It matters where your SaaS is hosted

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2017-01-16-00_32_50-photosIn the World of Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions the hosting of the application is taken care of for you. You don’t need to worry where your data is hosted, or which company the hosting is outsourced to, right? That’s probably not the case. You’ll want to take careful notice of what happens to your data.

In many cases the company you pay for the service isn’t the one that hosts the servers. An example of this is SAP, who’ve signed a deal to host the SuccessFactors suite on Microsoft’s Azure.

It also appears that Workday might be running DEV and TEST in the IBM Cloud with PROD running in Amazon Web Services.


Finally, Salesforce has been moving their internal infrastructure towards AWS for a while.

SaaS vendors have the choice of either running it on their own Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offering, or outsourcing it to someone else. However, the alternatives are shrinking with another cloud provider announcing that they are closing only last month when Cisco decided to shutter their $1bn Cloud.

Of course, any time the responsibility for the success of the service that you’re buying is split over multiple companies – each with their own priorities – it introduces risk. Everything becomes harder for the SaaS vendor to manage, not just in terms of manpower and automation, but security necessarily becomes more complicated. Also, when the SaaS vendor’s deal with one hosting partner ends and they choose to move to another vendor, your servers and data will need to be transitioned over. These are activities that the SaaS vendor DevOps teams will be involved in that don’t enhance your service at all and that you don’t have any choice over.

The SaaS vendor I’ve not mentioned so far is – of course – Oracle. Oracle makes much of owning the complete stack for running a SaaS application. It has its own IaaS business and manages the hosting of all of its SaaS offerings itself rather than outsourcing it to another company. This is clearly a simpler arrangement with no between-company conflicts, leading to a more efficient and more secure solution.

I think it’s clear why this is important and which vendor has chosen the best approach.

SAP SuccessFactors moving to Azure
Workday Split between IBM and AWS
Salesforce moves to AWS
Cisco Closes its $1bn Cloud

The Shift to Quarterly Updates

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At the start of November Oracle announced that the frequency of the Oracle Cloud Apps application update cycles is changing.

Old – Monthly Updates

Up until now we’ve been working with the monthly update cycle, meaning that on the 1st Friday of every month our test environment(s) get the updates which then flow into Production on the 3rd Friday of each month. The upside of this is that we got our fixes every month, however the downside was that we got our fixes every month! This meant two weeks of testing every month testing and a two week ‘blackout’ period where P2T (Production to Test environment refreshes) could not be scheduled.

So, the calendar would look something like this:


where red days are the Test updates, green days are the Production updates and the purple days are the blackout days. Therefore you could only schedule a P2T on the days that weren’t red, green or purple – which worked out at only 8-9 days per month.

New – Quarterly Updates

We’re now in a world where our updates will mostly come quarterly. Is this a good thing? On balance, yes, it probably is. It certainly means less disruption to customers’ business-as-usual activities, less effort required for testing and it gives more alternatives when trying to schedule P2Ts. The downside is – of course – that the fixes arrive less frequently.

Now the calendar looks more like this:


There are a lot more gaps for P2T refreshes in the new calendar.

But I liked the Monthly Updates …

Oracle have provided a solution for this too, in that if you require monthly updates for a period of time – perhaps during implementation – then you can opt back in to the more frequent release cadence. You can only opt back out to quarterly patches when the next quarterly patch comes around, however, so you can’t just take a single monthly patch.

So, if the quarterly updates are due in February and May, but you want the monthly update in March, then you’ll also have to take the monthly update in April before you can return to the quarterly cadence.

Please note: the infrastructure update cadence (as needed, but approximately quarterly) and the upgrade cadence (once or twice a year) has not changed.

Adoption of the ‘Big 3’ SaaS Suites

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Bill Kutik’s regular handicapping of the ‘big 3’ SaaS vendors is an interesting read. The most recent entry can be found here.

Bill goes through each of SAP/SuccessFactors, Oracle and Workday in turn and gives an update on customer numbers however, I think it’s easier to view in a graph:


Here we can see that SuccessFactors has 1,250 HCM customers (on Employee Central) and 1,900 on their Financials solution (S/4 HANA ERP).

Oracle is slightly ahead with HCM Cloud Core HR customer numbers, and far ahead with ERP Cloud.

Workday is another 50 customers ahead with their HCM offering, but at a fraction of the customer count on the Financials side.

Also worth noting is that Oracle’s figures are from May 2016, SAP’s from Jun 16 and Workday’s from Sept 16, so this direct comparison is probably unfair to SAP and particularly Oracle as they are likely to have gained new customers in the interim.

Larry’s OOW16 Sunday Keynote

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Larry’s Sunday night keynote at OpenWorld is always good value. He’s a rare beast in that he’s a CEO (or now ex-CEO) who can talk the language of the business but also gets the tech behind it. He litters his slide commentary with digs at the competition which is always entertaining too.

So, what were the big ticket items that impact us in the world of Oracle Cloud this year?


In a move clearly aimed at Government departments and companies with stringent security requirements, Larry announced Cloud@Customer.

The service provides the same hardware and software as that which runs in the Oracle Public Cloud, but behind your firewall. It’s managed by Oracle and you don’t pay for the hardware, it’s all part of the subscription pricing. Larry said that it’s the same price as if it were in Oracle’s Cloud too, which would be amazing if that comes to pass as the Cloud is normally significantly cheaper.

My understanding of this is that it’s not ‘HCM/ERP Cloud within your Firewall’, unless you subscribe to Cloud@Customer as infrastructure and then install HCM Cloud yourself.

Cloud Adoption – ERP

Larry also talked about the customer success that the Cloud applications have been gaining, and contrasted it with the competitors.

He showed this slide comparing the breadth of the ERP Cloud functionality vs Workday Financials:


Larry went on to say that ERP Cloud has 10x the number of Workday Financials customers, but that Workday are not catching up – ERP Cloud has twice their growth rate.

These were the numbers and geographic spread as-of the end of Oracle’s Q4, there’s another 200 on top of these now.


Cloud Adoption – HCM

Larry surprised many by announcing that HCM Cloud is selling 2.5x as fast as Workday (900 new customers in FY16, compared to Workday’s 318).


Aggressive Competition with Amazon

Now that Larry believes that the SaaS and PaaS areas of the Oracle Cloud stack are moving along nicely he drew focus onto the Infrastructure as a Service area. He announced that Oracle are going to compete much more aggressively with Amazon in this space, showing some comparisons where Oracle Public Cloud delivers more power for less money than an equivalent AWS instance.

More Tools for Building Cloud Apps

Larry announced more functionality within the Oracle Developer Cloud, including wider language support, more APIs and better integration. He also announced a development platform for extending the SaaS applications without writing any code, which he then went on to demo with a fun chatbot application:


Slick and amusing, it showed a chat based interaction between Larry and the Oracle Cloud (touching on both procurement and HCM). Of course, this is only the next step – voice interaction is the logical next one – however, it’s functionality that keeps Oracle ahead of the competition.

Machine Learning

Some of the OOW announcements are “the product is Generally Available” and some are more of an “it’s in the medium-term future” announcement. Larry’s announcement of Machine Learning AI felt a little more like the latter, however, in the near future we can expect our Cloud applications to apply machine learning algorithms to predict business decisions, such as Optimised Payment Terms in ERP and Best-Fit Candidates in HCM.

The full keynote can be seen here.

Oracle HCM Cloud Executive Forum

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Last night we held Cedar’s annual HCM Cloud Executive Dinner in a lovely restaurant atop the Gherkin, London.

It’s a fantastic setting for an event such as this, and with the late sunset we were able to walk around the top of the building and look out across our wonderful city from all directions – both in daylight and then again once the city’s lights came on.

There were – of course – customers to talk to, but the headliners were quite a coup, an Oracle double-act of David Bowin (Senior Director, Product Strategy) and Tracy Martin (Sr. Director, HCM Cloud Strategy).

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David and Tracy were able to share the ‘inside line’ on the history and future direction of the HCM Cloud and some stories for smoother implementations.


Moving from PeopleSoft to the Oracle Cloud

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Those of you who know me will know that I’m working at Cedar and we’re moving from PeopleSoft to the Oracle Cloud. I won’t talk about the company’s journey, but more how I’ve found the transition personally.

In brief, there’s a lot to learn.

Data Model knowledge

In the PeopleSoft world, once you know the table structures you could work significantly faster. Whether you were writing an SQR, an App Engine, an XMLP report, a migration script, an ad-hoc Query or a piece of page code the source was always the same – the PS tables.

In the Oracle Cloud world the tables are still there, although they’re closer aligned to the eBusiness Suite data model so they’re not immediately familiar to those from the PeopleSoft background. This isn’t the end of the story however, as the raw tables are only accessed some of the time (for instance, during a BIP report). If you’re doing an ad-hoc Query in OTBI then you’ll need to know the Subject Area structure and this is very different from the underlying tables. If you’re writing an HCM Extract then you’ll need to know the UE structures, and they’re different again.

Is this better than what we had in PeopleSoft? These abstractions are good in some respects, for instance OTBI Subject Areas are easier for end-users to pick up than the database tables for ad-hoc querying. But it does mean that for techs there are multiple different data models that you’ll need to learn.

Data Migration

I was never involved in a File-Based Loader migration – luckily it seems – but we’ve used the new HCM Data Loader tool a couple of times now, once for a migration and once for a mass update of existing data (annual salary uplifts). It’s actually quite nice, once you get the spreadsheets setup – and I had a couple of colleagues helping with that – and the data goes in pretty well.

Is this better than what we had in PeopleSoft? Yes, I think it probably is. Many times the code for PeopleSoft migrations was handwritten from scratch and would be thrown away after it was completed. With HDL there’s a lot of re-use and it’s probably quicker to put together too.


In the PeopleSoft world we have three levels of role-based security, the user profile, roles and permission lists, all managed from a handful of pages and covering both page access and data security.

In the Oracle Cloud world it’s a much larger model, with abstract roles, data roles, job roles duty roles, security profiles. Each is managed from a different set of pages in completely different areas of the system. The system is moving in the right direction, as the Security Console does bring some of this into a single place.

Is this better than what we had in PeopleSoft? I’m not sure. I don’t consider myself a security expert in the Cloud yet, and although I can see it’s a larger framework with more moving parts I’m not yet sure whether this is a better thing.

Fixing Issues

In the PeopleSoft world we had a very capable toolset and the access to change whatever we wanted. This could be dangerous as although something ‘could’ be changed, it wasn’t always the case that it ‘should’ be changed. With a little experience it was generally pretty easy to see between these cases however. This generally meant that whenever there was an issue it could be fixed by getting into the code and making some changes.

In the Oracle Cloud world it’s a similar story when it comes to typical tech tasks – migration, interfacing, etc, but it’s a different.answer when it comes to issues with the delivered system. If there is a problem then it’s often the case that you’re helpless to do anything other than raise an SR.

Is this better than what we had in PeopleSoft? I think time will tell here. Everyone is still learning to work together in this area. Our SRs could probably be more detailed in order to prevent a lot of to-and-fro between Oracle and implementation team, and the Oracle support teams are still learning as well, especially as the system is moving target with new releases every 6 months. In general Oracle Cloud fixes get delivered about the same speed as PeopleSoft ones (assuming the client is on 9.2 with Selective Adoption).


Is my life any easier in the Oracle Cloud world? Not yet, but that’s largely down to the amount of time I’ve spent working on the Cloud vs my PeopleSoft experience. I’m confident that I’ll improve – and the product keeps improving at breakneck pace – and I’ll be able to help many more customers make the move.

Cedar’s Oracle Cloud Day 2016 – Recap

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Cedar held its annual Oracle Day in Oracle’s City office last Thursday – it was actually our 6th year of running the event. The attendance was great – just short of 100 – and with 3 streams of content there was plenty to choose from. If you weren’t there, here’s the highlights of the sessions that I attended:

After the opening keynote from Dan Woolstone, Oracle’s James King and myself spoke to a full room on Top 10 Tips for a Successful HCM Cloud Implementation. There was a good mixture in the audience of clients already running in the Cloud and those at some stage of their journey, and we received some great questions.

DD & JK 4
James King and I talk Implementation Success

Swiftly following on was Mike Everitt peeling back the curtains on HCM Cloud R11 and revealing some of the new functionality we can look forward to.

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Mike Everitt: Oracle HCM Cloud Stretches its Lead with R11

Next up was a customer success story from one of Cedar’s recent go-lives – Chubb Insurance. The team spoke about real business benefits from implementing Oracle HCM Recruit (formerly Taleo) and how Cedar and the in-house team worked together to deliver the project within the time-frame. We’re now working with them on a phase 2.

Chubb’s Taleo Implementation Success Story

After networking lunch I went to the payroll stream to listen to Oracle’s Andy Spencer introduce the Oracle Payroll Cloud.

Andy Spencer
Andy Spencer – Introducing Oracle Payroll Cloud

The final session I attended was Merrick Hartslief and the benefits of Oracle Social Sourcing (extending Taleo Recruiting functionality).

Merrick Hartslief
Merrick Hartslief: Candidate Experience Re-invented

Before we all headed off to the pub for some well-earned refreshments and sharing of learnings we all got together for a prize-giving, including an iPad, some champagne, etc:

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Marisa and Simon: Prize Giving

If you missed out and would like to attend next time, please contact