Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Long Goodbye

I'm in the process of saying a long goodbye to my iPad 2...and tablets in general, at least for now.  I'm losing my tablet for a couple of reasons.

First, I've pushed the limits of my iPad's usability.  I really have...for a couple of years.  But I just don't find myself using it for any kind of serious work.  My MacBook Air has really taken over for both premise-based and cloud-based work.  Even with a keyboard of the tablet, I find myself much more productive on the Air.

Second, I'm finally upgrading my iPhone 5 next month.  The most likely upgrade candidate is the iPhone 6 Plus.  Yes, the Samsung Droid offerings look really great - even better in many respects.  But I'm invested in the Apple platform and there's not enough extra benefit in other platforms to justify a transition in my mind.  So it's likely the 6 Plus...with a very large screen.  And I see the 6 Plus taking over the few functions I now perform with my iPad.  So the iPad would become just another weight to lug through the many airports I visit every year.  I'm actually looking forward to cutting back on the amount of tech gear carried when I eliminate the iPad.

In all fairness, I think I would have come to this conclusion with any tablet.  I still consider the iPad to be the best of the bunch.  I have just come to the conclusion that the tablet format just does not provide enough value for me...at least, not right now.

What's to become of the iPad?  It may become a third screen in my home office.  Or it may become a media viewer on a planned treadmill.  I mean, it's nice and all...but, at least for me, I've discovered the iPad concept to be much more of a nice to have than a got to have.  Cool but not necessary.

What about you?  Different view or experience?  Sound off in the comments.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Mismatch

In the world of enterprise software, we sometimes find ourselves with a mismatch between sellers and customers.  From my worm's-eye view, we seem to be wrestling with one of those mismatches right now.

My typical week is mostly spent in conversations with customers.  Sometimes it's more of a formal work scenario with higher education institutions as part of my role with Sierra Cedar.  More often than not, it's a bit more informal:  advising customers across a wide range of industries in my role as an Oracle ACE Director (and, before you ask, yes - it's a freebie.  Just part of my advocacy role as a member of the Oracle ACE Director program.)

In listening to those customers - mostly about Oracle SaaS - the conversation is based on a description of an expectation or hope of an outcome or end state:

  1. Reduce required capital (think money here) required for using and maintaining enterprise software
  2. Eliminate or repurpose hardware
  3. Reduce headcount (due to budget or competitive pressures) or redirect skilled efforts toward more unique and value added activities (the latter is actually more common these days)
  4. Better information for making better decisions: more timely, more contextual, and more useful for both evaluation of the past and prediction of the future.
Now, keep in mind that no customer ever comes out and explicitly lists any of these four items.  Every customer is different, with unique wants and desires.  But, as I dig to get a better understanding, it typically comes back to some variation on one or more of these four.  So I'm shortcutting the process here to get to the real point:  the customers are in outcomes.  Will SaaS help us to enable/reduce/achieve something that delivers the outcome we desire?  Now just hang onto that concept for a moment; the idea of expected or hoped-for outcomes.

Think back to the last time you sat through an enterprise software or service demonstration, either as a seller or a customer or a partner.  Where was the emphasis?  I'll bet my dollars to your donuts that the demo focused on the capabilities of the software or service.  Lots of emphasis on an easy-to-use search engine, or great user experience, or cool features, or a well-integrated business process, or easy-to-build-and-delivery dashboards. All of which are very important.  But it's an emphasis on products and/or services.

The mismatch is between customers desiring enterprise outcomes and vendors/partners selling products and/or services to achieve those outcomes.  It's akin to shopping for a home in a certain neighborhood with a specific lifestyle in mind, while the builders sell to you based on the quality of their tools, their craftsmen, and the different homes they've built in the past - regardless of lifestyle or location.

In the enterprise software world, organizations often act like individuals.  Each one has unique needs and desires...which lead to unique outcomes.  The mismatch comes when vendors and partners sell services and products in response to those desired outcomes.  Folks, that is the mismatch.

So, how do I plan to handle this myself?  By first working harder to understand the outcomes desired by the customers with whom I engage in one way or another...mastering the who, what, why, when, where and how.  And then by explaining how the Oracle products and the services provided by Sierra Cedar can be utilized to help achieve those desired outcomes...and that's where I'll burn my calories going forward as I explain possibilities, lay out roadmaps, design solutions, and develop products/services.

So now that your life has been enlightened by this pearl of wisdom, may I ask for a small contribution on your way out?  Comments please.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Coming Into Los Angeles

Coming into Los Angeles
Bringing in a couple of keys
But don't touch my bags if you please
Mister Customs Man
         --From Arlo Guthrie's "Coming Into Los Angeles

As I write this, I’m on the road again…Los Angeles.  It’s my good fortune to be attending some collaboration sessions on designs for new Oracle Cloud Applications.  Can’t talk about the apps being developed…sorry.  But the attendees include Oracle Development, the Oracle User Experience team, several Oracle customers, and a few people from my firm.  What I can talk about is some observations about the interaction.


The customers in this group are pretty vocal…a great thing when you’re looking for design feedback.  They’re not a shy bunch.  What’s interesting to me is their focus of interests.  Simply put, they’re not interested in the technology of how the applications work.  In the words of one customer addressing Oracle:  “that’s your problem now.”  


These customers are focused first on outcomes - this is what is important to my organization in this particular subject area, so show how you’ll deliver the outcome we need.  And, even more interesting, tell us about final states we have yet to consider that may make my organization better.  And, in both cases, what are the explicit metrics that show us that we’ve achieved that end state?


Secondly, they care about integration.  How will this new offering integrate with what we already have?  And who will maintain those integrations going forward?


Third, please show us what information we’ll get that will help us make better decisions?  Much of this discussion has revolved around the context of information obtained rather than simply delivering a batch of generic dashboards.  This is where the social aspect of enterprise software comes into play, because it provides context.
From these observations, I personally drew four conclusions:
  1. If this group of customers is fairly representative of all enterprise software customers, it seems that the evolvement of enterprise software customers from concerns about technology to concerns about quantifiable outcomes is well underway.
  1. Integration matters.  For the moment, customers seem more interested in best of breed solutions rather than purchasing entire platforms.  So stitching applications together really matters.  While I suspect that, as SaaS continues to evolve, customers will begin to consider enterprise software on a platform basis rather than going with best-of-breed point solutions.  But it does not appear that we’re there yet.
  1. Business intelligence, analytics, big data, whatever…it’s of limited value without context.  Customers…at least, these customers, are very interested in learning about their own customer personas and the historical data from those personas in order to predict future behavior.
  1. User Experience, while not explicitly mentioned during these sessions, has been an implicit requirement.  Good UX - attractive, easy to use, elegant applications - are no longer an option.  All the customers here expect a great UX and, quite frankly, would not even engage in a product design review without seeing a great UX first.
As I wrap up this post, it almost feels like I’m writing a book report for Ray Wang’s “Disrupting Digital Business”.  I’m in the process of reading the book and, now that my eyes are starting to open, I see instances of Ray’s points popping up all the time.  Great book.  More about it in a later post.


See now you know what I think I’m seeing and hearing.  Thoughts?  Opinions?  Comments.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Oracle and Docker

So, as many of you know, I've been working out different ways to host my Oracle labs and demos instances without chewing up phenomenal amounts of disk space and processing power.  Lately, I've been diving into Docker.

Docker has turned out to be pretty cool and very easy to learn.  And it's lightweight.  The idea is that you run containers - your app, your operating system, and your virtual machine - bundled together in a single container.  The big win is that containers abstract the operating kernel, so the total overhead of all the container is much, much less than the sum of the parts.

I'm still digging in, so I'll keep you posted as I progress.  But it looks pretty promising in terms of fulfilling my non-production needs.  One example...

I downloaded and installed the Oracle XE database...with APEX...from scratch in about 22 minutes earlier today.  All done with Docker (and because I run OS X, I also use boot2docker).


Game. Set. Match.  Pretty easy.  Run fast.  Low overhead.  You may want to check it out.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Good News On The EBS Front

Most people who know me professionally know about my enthusiasm for enterprise applications delivered via the SaaS model.  In terms of adoption and agility, SaaS is a winner.  But, at the same time, I also recognized that SaaS is not for everybody.  Those who customize heavily and those who want to retain a higher level of control are probably better off with on-premise enterprise applications.

So I was happy to hear about Cliff Godwin, Oracle's Sr. VP of Applications Technology over the E-Business Suite, laying out a roadmap for the future of the E-Business Suite at the Collaborate 2015 conference.  Not only did Mr. Godwin lay out plans for more incremental releases of EBS 12.2.x, he also shared the news about a future 12.3 release.  One of the primary intents of the 12.3 release will be to take further advantage of in-memory technology.

I'm an EBS fan.  Rock solid database model.  Recently improved user experience.  Delivers high operational efficiency.  So I'm happy to hear that EBS will continue to evolve.

NOTE:  I'm not at Collaborate 15...wish I was, but I'm not...so big thanks to dear friend Karen Brownfield for clueing me in on the news.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Nephophobia

They say that these are not the best of times
But they're the only times I've ever known
And I believe there is a time for meditation
In cathedrals of our own

Now I have seen that sad surrender in my mother's eyes
I can only stand apart and sympathize
For we are always what our situations hand us
Its either sadness or euphoria

                          -- From Billy Joel's "Summer, Highland Falls"

In working with Oracle customers every day, I'm seeing a common thread running through many internal IT departments:  Nephophobia.  That's right, fear of clouds.  In this case, I'm talking fear of clouds from a technology perspective (I'm admittedly having a bit of fun here and mean no offense to anyone with a true fear of clouds).

The fear shows up through either resistance or an avalanche of "what if" or "what about" questioning.  I suspect that the cause of that fear is rooted in the fear of change, as in "what happens to my job"?  So this post is for all those folks in all those internal IT departments faced with moving to the cloud, whether it be SaaS, PaaS, Hybrid, or whatever.

You are spot on in recognizing that your world is changing.  All the things you've spent your time doing - patches, upgrades, general maintenance - they're all going away.  The cloud vendor will be taking over that work as part of the service to which your institution will subscribe.  But, as those tasks disappear, new opportunities arise.  Some examples:

Network administration:  because your users are interacting with off-location servers, the performance of your own internal network becomes even more critical in a move to the cloud.

Integration:  as much as the major enterprise application vendors would like you to stick with one platform, odds are you won't.  You'll probably mix two or more vendors plus some in-house applications.  Getting all these apps to talk to each other is critical.

Development:  one of the keys for enterprise application cloud vendors is that, in order to scale (and thus make money, because cloud services are a volume business), the business processes have to be pretty basic so they can be easily shared across multiple industries.  If you work with an institution that has unique transactional and/or reporting needs (I see this frequently with public sector organizations), there will be some custom development involved.  Extensions, bolt-on applications, unique reporting...all will live on to some extent, although probably not as much as you've seen in the past.

Mobile:  everyone wants mobile and the cloud provides a great platform for delivering mobile applications.  So all those things about network administration, integration and development?  They apply here as well...maybe even more so.

All this discussion notwithstanding, let's get to the root of it:  this type of change can threaten your job.  It's scary.  So what do you do?  Update your skills to stay relevant.  The key to making a living in IT over the long-term is to be continually learning new things.  If you don't make the investment on your own, you'll find yourself on the outside looking in.  So do it.  Dig into this cloud thing.  Learn the technical underpinnings.  Figure out where you and your IT department fit...how can you add value?  And feel the fear go away.

Friday, March 13, 2015

HEUG Alliance 15 - What Looks Good To Me

The Higher Education User Group's Alliance 15 software conference kicks off this Sunday, March 15, in Nashville, Tennessee.  You're going, right?

I'm flying early this weekend myself.  Just have a few conference things to do to get ready for my little role in this big Oracle user group conference.


Looks to be a great conference.  I'm personally planning to dive into five areas of focus:  


  1. increasing my depth of understanding about customers and processes in Higher Education; 
  2. learning and evangelizing about Oracle Cloud Application services within Higher Education; 
  3. joining the discussion around Oracle's PeopleSoft Campus Solutions Self Service Mobile (especially the new 5.0 release) and the Oracle Mobile Applications Framework; 
  4. learning more about the application of User Experience design patterns, guidelines and the like to the unique set of use cases presented within Higher Education; 
  5. getting updated with the latest news on Oracle's roadmaps for their various Higher Education products.

I suspect that an underlying theme about the need for higher levels of successful student engagement will encompass all five of these focus areas in one way or another.

I'll be presenting a few sessions of my own...special sessions not found in the Alliance Agenda Builder.  They're all in the Delta Island C room at the Gaylord Hotel and I can promise they'll be absolutely brilliant ;)

  1. Taleo Cloud Demo: Tuesday, March 17 12 noon-1 p.m.
  2. Financials Cloud Demo: Tuesday March 17, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
  3. HCM Cloud Demo: Wednesday, March 18, 7:45-8:45 a.m.


So, other than those sessions where I'm presenting, I looked over the catalog of sessions with my three areas of focus in mind. What follows is a list of the sessions that look good to me. I didn't include session times or locations, as you can get to those details via the Agenda Builder.  If you do look up my list, you'll see there are time conflicts involved - a sign of a good conference is that you have to make difficult choices about how to spend your time - so you won't be able to catch all of these sessions...these are just the sessions that piqued my interest.  Maybe you'll be interested too?


So that's what looks good to me at Alliance 15.  Let me know what looks good to you if you're going, and let me know how it really turned out for you after the conference...love those comments!