Oracle APEX moves forward at a steady pace, but the more it grows, the more ideas for future features there are. How to decide which of them are more important? Who should make that decision? What’s the role of the community in this process?

I guess that most of you reading this article already use Oracle Application Express (APEX) daily, whether at work or on a hobby project. I do too. We love the low code, its features, the community, and the approachable team. We may however have some wishes, gripes, frustrations, and so on.

The APEX Team has a solid vision of where Oracle APEX should be – its future, its evolution, and its market position. I’d say they’ve had that vision for years, and it’s strong. You can see it in their Statement of Direction (SOD), which is regularly updated. Over the years, much of the SOD content has been delivered, others parked, and others quietly disappeared. Even if some of it has dropped off, however isn’t this how a fully groomed backlog should operate anyway?

How the APEX team works with the community…

An image showing the Oracle APEX website.

Considering this strong vision, the APEX Team is open on two fronts:

  1. It has embraced the APEX Community and ideas are always welcome. Lately, the Ideas & Features application has been launched. It captures all those dreams, and frustrations that I mentioned in my opening paragraph.
  2. Also, the partners (members of the Oracle Partner program) can lean on the APEX Team and put their views across. Be it a basic request, a complex query or an offering of advice  – we know their door is open.

…and why can this be a problem

So here’s my conundrum: currently, APEX’s attention, so to speak, is pulled in three different directions: the Ideas & Features app by the community, the partners and the Statement of Direction (SOD). Each of these directions provides ideas on how to make the platform better. It’s a “Backlog Triangle”, as I sometimes call it.

Some of the proposed features that make the cut will be mentioned in a speculative tweet, an Office Hours presentation or a SOD entry, and we may be united when it comes to them. However, there’ll be ideas we won’t agree on. Even when an idea is selected, it may take months to make it to the public release.

Taking the APEX direction to a technical level. Crossover is inevitable between partner suggestions and what ideas are logged on the Ideas & Features application by the APEX community. So, what can the partners bring to the table – what can they do differently that is not already being done by the community?

The importance of the Partner Network

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The Oracle Partner Network has vast experience with Client systems and applications. We sometimes have to bend backwards when we try to solve a client’s problem that sounds so simple, yet is so tricky to implement. This isn’t unique to partners, but it makes you wonder whether that simple problem should’ve been addressed by a declarative option in APEX.

A current problem is that we all have issues when we try to recruit from the grassroots… There needs to be a surge in graduate applications to job advertisements. Some of those job offers you can currently see on the APEX World site have been there for months. APEX is positioning itself as a desirable skill to the younger generation. There’s no silver-bullet, but the potential is there. APEX is gaining ground in the Gartner Quadrant and Low-Code adoption is moving swiftly in businesses. There are signs that, whilst graduate applications to APEX roles are not currently plentiful, things will change in the coming years. Can we accelerate this process? How can we work together to reach this stage sooner?

How to decide what gets the axe?

Let’s go back to the “Backlog Triangle”. Those that know me, would have often heard me say “there’s no shortage of good ideas” and there really isn’t. So, what makes the cut? I genuinely believe we can see patterns in the Ideas & Features app, in dialogue, in forums, on Twitter. These patterns help us narrow down what really needs to be included in the SOD.

Let’s look at the SOD for a minute. On Oracle’s part at least, there appears to be a strategic shift to an “involved DevOps” experience on the cloud. Such things as CI/CD, Git, Cloud Console, Machine Learning/Analytics are featured heavily there. Looking at all this, I’m rubbing my hands with anticipation.

An image showing someone working on a laptop.

However, I also see MySQL DB integration with APEX features on the SOD. Logically thinking, the world of MySQL companies is huge, and it’s quite natural that Oracle wants to integrate its platforms. To be honest, it’s never been at the top of my wishlist for APEX, and in a way, a little surprising to me given that I’ve never heard a client request this. Nevertheless,  It’s a good example of the team’s adherence to the APEX vision whilst still allowing a route for community voice to be heard.

Let’s find a way together

Just like many of you, I have some ideas for assisting the APEX developer. However, I’m not going to be a squeaky wheel and force Oracle to do it just because I wrote this blog post – I’ll just use the Ideas & Features app to log them on there. If you don’t like what I came up with, please feel free to downvote my ideas. I believe the only way we do this successfully is together, and not individually.

A criticism, if I may, of the existence of the ideas app, is that it’s quite convenient for the team now to answer a difficult question with “I suggest you log it in the Ideas” app. A number of times now, I’ve seen this casual response replace the superior “I’ll look into it and get back to you” response. The problem with that is that it stops the conversation dead in its tracks. It gives the person who suggested the idea an additional task to do – they have to submit what they came up with in the app in the hope of gaining social backing. The initiative is still on their side, despite the fact that they’ve already taken the time to contact the APEX Team – who now leaves actionless.

The thing is, the best conversations I’ve ever had with the APEX Team are those where the team has got their notepads out and listened intensely. They’ve taken notes and helped evolve the idea. Being listened to in this way is highly engaging and memorable. Even if my ideas sucked, just being at the table and being listened to in an engaging way was a reward in itself. I can’t help but feel that the Ideas & Features app, or rather the aformentioned “I suggest you log it in the Ideas” answer, creates a different kind of an environment.

Perhaps I could suggest that during office hours or a new dedicated meeting, the APEX team can discuss the top ideas. Such a meeting, held every 4-6 months, would engage people to submit and vote and would provide an elevated interaction. It would also promote the Ideas & Features app so that more people are aware of it. The more users, the more submissions, the more votes – and votes are important.

Before I sign off here, I also want to say that personally, I’d like the grassroots issue addressed too. I want a 22-year-old graduate to challenge me every day, just as I challenged my mentor back in 2001. This is healthy for the work environment, it’s good for both parties, because it encourages them to grow. And obviously, if developers grow, the technology moves forward along with the new generation.

Also, if you want to learn more about APEX, check out some of the other articles on the Pretius blog:

  1. How to integrate Stripe with an Oracle APEX application: Step-by-step guide
  2. Oracle APEX new features – the low-code platform keeps evolving
  3. Google Identity Services – a quick guide on using the new library in Oracle APEX applications
  4. What is Oracle APEX? Possibilities and career paths for low-code developers