interactive reports where a user can manipulate, filter and summarise data on the fly and even create charts dynamically
  • Create dashboards with HTML5 or FLASH based charts and maps with drilldown
  • Create HTML themes for specific brand requirements
  • Create rich user interfaces by incorporating JavaScript frameworks e.g. jQuery, jQuery UI and jQuery Plugins
  • Create responsive applications for any device
  • It is secure, scalable and robust
  • Extend eBusiness Suite by creating fully supported extension applications
  • Incorporate HTML5, CSS3 and latest web technologies and frameworks e.g. Bootstrap
  • Ideal for Prototyping, Agile/Scrum
  • Ideal for large scale Enterprise applications to serving thousands of users

Because APEX is tightly integrated with the Oracle database it also provides access to all the powerful features that the database has to offer:

  • Access disparate systems by consuming web services – both REST (Oracle REST Data Services) and SOAP (through database)
  • Access Oracle OLAP cubes for business intelligence type functionality
  • Access all the varied functionality offered by Oracle (including options) natively using PLSQL e.g. XMLDB, spatial

So assuming you use the Oracle database in your organisation already it is amazing to think that you have all this capability that has already been paid for and is not necessarily being used to its full potential.

Oracle APEX truly is a hidden gem, If you have already invested in the Oracle database within your organisation and you want to create Fast Track applications using your existing architecture then please do take the time to speak to people who have really used the technology to understand the true benefits.

The Fast Track is within reach!

Zaid Ali

Director, Zippy Zebra Ltd

Email: zaid.ali@zippyzebra.co.uk, Website: www.zippyzebra.co.uk

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