Thursday, April 16, 2020

Tech and Social Isolation

We're living through some uncertain times these days.  I keep trying to draw historical parallels in the hope of finding some pearls of wisdom for dealing with COVID-19...

As a very young boy, I can remember stories from my grandparents about living through the Spanish Flu epidemic from 1918 to 1920.  And I can’t help but draw parallels with today’s COVID-19 pandemic, especially the social isolation required to combat the spread of both viruses.  But I also contemplate the one huge difference:  today’s ability to use technology to keep work going, help others and to keep in contact with those we care about.  Some examples:

  • Even with three-quarters of the world’s population under shelter-at-home directives, we’re still able to deliver Office Hours for Responsive UX to audiences averaging roughly 200 attendees. Even better, many Oracle customers are making the switch while their entire workforce is working remotely.
  • My wife is building and donating effective respiratory masks.  After researching the material 3M uses to make their N95 masks, Marlene developed a mask pattern for full facial respiratory masks.  She cuts the masks (made entirely out of the N95 filter material) on her Silhouette Cameo 4 (a programmable material cutter) in bulk and then sews on the elastic straps.  She has provided masks to family, friends, health-care providers, law enforcement and local hospitals.  And she has also provided kits with cut material, elastic bands, and instructions for those who can sew. 
  • A close friend's family celebrates Easter, typically by gathering for an Easter feast.  This year, they all cooked at home and gathered via Google Duo for a virtual family feast.  A gathering made possible by technology.

I’m not sure how those folks back in 1918 survived the separation with their sanity, but I am certainly grateful for the blessings technology brings in the face of today’s social distancing!

Tell us how you're using tech to keep things going while sheltering in place.  The comments await!

Monday, February 17, 2020

When Less Is Best

Late in 2019, Apple obsoleted my trusty iPad Mini II.  No more OS updates, may not run the latest apps, etc.  So I figured it was time for a new iPad... right up until the time I saw the prices. Yikes!!!

The expense of a new iPad, even a Mini, made me step back and reconsider my approach.  I started by considering my uses of the iPad.  I don't really create much with an iPad - it's just too limited for the type of work I do. And I don't communicate much with it, as I have an iPhone for calls, txt, and video chats. I use my iPad to consume:  books, movies, social media and news.

Once I understood my own use cases for the iPad, I realized I could fill my needs with a much less expensive device.  I settled on an Amazon Fire HD 8 (thanks to my kids for the nifty Christmas present).  And it works great for what I do, especially after setting it up to side load from Google Play.  My old Mini has been retired to a life as a digital photo frame and I'm really happy with the Fire.  Is the Fire as elegant of an experience as the Mini?  Not by a long shot.  But it gets the job done quite well.  And, at last check, the Fire is about 20% of the price of a new iPad Mini.  A great example of less being best.

I see this quite a bit in the way users work with enterprise applications - in my specific case, observations are from helping customers with Oracle HCM Cloud Enterprise Applications.  Users expend significant costs in terms of time and labor facilitating some very complicated use cases, many of which are either unnecessary or rarely encountered.  When we collaborate with those customers on those use cases, the end result is often that less is best.  Often they're focused on a specific use case because they have not considered another process for getting the job done. Other times it's a matter of the use case not being as critical to the business as originally thought.  And sometimes it's due to a legal or industry requirement that no longer exists.  And there are many more causes.  But it always makes my day when the lightbulb comes on and people realize they can make do quite well with much less than they originally thought.

I've seen this surface frequently in working with customers on the mobile-enabled Responsive UX.  Simplification was a driving design concept in building out Responsive UX, which means some less used and less important features were culled from the product.  Less is best, based on the feedback we've received from customers who have adopted the new UX.

So the upshot here?  Step back, take a breath, and think about how you use your enterprise apps.  Can you find instances where less would be best?  I'll bet you find more than one.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Blowing Out Barriers

I was chatting with a new friend last weekend.  Turns out we're both in the enterprise apps business: I work for Oracle on HCM Cloud apps while he works at a small start-up building and selling a warehouse management system.

While we were chatting about the biz, we got into SaaS and Cloud.  My friend made a statement I really want to share:  "Cloud blew out all our barriers to entering this marketplace; we wouldn't be in business without Cloud."  When I pressed him on this, he made the following points:

  • Our entire development platform is cloud-based; no on-prem servers whatsoever
  • We track our bugs and manage our development cycles with JIRA
  • All our accounting, HR, and sales apps are SaaS with providers focused on SMB customers
  • We don't even have internal email - we have a Slack channel
  • Our product is SaaS-based and runs on two IaaS partner platforms.  Our SMB customers would not be able to afford the infrastructure required to run on prem.
  • Most of our user documentation is visual and chart-based.  Our off-shore team uses LucidChart to build that stuff. 
After hearing all this, I expressed that my mental image of his company was a small group of people in a local office sitting around a conference table with laptops and cell phones.  He corrected me:  5 people in North America, developers in Vietnam and documentation team in India - no brick and mortar offices anywhere.

I walked away from the conversation thinking: "Isn't this cool?  These guys have leveraged the cloud to build a product startup about to break into 9-digit revenue (in U.S. dollars) with zero infrastructure.  These guys get it."

This has always been the promise of the Cloud: do business without large capital investments.  It was just neat to experience yet another example of this promise fulfilled IRL.

Tell me again why you're running on-prem enterprise apps?

Monday, December 23, 2019

I See Systems

Working in enterprise software has changed my perspective on the world around me... I see everything through more of a systemic lens.

My wife recently had knee replacement surgery.  World-renown surgeon performing the surgery.  But being done at his 2nd choice of hospitals due to limitations of our health insurance policy.  Good hospital, but not his hospital of choice.  Like everything else involving health care in the U.S., it's a money thing.

The surgery was originally scheduled for Friday, December 13th but postponed until Monday, December 16th.  On the 16th, we were requested to arrive at the hospital at 11 am for a planned surgery of 1 pm.  But the surgery did not begin until 6 pm.  At this point, I'm thinking that these guys have no idea about linear programming and managing their supply chain.

While my wife was in surgery, I was directed to a "Surgery Waiting Room".  The room allegedly had an attendant and a television screen for monitoring patient status during surgery.  When I entered the waiting room, I immediately noticed the attendant's desk was unoccupied.  Seems that the attendant's shift ends at 5 pm - those waiting on surgeries beyond 5 pm are asked to answer the phones on a volunteer basis.  The idea being that surgical staff will call the waiting room to update family and friends when surgery is completed, and to alert those waiting that the surgeon is on the way up with a more detailed debrief.  So, being the volunteering type, I sit at the attendant's desk and start answering the phone.  After about three incoming calls, I notice a trend - no friends or family in the room to receive the updates.  And I'm also noticing surgeons coming into the room looking for friends and family who are not there.  I put the phone to use and make a few inquiries within the hospital - and discover that there are three surgery waiting rooms in this tower alone (the hospital in question has seven towers).  Neither the surgical staff nor the surgeons have any idea which waiting room contains friends and family for any particular patient, as they have no waiting room check-in function.  So they're literally hunting for the pea under any one of three shells as they go from waiting room to waiting room searching for friends and family of a particular patient.  Low-key chaos.

Another observation from the surgical waiting room:  the status screen showing patient status is listed by case number rather than patient name.  I did not have a case number for my wife's surgery.  And a quick survey of the folks in the waiting room indicated that none of them had a case number either.  So the status screen was useless to those of us waiting on surgical outcomes.  During the next few incoming calls from surgical staff, I asked for case numbers.  But the surgical staff had no idea of the case numbers either.  What in the world?

Fortunately, the surgery went well, the outcome was positive, and Marlene is now home working through the long recovery process.

After rolling the surgical experience over in my head, I decided to view this experience as a systemic failure for this particular hospital.  Lots of good people with lots of energy all trying to do the right thing, but nobody has tied it all together.  So how might I suggest improving things from a system point of view?

First, I'd establish personas:  the patient, the family member/friend of the patient, the surgical staff member, the attendant, the pre-op nurse, the surgeon, and so on.  Then I'd walk through the entire process, from the time a patient walks in the door until they leave post-op recovery.  And I'd do it for each persona.  Essentially build a systemic "As Is" flow.  Then design how we want things to work, review the changes with the people doing the work, then implement.

Sounds a bit like an enterprise applications implementation project, doesn't it?  Well, enterprise applications are all about implementing systems.  Like I said, working in enterprise software has changed my perspective of the world around me...

How about you?  Ever have a similar experience?  Healthcare?  The DMV? Retail returns?  Sound off in the comments about your experience and how you'd approach a fix.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Changing Up On BYOT

So if you're tired of the same old story, 
Oh, turn some pages
I will be here when you are ready
To roll with the changes, yeah, yeah

                  - From REO Speedwagon's "Roll With The Changes"

It's a bit of a milestone for my employment with Oracle today.  For the past 7 or so years, I've been a "Bring Your Own Toolbox" (aka "BYOT") kind of guy:  my own laptop, my preferred software applications, my library of virtual machines, my setup of development tools, etc.  That's mainly because I could get better results faster with my own toolbox than with the tools my employer provided.  An example of this is the Toshiba Tecra laptop running Windows 7 that I was issued at the start of my current employment.  It's made for a fine doorstop, but not much else.

My approach changed today.  I have a spiffy, brand-new MacBook Pro provisioned and configured by Oracle.  In fact, I'm writing this post on that very machine.

When Oracle offered the MacBook Pro, I decided to give it a try because it's a superior hardware platform to my MacBook Air.  Better hardware performance was the enticement.  I was even willing to put up with the inconvenience of accommodating the USB-C ports (4 of those and a headphone jack are all you get on the 2019 MacBook Pro).

On the downside, I no longer entirely control the configuration of my work platform. For one thing, I'm not a big fan of McAfee Endpoint Security for macOS due to the performance suck.  And I can't run Little Snitch on the Pro to see what services and connects are active.  So I'm a little concerned about the impact to my productivity.  And that's why I still have my own work platform running in my office right next to the new MacBook Pro ;)

As I've said in the past, I really believe in the BYOT approach.  So this will be an interesting test as to whether or not that approach makes sense in this situation, especially in an "all cloud all the time" world.  I'll check in here every once in awhile to let y'all know how it's going.

In the meantime, how do you approach this?  Do you bring your own tools and devices to your job?  Or do you make do with what your employer gives you?  Why have you made the choice you've made?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

What Looks Good To Me: Oracle OpenWorld 2019

As I write this, we're a week away from Oracle OpenWorld 2019.  And, as always at OOW, there are a flood of sessions, events and gatherings that compete for your attention.  So I thought I'd share some thoughts on what looks good to me.  Keep in mind that my current focus is Oracle HCM Cloud Applications, so I'll be limiting my shared thoughts to that subject area.

Needless to say, the executive keynotes and the HCM Cloud Roadmap sessions are high points.  For the most part, I won't be calling those out here even though I personally plan to make as many as I can.

For starters, note that I'll be hosting or co-hosting several sessions myself:

You'll note that the first two sessions have the same title.  Here's a pro tip for OOW 19:  look at the first three letters in the Session Number.  TRN indicates a presentation, while CLS means more of a round-table discussion gathering.  You'll see I'm mostly doing round-table discussions.  And I'm pretty happy about that, as I prefer conversations over more structured presentations.

For the remaining list, I limited myself to the top 15 sessions that look good to me.  Your interests may be different.  And it's also worth stating explicitly that, while I'm an Oracle employee, my opinions and selections are strictly my own:

So that's my take on the 15 most interesting looking HCM Cloud Applications sessions at OOW 19.

One more thing:  I'm hoping to meeting with lots of customers one-on-one.  Especially those customers interested in Oracle HCM Cloud's mobile responsive Newsfeed UX or automated functional regression testing.  If you're attending OOW 19 and you would like to meeting, ping me on Twitter @fteter and we can set up a meet.  Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

New Admin Pages

As you all know, I've been deep into the new mobile responsive Newsfeed UX for Oracle HCM Cloud since last year.  And, like most everything else in a continuous service delivery model, new features and functionality have been rolling out incremental with each new update.  And the latest update, 19C, continues that trend.

One of the big changes in 19C is the uplift of administrative pages (aka professional landing pages) to the Newsfeed UX look and feel.  It's coming to all users, regardless of whether you're still using the classic Simplified User Interface or the new mobile responsive Newsfeed UX.  For customers still on the classic UI, this provides an opportunity to dip your toes in the water with Newsfeed UX without any configuration effort.  For those customers already on Newsfeed UX, this makes the look and feel of the administrative pages consistent with all the other pages.

Here is a before and after screen shot example so you can get a feel for what I'm talking about:


Personally, I've found that the Search feature at the top of the page in the new layout is really handy.  I don't need to scroll or try other navigation - just search for what I need.  Nice cool factor for ease of use.

This brings me to a really important point:  if you are an Oracle HCM Cloud customer who has not switched to mobile responsive Newsfeed UX, I have to ask why not?  It is Oracle's strategic direction going forward - we're releasing more and more new functionality that ties into Newsfeed UX.  So the longer you wait, the further behind you fall on benefiting from that new functionality.  Is that really where you want to be, burping and chirping behind the curve while the rest of your industry grabs the gains of those new features?  Just a thought... you can always sound off with your own perspective in the comments.