Monday, August 31, 2015

The Golden Path

Geek Warning:  The Golden Path is a term in Frank Herbert's fictional Dune universe referring to Leto II Atreides's strategy to prevent humanity's ultimate destruction.

Just back from a little "stay-cation".  My batteries were running a little low, so it was good to recharge for a bit.  The #Beat39 theme continued to roll around in my brain and I want to share a predominant line of thinking from that.

Back in the olden days when Oracle was first developing Fusion Applications, they made a big effort to discover common threads of business practices across a range of industries and organizations. Processing invoices, controlling inventory, managing employee performance reviews, completing projects, billing customers...it's a long list of common business practices and common activities.

The result of that effort was a set of common "best practices", by industry, that were baked into Fusion Applications.  That collection of best practices became known as the Oracle Business Process Model ("Oracle BPM").  You can see an example for the Project Portfolio Management Suite here.  As Fusion Applications have evolved into Oracle Cloud Application Services (Oracle's SaaS offerings), Oracle BPM has evolved right along with it.  You'll find the latest Oracle BPM in Oracle SaaS.

Back in the really olden days, customers and their implementation partners would generally follow a three-step implementing strategy:  1) understand the customer's current business process; 2) design the customer's future business process; 3) implement enterprise software to model the customer's future business process as closely as possible.

With today's SaaS applications, customers may be better served by following a different strategy: 1) configure a SaaS zone and test the "baked in" business processes with an eye toward utilizing those processes in your own organization; 2) address and resolve any business process gaps; 3) test and go live.  In short, maximize your use of enterprise software in the way the software was designed to be used, business processes and all.  Being open to business process change is the "Golden Path" to a successful SaaS implementation.

While this idea is nothing new, it's a pretty fundamental shift in perspective.  Thoughts?  Comments welcome.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Old Becomes New - Maker Stuff

A bit of a personal tangent for this post, as I've experienced an interesting development in life recently.  I’m taking another run at the “Maker” concept after taking a few months away from it. And I’m coming at it from an entirely different angle.  The combination of data, radio waves and networks has piqued my interest.  Some background:

My father was an amateur radio operator back in the day.  It was one of his passions…so much so that his radio call sign (K0RFS) is engraved on his tombstone.  Big radio, big amplified, big antenna tower with multiple antennas in the backyard, the best Morse code keys money could buy, etc.  He saw it as both a hobby and a way to render service to others (he used to patch up a local family of Argentine immigrants with their family back home on a regular basis).  Dad’s heyday in amateur radio started immediately after WWII and continued through his passing in 1990.

Amateur radio technology is generally very old school.  Marconi made the first wireless radio contact from Cape Cod into Europe in 1912 using Morse code.  Voice technology was added around 1921.  We’ve seen the additions of packet radio, APRS, RTTY, SSTV, PSK31, radio propagation beacons, radio satellites, and other interesting stuff.  But it all comes back around to the same old radio wave technology.

Except it’s not.  Amateur radio operators can communicate with radios across the internet utilizing the IRLP system.  Heck, you don’t really even need a radio to play anymore - EchoLink allows computer>radio, radio>computer, and even computer>computer communication.  And it’s the merging of old technology with more recent technology in new and interesting ways that has really gnawed at my imagination.

Becoming a licensed ham radio guy has been on my bucket list, mostly as a tip o the hat to the old man.  Years in coming, I finally passed the Technician’s exam here in the States and thus earned my license (call sign K1RFS…what else?).  And I’m planning on using my Tech privileges as a springboard into some interesting maker experiments.  Some of the things on my project backlog include:
  • Building a Yagi antenna from a metal tape measure and PVC - and using that antenna to talk with the ISS
  • Making an OS-agnostic communication logging program in Oracle APEX
  • Working with amateur radio frequency beacons to track objects in areas without internet or cell service - power generation here will be interesting - then creating RESTful services to display the tracking of  those locations
  • Building an HMSS mesh net in my home that can be accessed via radio wave technology - 2nd step includes reliability when the electrical grid is offline
  • Creating a permanent IRLP node with a Raspberry Pi
  • Leveraging a combination of an AMSAT satellite and a smart phone to send and receive amateur TV images wirelessly - my target audience is one of the science exploration stations in Antartica
  • Communicating via IRLP and Echolink through wearable hardware
Old becomes new.  This should be fun!

Monday, August 03, 2015

History Lesson

I'm a student of history.  There is so much to be learned from it.  Today's lesson comes from NASA and relates directly to enterprise software projects.

From 1992 to 1999, NASA launched 16 major missions under the umbrella of the "Faster, Better, Cheaper" or "FBC" program umbrella.  These unmanned space exploration missions included five trips to Mars, one to the Moon, four Earth-orbiting satellites and an asteroid rendezvous.  10 of the 15 missions were great successes, including:
  • The NEAR Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR)
  • The Pathfinder mission to Mars
  • The Stardust mission that collected, analyzed and returned comet tail particles to Earth
The nine successful FBC missions started with tight budgets, tight scopes, and tight schedules. They all delivered early and under budget.

So long as NASA stuck to the core principles of FBC, the program was a great success:  9 missions successfully executed in seven years.  By comparison the Cassini mission, while also very successful, took over 15 years to execute.  And all 10 successful missions were completed for a fraction of the cost of the Cassini mission.  The FBC program came to a grinding halt when NASA strayed from the core ideas that made the program work:  the failed Mars Polar Lander and the Mars Climate Observer came from the latter part of the FBC program.

Let's look at the core principles that made FBC successful:
  • Do it wrong:  Alexander Laufer and Edward Hoffman explained in a 1998 report entitled "Ninety-Nine Rules for Managing Faster, Better, Cheaper Projects" that in order to do things quickly and right, you have to be willing to do it wrong first.  Experience is the best teacher.
  • Reject good ideas:  NEAR project manager Thomas Coughlin had no shortage of well-meaning good ideas for features, parts and functions to add to the spacecraft.   Essentially all stayed on the cutting room floor.  Reject good ideas and stick to your original scope.
  • Simplify and accelerate everything:  the NEAR project used a 12-line project schedule for the entire mission.  That's right - 12 lines.  Progress reports were limited to three minutes.  If we can build spacecraft with a 12-line project schedule, tell me again why our enterprise project schedules run multiple pages?
  • Limit innovation by keeping it relevant.  While innovation is always cool, it's not relevant if it does not contribute meaningfully to your project's objectives.  Shipping something that actually does something well is much better than shipping something built on the newest technology that is complex to use or fails to perform reliably in a multitude of circumstances.
  • You can't inspect quality into the system.  NASA's failure to stick with this principle lead to the poor ending for the FBC program.  To a great degree, the Mars Pathfinder was a success at JPL because the project was so small that it flew under the radar - no significant administrative oversight.  When FBC oversight increased after 1999 at all NASA centers, the successes stopped coming.  You can put the clues together here, can't you?
Do you recognize the themes here?  Simplicity.  Restraint.  Freedom to act and take risks within tight constraints.  The combination led to some elegant and highly successful projects.

And, by the way, the recent New Horizons mission sending us pictures and data from Pluto?  Lots of heritage from FBC.  So, yes, these ideas still work...for missions much more complex than enterprise software.

So, you want to #beat39 with your enterprise software projects?  This history lesson is a great place to start.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Beat 39

Let's start today's thought with a tidbit from the Standish Group's 2013 Chaos Report.  In that report, the Standish Group cheerfully shares that IT project success came in at 39%...cheerful because that is an improvement.  In other words, 6 out of 10 IT projects are failing to meet schedule, cost and quality objectives and we're thinking that's good news.  Yikes!!!

If we look at the numbers in SaaS carefully - regardless of vendor - we see a pretty consistent gap between sales and "go live".  Guess how large the gap is?  Yeah, about 61%.  Arithmetic anybody?  Granted that my access to data is somewhat limited here but, even with my small sample size, it's one of those things that make me "stop and go hmmm".

The upshot?  In the developing space of SaaS, I think we may have all underestimated the level of difficulty in implementing those nifty SaaS applications.  At the very least, it seems like we're missing the boat on how to move from vision to achievement.

Enablement.  SaaS customers need tools that ease the implementation and use of the applications.  And preferably things that scale...inventing the tool every time you tackle the project buys nothing but headaches.  But I think good tools for enablement are the key if we're ever going to "Beat 39".

More on this in later posts.  I think I may be focusing on this for a bit.



Monday, July 06, 2015

Enterprise Software's Life Lessons

Well, I ain't always right but I've never been wrong.
Seldom turns out the way it does in a song.
Once in a while you get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right.
                               - From Jerry Garcia's "Scarlet Begonias"

Somebody asked the other day what I've learned from from 25-plus years of working with, implementing, and developing enterprise software applications.  Kind of a life's lessons thing.  A pretty innocent question, but one that got me thinking.  And the more I thought, the longer the list became. I've been shown the light several times, usually in the strangest places and when I least expected it.  So the list grew to the point that I thought it might be worth sharing.  The list is not organized into subject areas, importance, thought streams, or sand piles.  I just wrote 'em down as I thought of them.

One caveat:  you may get the impression that my perspective here is a little negative...dark even.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I love my job, I love being in this industry, and I love what I do and who I do it with...every day.  But, like much of what we learn, most of these ideas came from painful experiences.  I just wrote 'em the way I learned 'em.


So, without further delay:


  1. The Prime Directive: at no time shall anyone interfere with the natural progression of a project by introducing unnecessarily advanced technologies or over-engineered features.
  2. Nobody buys enterprise applications for the technology.  They buy for desired outcomes…end states.  Everything else is white noise.  The software vendor that best understands those desired outcomes and how to achieve them usually wins the business.  Enterprise software is a set of tools, not a finished house.
  3. If you’re in product management or product development, the most important word in the English language is “No”.
  4. If project success is measured by achieving the originally desired outcomes on time and within budget, enterprise applications projects (both developing and implementing) only succeed 39% of the time.  This stuff is hard.
  5. In the world of SaaS providers, 4 measures matter:  A) subscription revenue growth; B) subscription recurring revenue (often referred to in the negative sense as “churn”); C) percentage of subscription customers who have “gone live”; D) the time from original subscription to “go live” date.
  6. If you’re a consultant, your client will “vote you off the island” more often than not…usually at the next speed bump encountered.  It’s similar to being the manager of a sports team…the team manager’s reign usually ends with termination because something isn’t going right.  Don’t worry about it.  Be as good as you can be at doing what you do, be honest and transparent, and understand that it’s just the nature of the business.  So travel light.  You can’t please all of the people all of the time.
  7. In the SaaS market, good product gets you a seat at the table.  But good service keeps you there.
  8. Usable tools to compliment enterprise applications are just as important as the applications themselves.
  9. There will always be glitches at launch that did not appear in testing.  Keep cool, tune out the screaming, and work the issue.
  10. When estimating a project for internal or external customers, the required deadline is never negotiable.  Someone in leadership stuck that stick in the sand long before you learned about the need.  It’s not changing until it slips.
  11. When estimating a project for internal or external customers, the required budget is never negotiable.  Someone in leadership stuck that stick in the sand long before you learned about the need.  It’s not changing until the need for change is manifested.
  12. Fast, inexpensive, restrained (in scope) and elegant (simple but effective) projects with small teams are much more likely to succeed than projects with big scope, long schedules, bug budgets and big teams.
  13. If you find yourself speaking more than 20 percent of the time in any given exchange, you may want to consider shutting your yap and listening for a few minutes.
  14. If all of your stakeholders can’t describe your project in 30 seconds or less, you have organizational change managements issues to resolve before you can hope to deliver.
  15. Whenever your budget burn rate varies more than 15 percent (plus or minus), you have a problem that must be corrected before it grows worse.
  16. A great user experience is no longer a competitive advantage; it’s simply a requirement for entering the market.
  17. There is a “love cycle” in enterprise software implementation projects.  Early on, it’s a love fest.  The love fest shortly becomes an “us against them, but we’re stuck with each other” atmosphere.  Finally comes the “thank goodness this thing is over.”  The same cycle always applies, whether the project is successful or not.  It’s just a symptom of the stress that comes from taking the risks represented by the project itself.
  18. Packaged integrations out of the box don’t work.  They’ll need revising or rebuilding. Just build it into the plan up front.
  19. Be prepared.
  20. Always, always, always follow the money.
  21. Customizing packaged software is the most difficult and expensive choice.  Be sure you understand what you can accomplish within the functionality of the software before you decide to customize.
  22. Burn your calories where it matters.  Moving buttons on a screen does not change delivery of a desired outcome.  Tweaking a business process might.
  23. Ease of use trumps depth of features every time. Complexity is not a sign of sophistication.  The most important product and project decisions often revolve around what to leave out…minimalism generally breeds success.
  24. When you reveal innovation, you have about a 24-month window before a competitor does it better, faster or cheaper.
  25. When you feel like you’re out of the communication loop, it’s probably to late to do better with communicating - the vote of no confidence has already taken place and you’re on the way out.  So, right from the beginning of any effort, keep in mind that you can never over-communicate.  Listen and talk - it’s the key to gain the confidence of others.
  26. The customer is not always right.  Nevertheless, listen to, empathize with, and guide your customers (in that order)…regardless.
  27. Reporting and business intelligence are best planned earlier rather than later.  And information without context is just data.
  28. Mobile matters:  if you can’t offer productivity from a phone, it doesn’t much matter what else you offer.
  29. A project leader’s influence is inversely proportional to the size of the budget.
  30. If you’re fast because you’re quick, that’s good.  If you’re fast because you hurry, that’s bad.  The former indicates efficiency, while the latter just breeds mistakes.  As famed college basketball coach John Wooden often said:  "Be quick, but don’t hurry."
So, how about you?  Have some pearls of wisdom to share with the class?  Comment away!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Please Sell

Oracle's financial results for Q4 of their fiscal year 2015 came out a few minutes ago.  Seems they missed targets on license revenues and earnings per share.  So the stock may be headed for the professional investor's dog house.  I've even read of an analyst or two publishing a "sell" rating on Oracle stock.

Geez, please sell.  Drive the price down.  I can buy some more shares on the cheap and laugh all the way to the bank.  Let me explain.

First, license revenues shrank.  Gee, no kidding?  Oracle is transitioning away from licensed software to cloud and license revenues shrank?  (insert sarcasm tag here) Better dump the stock before the bottom falls out! (end of sarcasm)

Second, Oracle (like every other tech firm recently) was theoretically dinged by exchange rates.  The dollar fell against the yuan, peso, ruble, ducat, yen, etc.  But currency rates average out...even over the short run.  Take a snapshot after the Greeks and the European Union work out their issues in a few weeks...regardless of how they work it out, bet that exchange rate issue becomes less of an issue.

Third, the name of the game in measuring success in providing whatever-as-a-service is recurring revenue.  You'll compromise margins on new subscriptions to grow share, then work hard to minimize churn...which maximizes very high margin recurring revenue.  So the telling numbers for Oracle's future as a cloud provider:  subscription revenue growth, recurring revenue growth, and recurring revenue margins.  Which I do believe were the high points in the results.

Fourth, the technical fundamentals...which is really the most important factor...are very good.  Solid products with lots of functionality.  I'm not too concerned about Oracle's financial viability as long as they keep producing great products.

So only am I not worried, I'm actually pretty enthusiastic about the results and what they really mean.

So please sell...I'd like to increase my minuscule Oracle holdings.  If enough folks sell, I'll be able to do so on the cheap.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Integration Is Hard

If you know me at all, you know I love services-based integration.  The whole idea of interfacing, moving and exchanging data, guided by industry standards...I'm an enthusiastic supporter.  The appeal of this idea made me an ardent supporter of Oracle's Fusion Applications.  And I still believe it's an important part of the potential for today's SaaS offerings.

So I'll share a secret with you...I really hate services-based integration.  It's hard.  Packaged integrations rarely work out of the box.  SaaS integrations are tough to implement.  Integration platforms are still in their infancy.  Data errors are frequent problems.  Documentation is either inaccurate or non-existent.  Building your own - oy!  Even simple integrations require large investments of blood, sweat, and tears.  And orchestrating service integrations into a business process...agony on a stick.  I personally believe that the toughest aspect of enterprise software is services integration.  SaaS, hybrid, on-premise, packaged applications, middleware...it does not matter, services integration is hard regardless of context.

I see SaaS integration as "hero ground":  there is nowhere to go but up, and even simple wins will create heroes.  Service integrations that really work, simple and easily understood documentation, design patterns, data templates and useable tools... I think we have a ton of work to do.  Because, even though it shouldn't be, integration is hard.