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9.7 XML and iFS

Oracle8 i 's Internet File System ( i FS) has a built-in XML parser you can use to store XML documents directly in the database. As more and more vendors (including Microsoft, a big proponent of the XML standard) "XML-enable" their products, the i FS parser will become more and more useful. Widespread adoption of the XML format, as opposed to proprietary formats, will help alleviate the common, frustrating, and usually contentious problem of importing data from end user productivity tools into relational databases.

For instance, take spreadsheets. There is no denying the fact that these wonderful tools can help even the most unsophisticated (at least in terms of computer experience) user perform meaningful and important tasks. An analyst might use a spreadsheet to solve a finance problem, a manager might use one to schedule the phases of a project, and an accountant might use one to do almost anything. Some companies even use spreadsheets to create client invoices. Because they are easy to use and widely available, spreadsheets have become primary business tools, perhaps second only to word processors. While spreadsheets have many benefits, however, they have also created difficult information management problems.

For example, companies have spent millions of dollars on relational databases only to see them circumvented by spreadsheets. End users complain, sometimes quite correctly, that systems developed by IS are too complex or time consuming. Consequently, users simply create their own offline versions out of a ragtag collection of spreadsheets. As a result, the critical business information these database systems are designed to collect is strewn randomly throughout hundreds of spreadsheets on dozens of machines. This data is decentralized, unanalyzed, and insecure.

To remedy this problem, many companies try to force users to adopt standards. However, as anyone who has worked in IS knows, there are few issues that stir up more controversy than trying to replace a tool users like, such as a spreadsheet, with one that they don't like, such as a database. Any attempt to do so usually winds up in an "us versus them" battle. End users see IS taking away the tools they need to do their job, and IS sees end users wasting valuable company resources (time, money, sanity, etc.) by refusing to even consider the benefits of different approaches. In most cases, IS is on the losing end of these political battles.

i FS can help eliminate this problem. Once productivity tool vendors adopt XML (many of them are doing this as rapidly as possible), you can use i FS to simply import the relevant portions of the documents directly into the database. Users can use their favorite tools, or at least new versions of these favorites, and you can treat their data as standard relational data. As Humphrey Bogart said at the end of Casablanca , "This could be the start of a beautiful friendship."

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