Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Checking Out Chatbots

I recently spent a day with the Oracle Applications UX team in a Conversational UI for Enterprise SaaS workshop.  Let’s be clear…in the context of this workshop, “Conversational UI” is a spiffy term meaning chatbots for enterprise applications.  Amazing workshop put on by the UX team.  Made even better by including a mix of attendees ranging from neophytes like me up to experienced experts sharing their tips and tricks.

I learned quite a bit about what Oracle is currently doing with chatbots, how to design a chatbot and how to build a chatbot.  I was inspired to the point of staying up all night to build a chatbot from scratch.  Hey, I’m on the road with little to do at night other than stare at hotel room walls, so what are ya gonna do if you don’t geek out?  Some takeaways from the workshop and my own research on chatbots:
  • Messaging apps are growing at insane rates.  For example, consider Facebook Messenger.  It’s used by over 1 billion people every month and is outpacing the growth of Facebook itself.
  • Getting things done with a bot is much faster than working through a website or mobile app.  While websites and mobile apps have to be loaded and navigated, bots load instantly…and people will consistently choose the path that loads the quickest.
  • Bots win on the ease of use front as well.  No navigation needed with a bot…just start the conversation. And…this is key…language is the interface people understand best, and it’s the interface used by a bot.
  • We’re at the very beginning of developing and applying bots.  But think of the potential:  would you rather navigate Amazon’s website looking for red posthole plugs, or simply ask for red posthole plugs and have them shown to you?  There are millions of simply tasks better performed by bots than through a website or mobile app…which could mean that bots will greatly reduce our current reliance on websites and mobile apps.  You can get more of an idea here 
  • Learning to code a chatbot is easy.  Lots of choices for coding languages, along with drag-n-drop IDEs.  I think it took me about 15 minutes to pick it up.
  • While the coding is easy, the underlying logic is not.  Lots of variables in regards to different terms that mean the same thing, providing easy exits to users who find the bot frustrating or unusable for their particular purpose.  Even very simple tasks require some substantial brain power for laying out the logic involved in completing a task through a conversational interface.  We’re talking about some complex decision trees.
  • To keep your underlying logic simple and to keep your users on track, build chatbots for very basic and focused tasks:  open a service request, buy a pair of shoes, add a dependent to an employee’s benefits plan…that kind of thing.
I came away from the workshop with a pretty substantial list of use cases for chatbots in the enterprise.  I’ll just share one example here.  

In the Oracle HCM Cloud Center of Excellence team, we have a group of experts who help strategic customers with technical issues.  We take in requests for their help through the COE Request Applications, which is a service request database created in Oracle APEX.  I’m thinking that a chatbot for creating requests would be a better user experience than the current data entry form that requestors must complete for each request.  So I spent part of yesterday’s workshop creating a low fidelity wireframe for such a chatbot, which I’m sharing here (note the phrase “low fidelity” - no taking potshots at the appearance of a wireframe I put together in about 20 minutes):




The upshot is that I walked away from the workshop pretty excited about chatbots.  And I’m hoping that my takeaways might whet your appetite.  If you want to know more, you can look here.

So I'm admittedly a neophyte beginning my exploration of chatbots.  What about you?  Any experiences?  Feedback?  Thoughts?  Show some comment love and share with the rest of us.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Web Services: REST vs SOAP

I was in the middle of a discussion earlier today about service-based integration for Oracle HCM Cloud.  In that conversation, someone asked me why anyone would ever use SOAP over REST.  My answer was pretty lengthy but, when I was done, someone said I ought to share it on my blog. 

Well, here's the thing:  my thinking on the subject is not original.  I simply communicate fundamentals I learned elsewhere.  And I'm big on giving credit where credit is due.  So when asked about REST vs SOAP, I simply regurgitate the very best summary of REST vs SOAP that I've ever read.  That summary can be found here.  It's a little dated now, having been written in 2010, but it's still accurate.  Feel free to use it yourself.  But do take a moment every now and then to give credit where credit is due.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Notes From Orlando

I thought y'all would appreciate some notes from last week's OHUG conference in Orlando Florida.  So, in no particular order, my observations...
  • The sessions were pretty evenly divided between Oracle E-Business, PeopleSoft and HCM Cloud.  Right around 1/3 of total sessions for each track.
  • The mix of attendees, from what I could tell, were about half HCM Cloud users and half on either EBS or PeopleSoft.  And out of those on EBS or Peoplesoft, about half of them were exploring the transformation of moving to HCM Cloud.
  • Attendance for this year's conference seems a little light; maybe down 10 or 15 percent from prior years.  I'm guessing that was caused by a combination of following so closely on the heels of Oracle HCM Cloud World and the fact that it's always tough for a user group conference to get a big draw in Orlando (I don't know why, just know from experience that it's generally true).
  • I did not run into many decision makers this year...very few upper management executives.  But tons of influencers: people who implement and use the products.  I suspect most decision makers are going to Oracle HCM Cloud World while most of those responsible for executing those decisions attend OHUG.
  • A follow on to the prior point.  Attendees were focused on the fundamentals of implementation and use; "how do I do...".  Not many strategic discussions.
  • You couldn't  walk more than 10 feet without encountering a Taleo session or a hallway discussion about Taleo.  Maybe the top topic of the conference.
  • I tried several times to catch Oracle's Justin Challenger, who ran the conference Report Jam this year.  But every time I tried, he was heads down with a group of users designing reports. So I have to thin that the Report Jam was a big hit.
  • Likewise, the UX Lab was abuzz with activity whenever I stopped by there.
  • When the folks in Orlando say they're going to get rain, they're not messing around.  It rained hard...and usually more than once...every day I was there.
  • There may not be anyone who understands global implementations of HCM Cloud better than Oracle's Jon McGoy.  The breadth and depth of the material he presented, plus his off-the-cuff answers to questions, was pretty amazing.
So, overall, I think the OHUG conference is in the midst of a transition.  First, it's becoming more cloud-centric.  You can see it in both the session tracks and the focus of the attendees.  Second, it's become a "how to" type of conference.  More emphasis on using, integrating, and extending the applications.  Less emphasis on strategic decisions.   Third, the type of attendee is changing.  More influencers and users, fewer decision makers (hot tip:  some folks think that's a good thing).

I'm already looking forward to next year's OHUG conference.  Can't wait to see how the transition continues to shake out.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

OHUG 2017 - What Looks Good To Me

So I’m headed to the OHUG 2017 conference next week.  As it is one of the few conferences I attend anymore, I’m pretty excited about going.  I’m particularly interested in information related to the implementation of Oracle HCM Cloud.  So, in  preparation for the conference, I thought I’d share some events and sessions that look good to me.

First, a few caveats about the following list.   I’m presenting twice myself, so I’m breaking my sessions out as a blatant plug rather than including them on the list:
  • Oracle Human Capital Management Cloud User Experience Extensibility: From Mystery To Magic, Wednesday, 1:45 pm, Salon 1
  • An Update: The Oracle HCM Cloud Solution Library, Friday, 10:15 am, Salon 8
It's worth stating here that, although I'm an Oracle employee, the opinions here and mine and mine alone - this should not be interpreted in any way as official Oracle information or direction.  Nor am I speaking for OHUG in any way.  In addition, keep in mind that I’m focused on Oracle HCM Cloud Applications.  OHUG tracks cover HCM Cloud, PeopleSoft, and E-Business.  As I make my living these days by working on HCM Cloud Applications, I can’t render any opinions on PeopleSoft or EBS sessions…so you will only see HCM Cloud entries on my list.  Also keep in mind that I won’t list SIG sessions:  you know better than I the SIGs you should attend.  But I will say that the SIG sessions are often the best part of a user conference…be sure you don’t miss out.  And finally, some of the sessions I list will have schedule conflicts with other sessions I list.  But that’s an indicator of a great conference…making difficult choices about where to burn your calories. 
 
So, with all that said, let’s get to the list.  Sessions are listed in no particular order.  And, for the presenters that did not make this list…it’s not that your presentation did not look interesting (almost all of the sessions have something that I’d love to check out), it’s just that I’m digging into other subject areas this year and my own focus had definitely driven this list.

Digital HR Transformation  First and Foremost Managing The Challenge of Change
Tuesday
4:45 pm
Salon 12
Product Vision and Roadmap:  Oracle HCM Cloud
Tuesday
3:30 pm
Ballroom
The Current State of Human Capital Management
Tuesday
1:30 pm
Executive Ballroom
User Experience: Best Practices to Ensure a Positive Experience for Candidates and Users
Wednesday
9:00 am
Salon 15

Oracle HCM Cloud Leading Practice - Cloud Rapid Start Implementation with Tools
Wednesday
10:30 am
Salon 12
Meet The Experts:  HCM Cloud Center of Excellence
Wednesday
3:15 pm
Salon 19
How To Get The Best Out of OTBI
Thursday
9:00 am
Salon 12
Cloud Global Deployments - Leading Practices and Things That Make You Go Hmmm
Thursday
11:00 am
Salon 3
Cloud Payroll:  What You Don’t Know Could Hurt You or At Least Your Project
Thursday
2:30 pm
Salon 3
Adopting A Testing Strategy Fit For The Latest Oracle HCM Cloud
Friday
11:30 am
Salon 3
HCM Cloud Extracts Made Easy!
Wednesday
3:15 pm
Salon 9
Decision Is Made:  Going To HCM Cloud. Now, What’s The Best Strategy For Data Conversion?
Friday
10:15 am
Salon 13
Patching - Where’s The Beef?
Thursday
9:00 am
Salon 4

Best Practices in Attracting Top Talent Through Oracle Taleo Cloud Suite
Thursday
9:00 am
Salon 2
Cloud Portal:  Self-Service Management For The HCM Cloud
Wednesday
9:00 am
Salon 3

Note that this information is current as of May 31st.  Dates, times and locations could change at anytime leading up to or during the conference.  Your best bet for staying current is the OHUG application for your phone.

In addition to the sessions, there are a few conference events you may want to consider:
  • Meet The Experts:  a place to meet and chat with the people who build and deliver Oracle HCM products.  Watch the schedule for the times and locations of those you’d care to meet.  I have listed one Meet The Experts session in the above list - the session for the HCM Cloud Center of Excellence.  Oracle’s John Cafolla will be the expert at this particular session.  John has his fingers on the pulse of HCM Cloud implementations around the globe.  If you want to talk implementation, John is your guy.  You can find the full schedule for Meet The Experts here.
  • Report Jam:  Oracle’s Julian Challenger conducts a series of pretty cool workshops focused on building reports using OTBI.  If you have reports you’d like to build or report-related questions, you’ll get a hands-on opportunity to collaborate with Oracle’s best OTBI gurus here.  Sign up for a time slot in advance at the Empire foyer.
  • Usability Lab: you’ll have the opportunity to see and provide feedback on HCM-related features and applications still in development.  Great for getting a sneak peek and influencing future direction of Oracle products.  The Lab only happens on Wednesday and requires signing up in advance by sending an email to jeannette.chadwick@oracle.com.
  • Oracle Support Central:  Bring your toughest HCM-related questions here. Whether it’s HR, Payroll, Benefits, Compensation, Taleo or whatever, this is the place to get answers.

Let’s wrap this up with an invitation from me to you:  if you’d like to get together with me at the conference to talk or ask questions about anything related to HCM Cloud (or if you’d just like to hang out), hit me up on Twitter @fteter.  I'm happy to talk to customers, partners, old friends and potential new friends.  Hope to see you there! 

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Building and Buying

A few days ago, Vinnie Mirchandani wrote on his Deal Architect blog about a new era dawning in IT. The premise of the article is that more enterprises are building more than buying new IT.  As usual, Vinnie made me think.  In this cause, he made me pause and think about what I'm seeing from my worm's eye view of the Oracle ecosystem.

The trend of building new IT is certainly on the upswing.  As part of the HCM Cloud Center of Excellence, we see plenty of customers building things.  But the builds are a bit different these days. Integration, custom applications on PaaS, UX extensions are all standard fare.  Much of it has to do with optimizing the fit between an enterprise and their cloud applications.  Even more so when the enterprise opts for a hybrid cloud approach, mixing SaaS applications with on-premise applications.

But, in my little corner of the Oracle universe, we're also seeing an upswing in buying. SaaS applications and PaaS purchasing is growing.  In the HCM Cloud, we're having issues keeping up with the volume as the buying trend continues this upswing.

So, at least from my perspective, it's an interesting time.  Both the building and buying trends in IT are on the rise. What are you seeing?  Let us know in the comments.

Monday, April 17, 2017

HCM Cloud R12 - 3 Cool Things

Just to give y'all a taste for HCM Cloud R12 as it rolls out, here are 3 new features I find really cool.

1.  Home Page with Quick Actions 



The coolness here comes from being able to easily initiate an action without requiring the user to have any knowledge of the application structure, navigation, or work area organization.  Simply find what you want to do and do it.  And, for the security geeks out there, access control is based on functional security for roles.

2.  Personalized Email Notifications



This is a feature folks have been requesting for some time:  personalizing email notifications.  You can apply your brand and preferred content as well as...wait for it...define custom templates for life cycle events.  And the scope of approval/rejections and requests for more information has been expanded for R12.

3.  UX Consistency Across Devices



For a long time, we've been working toward user experience ("UX") consistency across devices; the idea that the cloud is a platform that works the same way regardless of the device used for access.  We've nailed that concept in R12.  Look, feel, and work processes across devices are as consistent.  Your desktop, your laptop, your tablet, your phone...use what you want wherever you are.  The UX will remain the same.

So there you have it...3 cool things about R12.  You have others?  Tell us about them.  Find the comments.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Oracle HCM Cloud Extensibility - The Easiest Win

I've been doing quite a bit of work lately with Oracle HCM Cloud user experience extensibility...presenting, helping partners and customers, etc.  Seems like a hot subject of late, with lots of folks wanting to know more.  So let's get into it a bit.

Working in the Oracle HCM Cloud Center of Excellence, I see quite a few opportunities for wins that come up repeatedly.  You know what kind of win I mean: something that's easy to do and scores big points with your customer/boss/fellow users.

The one I see with almost every HCM Cloud implementation is actually pretty simple to deliver:  an organization wants to extend the user interface appearance and structure.  You'll hear requirements like the following:

  • Appearance:  We want the UI to reflect our brand and identity (which typically means show our logo and use our color scheme).
  • Structure:  We want the home page (aka springboard) to show actions and information in a structure relevant to the way we work.  The structure out of the box doesn't fit us.
  • Text:  We have our own terminology and we want that terminology in the UI.

So you'll hear about one or more of these types of requirements.  And they're important to that organization - sometimes they're deal breakers.  And the solutions are easy to deliver.  Most can be delivered and ready for review in 15 to 30 minutes.  Let's take each of these use cases individual and walk through how it works.

Appearance


As an administrator, I can define the logo, background image, icon style, and color scheme here.  Note that I can pull both the logo and the background image from a URL, which may eliminate the need to recreate the image altogether.  Even better, with the exception of the logo and image URLs, you can utilize drop down lists for your entire appearance design.


And yes, as a matter of fact, you can see the colors before you make your choices.


Easy peasy.  Responsive to the device you're using for access...including some nifty enhancements for your phone in R12, like this:



Structure


Editing the UI information and action presentation structure in HCM Cloud is pretty simple.  You're presented with a list of information and action choices.  Do you want it visible for all roles or a particular role?  Do you want it visible on the Welcome Springboard (aka the home page)?  In what order to you want the visible items to appear? 


By the way, you can also click on the Names to drill down make edits to lower-level pages.  You can also create new pages from here.  So you are the master of your structure.

Text


In all honesty, Text is so easy that there is no need for a dedicated administration page.  That Structure administration page just above?  Click on the Name and make your text edits.  Done.  Or drill down to the appropriate page and make your text edits.  Done.  Now you've included terminology specific to an organizational culture.   That's one change management issue you can cross off the list.  No fuss, no muss.  Done.

So, with a little bit of effort, you can move the UI from something like this:



... to something with a little more corporate and seasonal context like this:



A Few More Thoughts


First, because I know you're going to ask, the changes we've discussed here survive upgrades for the most part.  I've seen a few glitches regarding text changes, but they're easily fixed without much effort.

Second, I know this all appears to be pretty easy stuff.  But you'd be amazed how often I find myself helping customers and partners in tailoring their Appearance and/or Structure and/or Text.  So it seemed like a good idea to share some of this here.  So now you know.

Third, note that all the screen shots of changes I've made are deployed to a sandbox.  Best practice, folks...deploy to a sandbox, let the customer/end users review (and rest assured they'll change it a bit), and deploy to production after you obtain approval.

UI extensibility is the easiest win...small effort leading to big value for your users.  And this is about as easy as it gets.

As always, your comments are appreciated.  Let me know what you're thinking.