Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Old Bugaboo

So after a bit of a hiatus, I've decided it's time to get off my butt and start writing again...

Today I'm raising an old bugaboo, but I'm adding a new perspective.  The bugaboo? Customizing packaged software.  It's more expensive than either building your own apps from scratch or buying software off the shelve.  But you all already know that because we've previously hashed that out at length here.

On to the new perspective.  As many of you know, I've been up to my eyeballs in helping customers switch to  the mobile responsive Newsfeed UX for Oracle's HCM Cloud Applications.  And we're finding customers love it.  The ease of use, the consistency of the user experience between mobile and desktop platforms, the overall look and feel, the short learning curve, the high levels of user acceptance smoothing the change management involved in the switch.  Newsfeed UX is a huge hit.  But I digress, so let me get back on track.  We offer several tools for personalizing, extending and customizing this new user experience.  Between the components of the HCM Experience Design Studio and Page Composer, customers can change the UX in pretty much any way their heart desires.

But just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do something.  I'm seeing quite a few customers burn quite a few calories on customizations with relatively minor impact, mostly involving the user interface rather than the user experience. (What's the difference?  The user interface is about the look and feel.  The user experience is about the way you work.  The latter has a much broader and more meaningful impact than the former.)  Changing the color of the text in a button.  Removing the category title from an event.  Substituting a seeded icon for one of their own design.  To sum up... making big efforts to change minor details, things that don't impact the ability to conduct critical business processes or provide meaningful business intelligence.

Changing minor UI details, in and of itself, is not so bad.  I often think the energy expended is over the top in comparison to the return.  But if it is important enough to a customer to burn their resources in that way, that is their choice to make.  But the thing so few realize when implementing these changes is the cost going forward.  That cost comes in testing and maintaining those customizations as part of each and every system configuration change.  A new patch is applied?  Better test our customizations.  Implementing a new interface?  Better test our customizations.  A new release or update?  Better test our customizations. And, by the way, redesign and reapply those customizations as needed.  A change in application architecture?  We need to redesign and reapply those customizations.  Start thinking about the frequency of these and similar cases, then consider the resources involved.  You'll get the idea.

One more time:  just because you can do something doesn't really mean you should do something.  Are there times when customizing is the right choice?  Of course.  If a customization is necessary in order for you to execute a critical business process using packaged apps or services, then that is what you do.  Just consider it carefully first.  Because the old bugaboo of customization is the gift that just keeps on taking.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Bits And Pieces

Lots of innovative change afoot in the Oracle HCM Cloud space, so I thought I'd catch y'all up on the more significant bits and pieces.

  • Enhanced Talent Profiles:  Oracle Recruiting Cloud ("ORC") and Oracle Learning Cloud ("OLC")customers must upgrade to Enhanced Talent Profiles as part of their 19A uptake.  See My Oracle Support Doc ID 2421964.1 "Upgrading Fusion Profile Management" for more info. This is a really cool upgrade for the ORC and OLC customers - you'll want to jump on this one.
  • ORC customers:  must switch to Newsfeed UX as the first step in upgrading to Enhanced Talent Profiles.  This essentially means that ORC requires a switch to Newsfeed UX and an upgrade to Enhanced Talent Profiles as part of the 19A uptake in order for the app to function going forward.  Double benefits here:  a mobile responsive UI and the Enhanced Talent Profiles!
  • File Based Loader:  File Based Loader ("FBL") will not be supported as of update 19B (which begins to roll out to HCM Cloud customers in May).  Last I looked, there were still a small set of customers using FBL.  If you're one of those customers, may I suggest that you make the move to the more powerful HCM Data Loader ("HDL") now?  
  • Newsfeed UX:  It seems that Newsfeed UX may become the default with the 20A update, which is due begin rolling out in February 2020.  But, in the meantime, we're seeing new and very cool functionality appear that only works in Newsfeed UX - with more on the short term horizon.  So the longer you wait to switch, the further behind you'll fall.  So the question is not "when will Newsfeed UX become the default", but "how soon can we switch to Newsfeed UX?"  I recently had a customer tell me switching to Newsfeed UX "...is the best thing we've ever done for our users!"  So what are you waiting for?
We have some additional innovation goodies on the verge of coming out, but I'm not at liberty to discuss those yet (one of the very few downsides to this job).  But I can say that sine of those goodies depend on you taking up the changes listed here.  So roll up your sleeves and get going - we have lots of cool innovation available and in the pipeline, but it doesn't do you any good until you take it up!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Listening To Customers

The Oracle HCM Cloud team hosted their annual Customer Advisory Board meetings at Oracle HQ last week.  I've always enjoyed the CAB meetings because it's the one event where we reverse the flow of information:  customers tell us about how they use our products rather than us showing customers how to use those products.  I learned a few lessons in listening to our customers last week.

Customers today are more concerned with the pragmatic aspects of AI

To be honest, I went to the CAB meetings prepared to talk about the innovative projects happening around AI:  quantum computing, artificial decision-making, responsive vs structured chatbots.  But our customers wanted to talk about the pragmatic aspects of AI, especially robotic process automation.  I ended the week feeling that I'd been prepared to talk about running while our customers are still focused on learning to walk.

Innovation is cool, but customers want to know more about optimizing what they have now

Surprisingly, most of my one-to-one conversations with customers were not about upcoming new features.  Instead, the dominant theme was about their hunger to better use the features they already have in hand.  "How can I make better use of..." or "How can I meet the challenge of... when I get back to the office on Monday."

Mobile - Finally!

You've heard the message for years:  "If you ain't got mobile, you ain't got nothing."  2019 is the year that our Oracle HCM Cloud customers are moving out on that idea.  About 20 percent of the customers attending the CAB meetings had gone mobile with their self-service HCM apps in the prior six months.  Everyone else... and I do mean everyone else... is planning to go mobile in 2019.  So the party has been a little slow in getting started, but it's really catching fire now.  Different approaches to the self-service mobile user experience was a hot topic.

Functional regression testing has become a bottleneck

Now that continuous service delivery is a reality, functional regression testing has become a bottleneck.  The classic approach of fully manual, end-to-end functional regression testing simply does not meet the schedule requirements of a continuous service delivery model - just not enough time.  Customers had serious energy around regression testing strategies as well as automated testing tools - they're compelled to change and are still figuring out just how to change.  Interesting side note - we also heard some overlap here with the interest in robotic process automation.

So those were the customer messages I took away from the CAB meetings.  I'll wager others heard different things, but this is what I got out of the meetings.  So now I've got some new ideas regarding my own work agenda for 2019 - how can I help in some small way to bring direction and clarity by responding to what I heard?  Stay tuned for more.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Buffing Up The Crystal Ball

I've had several people ask me lately what I predict in terms of hot tech trends for 2019.  I'm not much for predictions - if you want to hear the universe laugh, share your future plan.  But, just for fun, I pulled the crystal ball out of the closet, buffed it up and took a look.  I also scattered some tea leaves on a table top and read them.  And, just to lock things in, I put all my garbage for the week into a plastic trash bag and whirled it over my head in the front yard at midnight while I screamed like a chicken, seeking a vision.  None of that stuff worked, although that last thing did provide me with a vision of policemen called out by a neighbor.  But I'll still take my chances and throw what I believe are tech trends that will heat up in 2019 in the enterprise software space.

Artificial Intelligence.  We've been seeing some primitive applications of AI cropping up already; chatbots come immediately to mind (a big deal where I work - Oracle - right now).  But I think a shift in the way we approach AI will start to have some impact this year.  We'll start to see a change from decision trees and algorithms attempting to calculate results in favor of more applications for the deep learning approach.  We certainly have enough data on common use cases to make deep learning feasible.

Quantum Computing.  Another old theme that will take on new life in 2019.  To some extent, it goes hand-in-hand with the growth in AI deep learning.  It takes improvement in orders of magnitude for both processing capacity and processing speed in order to support that kind of thing.  If you haven't already, you'll soon start to hear about qubits:  leveraging properties of atoms and nuclei to facilitate them working together as computer processors and memory.  Makes traditional silicon components look like a hammer and chisel.  This one is not that far off:  several tech companies already have projects going with functional quantum computing.  One application:  remote traditional processors feeding a quantum computer for trend analysis on a huge scale.  Takes the idea of Big Data to a whole new level, doesn't it?

Trust.  Wait, how can trust be a tech trend?  It's definitely happen already - more and more end users are opting to pick the honest broker, even when the products or services that honest broker provides are priced much higher than the low bidder.  A former Oracle employee, Patrick Lencoini (you've probably heard of him as the author of "The Five Disfunctions Of A Team"), wrote a book in 2010 on trust that was years ahead to its time:  "Getting Naked:  A Business Fable About Shedding The Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty".  While the fable is really focused on the consulting field, I'm hearing more and more tech service providers using his terms and concepts.  Sometimes even word for word.  The concept of trust will permeate the enterprise software industry in 2019, ranging from client relationships to the way we build and provide products and services to the way we interview potential hires.  I don't have any business relationship with Mr. Lencoini... heck, I don't even know him (but I am a big fan)... but you may want to add his book to your 2019 reading list.

So there you have it:  my picks for hot tech trends in enterprise software in 2019.  You may have different ideas, or maybe even a crystal ball that works.  Share in the comments.  We'll take a look back at the end of 2019 and giggle about our prognostications together!

Monday, December 17, 2018

A Cloud Endorsement

As I write this, it's super early on Monday morning in my part of the world.  And this morning, I've already spoken to three different customers suffering major service disruptions in their IT applications - one can't process incoming orders, one can't ship product, and another one can't do either (among other things).  The only things still running - their cloud applications.

This raises a pretty good point for those of you out there plugging along with your on-premise applications - cloud applications provide a level of stability that just can't be matched on-prem.

If I'm a cloud services provider, reliability is a key component of my business.  I'll invest as much as necessary because it's a core part of my business.  Most end users have an entirely different business model - IT in most enterprises is a cost center rather than a profit center.  So, ideally, the idea is to keep the IT investment to a minimum.  And, in each case, you get what you pay for.

It really comes down to an idea we often hear in the enterprise applications world:  put your IT services in the hands of the best IT stack and team available.  And the best IT available to most enterprises?  From a cloud services provider.

Monday, December 10, 2018

What, Me Worry?

“What, me worry?” – Alfred E. Neuman

It seems like we have some nervousness settling into the U.S. economy.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down a few percentage points over the past few months.  Facebook, Apple and Google shares (three-fourths of the FANG indicator for the tech market) are all taking a bit of a beating.  We’re watching the process of Treasury Yields inverting, indicating concerns about the long-term debt market.  Folks are starting to speculate that we’re in the last stages of the current bull market, about to descend into a bear market and a recession.  Closer to home, I’m starting to see financial pundits predicting heavy job losses in 2019 as the economy begins to slow down.  WE SHOULD ALL BE PANICKING LIKE OUR HEADS ARE ON FIRE!

Let’s all take a breath and a step back for a minute.  I don’t worry too much about the job market and neither should you if you’re taking the right steps.  Sure, there are times when employers are competing for employees and other times when people are competing for scarce jobs.  But if you’re in the job market or the gig market at all, you should be taking the same steps regardless of the conditions around you.  Stop looking at the various market indicators and direct your energy towards investing in yourself.  The concepts are pretty basic:

1.    Have the right skills
2.    Advertise those skills
3.    Keep your network strong

Have The Right Skills

Even if you’re gainfully engaged in a job or a gig, checki job listings on a regular basis.  So you know what skills are in demand.  When you see a few thousand jobs for people with expertise in SteamingPile Architecture, you’ve identified a skill that’s in demand.

Once you’ve identified that skill, go learn it.  Maybe your current employer will support you.  Or maybe not.  Do it anyway, whether it’s free stuff online, a set of classes, or whatever.  Yes, this will consume some of your discretionary time. Consider it a worthwhile investment in yourself.

After you’ve learned that skill, go use it.  Look for opportunities in your current job or take on a side gig.  Either way, there is no better way to really get a skill than by applying it in a real-world situation.

Advertise Those Skills 

Once you’ve learned and applied those skills, advertise your newly-acquired expertise to the world. Update your online profile. Freshen up your resume.  Tell your peers what you’ve done.  Get the word out that you have a new tool in your toolbox. Do it now – don’t wait until you’re in the hunt for your next job or gig before you start advertising.  Waiting on this is like buying new running shoes halfway through the 100 yard dash.

Keep your network strong

Continually seek out opportunities to help people whenever you can, whether it’s a new acquaintance or someone you already know.  The very best way to build a network is to be sincerely try to help others.  Just try to live the Golden Rule and watch your network grow.  In all honesty, it took me a long time to figure this one out.  But I’m glad I did.

Admittedly, there is no rocket science here.  Only basic fundamental practices, most of which I know you've heard before.  But I can tell you that, as I've incorporated acting on these points into my own professional life, they have served me well in good times and bad.

So my advice in any market is the same.  Keep your skills sharp.  Make sure people know you have those skills.  Build your network.  You won’t have to worry about the economy.  And you’ll sleep better at night.

As always, comments and feedback are welcome.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Listen To The Music - OOW 2018

Don't you feeling it growin', day by day
People gettin' ready for the new
Some are happy, some are sad
Oh, we got to let the music play
          - From The Doobie Brothers "Listen To The Music"

So it's Oracle OpenWorld time again.,, can you hear the music playing?  It really kicked off last Thursday, but the event really starts peaking today (Oct. 22nd) through Thursday.  Gazillions of people descending on downtown San Francisco to hear the latest about Oracle products and services.  It's a massive event, with lots of people and venues scattered through the downtown area.  It's tough to take it all in.

In the Cloud Applications or SaaS segment, you should pay special attention to a few specific themes:

  1. Oracle's progress in shifting from a products-focused company to a product-as-a-service company.  We've made some notable progress over the past year.  Is it enough?  Personally, I'm too caught up in the trees to evaluate the forest without bias.  So the story will get told and y'all get to make the evaluation.
  2. The positive disruption coming from customers moving to SaaS.  In all honesty, we've been more than a little surprised here.  It's bigger than I personally anticipated.  You'll hear some open and frank stories on this front.
  3. We've built quite a bit of AI capability into the Cloud Applications.  You'll hear quite a bit on how that effort is playing out in the market.
  4. Specific to HCM Cloud Applications, you'll hear quite a few customer experiences around Newsfeed UX (aka Mobile Responsive).  We've had a large group of customers uptake this new UX during the 18B update and expect quite a few more to make the move in 18C (which comes out shortly after OOW).  From my own perspective, this is one of the coolest innovations to hit the enterprise applications market ever.  I'm looking forward to hearing what people think of it after hearing the stories we'll present at OOW.
For those of you attending OOW, or those of you not attending but paying attention, I'd really like to hear your thoughts and impressions about the conference.  After listening to the music, find the comments and share what you think.