A Deeper Look at the Forrester Wave

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Analysts Forrester released their latest report on the state of the HCM marketplace a few weeks back. Although some may argue that analyst opinions do not necessarily have a 100% overlap with customer opinions, I think they’re good indicators of where a suite is broadly in terms of its competitors. Also – by comparing the relative positions in prior years’ reports – you can get an indication of momentum.

Riding the Wave

Here are the The Forrester Wave™: Cloud Human Capital Management Suites, for 2017 (left) and 2020 (right)

So, in which direction have the large HCM vendors moved?

Oracle HCM Cloud has moved strongly upwards, indicating the maturity, depth and breadth of the current offering. In fact, Oracle scores highest here of any vendor. It hasn’t moved to the right however, which I find baffling as Oracle seems to be innovating heavily on all fronts.

SAP SuccessFactors doesn’t fare so well. It’s drifted quite markedly left and downwards. This probably doesn’t mean the product has worsened, although there is confusion over the direction of their HCM offerings and rumours of integration issues, however it may just mean SAP is not keeping up with the pace of its competitors.

Workday has a mixed result moving down and right, with the strategy being well perceived, but the current offering losing ground when compared against the rest of the market.

Vendor Profiles

As well as the much-shared wave diagram, Forrester profiled the vendors. Here are some of the highlights from the Oracle section:

Oracle has more than 5,000 customers on Oracle Cloud HCM (it also quotes Workday as having 2,900 HCM customers)

Following more than a decade of sustained development, which included major investments in user experience design and the acquisition of Taleo (2012), Oracle Cloud HCM now provides a comprehensive, sophisticated HCM suite … Oracle Cloud HCM is a good option for larger, multinational organizations (more than 5,000 employees) with more sophisticated HCM needs, including those using legacy Oracle on-premises solutions (e.g., PeopleSoft).

They also mention many of the innovations what we’ve all heard are happening across the suite:

  • Campaigns (CRM within Recruiting)
  • Oracle Guided Learning
  • Digital Assistant
  • Experience Design Studio

plus some innovations I’d not heard much about yet:

  • Narrative
  • Pay-in-Advance

The full Forrester report can be downloaded here.

Fusion and Oracle Analytics Desktop

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In this age of moving everything to the Cloud I tend to pay a bit less attention to desktop offerings than I previously used to, however a LinkedIn article from Philippe Lions shared by Santosh Kumar Bhairi about Oracle Analytics Desktop caught my eye.

It’s a product I’d not heard of before, but after a bit of research I discovered it’s a program that allows you to connect into all types of data sources and quickly visualise your data. I downloaded it to give it a whirl.

First, you select the Connection to where your data resides. There are about 50 options, and happily Oracle Cloud Apps is one of them:

Next you build your Data Set. It gives you all of the subject areas in OTBI plus all of the Analytics you’ve built to choose from. It also looks like it lets you enter Logical SQL (although I didn’t try this). It doesn’t appear you can enter raw SQL against the database (yet) however.

Once you select your Subject Area(s) you then select the Attributes and Measures, giving you sample data at the foot of the screen:

Once that’s done, you can start visualising your data. There are some automated / recommended charts, however it’s dead simple to select your chart type and drag the data fields on. Within a couple of seconds I’d whipped up charts showing gender by grade:

And a quick headcount / map chart:

These aren’t very revealing as they’re based off the Vision demo data, however you can get from clicking ‘download’ to generating some pretty nice charts in less than an hour.

I understand that for training and evaluation purposes you can use it for free. Read more about it here.

Quick Expression Language Evaluation

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Expression Language (EL) can be very useful but a little fiddly to use. It can be tricky sometimes to work out what a particular piece of EL code will resolve to.

There are a number of tricks to do this, and one way is to create a simple page showing a listing of known-good EL snippets, e.g.

This above example is created using a Page Integration Wizard page with an HTML Markup area added. Then I inserted a quick HTML table to format the elements using the following code for each row:

<tr><td>UserName</td><td>securityContext.userName</td><td>#{securityContext.userName}</td></tr>

You’ll see above that not all EL snippets resolve, and that because the HTML Markup is in a standalone page. It could just as easily be added to an application page temporarily while you fine tune your EL. If it’s placed within an application page you would be able to resolve ELs that take advantage of page bindings and page flow items.

Solution: BI Issues after Account Rename

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Occasionally, when a Fusion user account is renamed, there is a sync issue that prevents the end-user accessing BI. Sometimes the data gets back in-sync within an hour or so, however sometimes the issue persists.

People get married or divorced and change their surname, or may have a name change for several other perfectly legitimate reasons. So renaming user accounts is an occasional but necessary part of most customer’s business-as-usual function – the only reason it might not be needed is if users log on with their employee id, or similar.

If the user has previously accessed BI using their old account name, after the rename they may either get an ‘Error 500–Internal Server Error’ or may be told ‘You are not currently signed in to the Oracle BI Server’, or may just receive blank output while trying to view BI content.

Previously, the solution was to raise an SR with Oracle and the issue would be resolved, however now Oracle have made available a handy self-service utility so we can sort the issue ourselves. Here’s how it works:

1) Locate the URL for the pod

This will be something like:
https://abcd.fa.em2.oraclecloud.com

2) Create the input file

This will be <old username>;<new username> with one pair per line. e.g.
user1;user10
user2;user20

Save this as a .txt file. Other than the extension the filename isn’t important.

3) Download the rename tool

It can be found here.

Unzip the archive and locate ‘RenameAccts.jar’.

If your version of Java is old (pre-1.8 you may hit issues here).

4) Execute the rename tool

Double click RenameAccts.jar and click OK at the first dialogue.

Fill out the fields in the Rename Accounts Details screen. It’s pretty self explanatory:

For the URL just use the fully qualified domain name from step #1, not anything after the domain.

Once you click Submit it’ll prompt you for a file. Select the one you prepared in step #2.

It’ll then take a little while to process. At least 10 seconds, maybe more depending up how many rows are in the file.

5) Checking the logs

Once it’s done it’ll say that it’s completed, however this does not mean it was successful. You need to check the logs.

Browse to the same directory that the RenameAccts.jar file resides and look for two log files.

RenameAccounts.out – contains details of successful updates e.g.

User :PrevUser is renamed to user: NewUser

RenameAccountsErrors.out – contains details of unsuccessful updates e.g.

Error while renaming user :PrevUser to : NewUser
Account not found. Please see the server log to find more detail regarding exact cause of the failure.

Tip: it does not appear as though the username is case sensitive in the update.

Tip: Oracle also include a PDF walkthrough of this process at this link.

Tip: If the rename has already happened and you cannot remember what the username used to be, then query FND_SESSIONS to locate the username as it was.

Hiding OTBI Root Folders

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A new support doc was released on Christmas Eve last year (which may be why I missed it at the time!) describing how to implement functionality delivered via an Enhancement Request. This functionality gives us back the ability to hide root folders within OTBI.

First, a bit of history. A couple of years ago (in release 18A) Oracle removed the ability for customers to ‘modify the shipped BI catalogue content’. This meant we were stuck with the root folders for all Oracle products, even if a customer only purchased one of them:

Although end users who aren’t report authors / power users shouldn’t really be browsing around the catalogue (see this post: Surfacing Reports to End-Users) it’s untidy and confusing.

Happily, Enhancement Request 28108026 was implemented with Release 19d which allows us to provide a tidier solution to any of users who have BI Consumer but do need access to all folders:

Details on how to implement this can be found in Doc 2412231.1.

Caveat 1: This only works for BI Consumer. Users who have BI Platform Author and BI Administrator still see the full list.

Caveat 2: I’ve not been able to remove the Extension root folder yet and have an SR raised for assistance.

Correct Positioning of Background Images

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One of my favourite parts of any implementation is the branding. Working with the customer’s teams to shape the appearance of the application is often very rewarding. The colour schemes are often pre-set (as there’ll be a corporate style guide setting out the colour palette with strict rules about the situations in which each should be used) however companies can be a bit more creative when it comes to the background image.

Pattern/Abstract Image

If you’re going for a pattern or something abstract, it’s pretty simple. Here’s the latest Redwood branding from the Oracle demos (which actually looks really nice):

We don’t want any gaps showing around the edges if user’s computer screen resolutions are different though (on home or work devices). How do we deal with that? Just make sure the image uploaded is really big. Here’s Oracle’s actual background image with the red box showing what’s visible on my screen:

It’s pretty safe to assume not many will have a screen resolution so large that gaps are showing around the edge of this background image.

Photo Background

Photos are great choices for a background and give a really impressive result. Ideally you want it to sit nicely along the bottom of the screen, but this is tricky to achieve as different screen resolutions invariably mean:

  • some people (with low/small res screens) have the bottom of the photo cut off
  • some people (with high res screens) have a gap underneath the photo

Say this striking building in South Korea was your company HQ and you wanted it as your background.

Photo by hohyeong lee on Unsplash

Depending on the resolution on user’s work and home computers, they might well see one or other of these:

The simple solution is to use a tiny piece of styling code in a simple personalisation to anchor the bottom of the image to the bottom of the user’s viewport – that is, their visible area of the screen. I’m sure there are several ways of doing this, however I favour the CSS background position property.

The result is a background image that sits correctly against the lower edge of the screen:

Cross-Pod Report Links

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In one of the comments (on LinkedIn) for the previous post on Surfacing Reports to End-Users Sricharan Monigari asked:

Good idea.. But with every refresh we will have to redirect the hyperlinks to the right instance else they keep referring to the other instance from where it is being refreshed.. Do you have any solution for it?

Sricharan was cleverly thinking ahead to when the instance containing the dashboard of report links is refreshed over another pod. The report links would still point to the previous pod – which would be confusing at the very least.

Dashboard links to analytics are relative – by which I mean the link does not contain the server or domain info, just the path within the catalogue – and therefore need no changes after a pod refresh:

Dashboard links to BI Publisher reports are different. When you copy the link to the report to embed in the dashboard it is an absolute link, i.e. it includes the fully qualified domain name in addition to the report path. This is what Sricharan had thought about. Thankfully there’s a very easy solution.

The link to embed a BIP in a dashboard might look like this:

https//<server>.fa.em2.oraclecloud.com/xmlpserver/Custom/<folder>/<report>.xdo?<parameters>

To make the links portable across pod refreshes, simply replace the FQDN part of the URL and make it relative, as follows:

../../xmlpserver/Custom/<folder>/<report>.xdo?<parameters>

Then your dashboard will work both before and after refreshes.

Surfacing Reports to End-Users

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We shouldn’t be expecting end-users to navigate the Reports & Analytics catalogue to find reports, especially now the ability to hide folders that are irrelevant to HCM / ERP Cloud has been removed.

The easiest option is to create a simple dashboard (or set of dashboards) containing the reports instead. You can embed the actual report output, however that takes a bit more planning, so a quick solution is to just have links to the reports in sections.

Something as basic as this is a good start, and gives end-users single-click access to reports without having to hunt through the catalog.

If you want to get a little more sophisticated, each section can have its own set of permissions so end-users only see the sections within the dashboard that are appropriate for them.

Creating the page and tile for the dashboard in the application takes a few minutes, and the dashboard itself can be added to incrementally as your report suite grows without needing to re-personalise the page.

Hiding Areas on Shared Sections

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It’s fairly trivial to hide fields/areas on pages by using Experience Design Studio or Page Composer to tweak the visible property. It’s a bit harder when the field/area that you wish to hide is on a shared component, however you only want to hide it on one of the pages it appears on.

In the Responsive ‘Personal Information’ tile we found that the Comments and Attachments section under ‘Add Disability’ was shared with ‘Resignation’.

We still wanted the fields to show on the resignation page, but not on the disability page. How do we achieve this?

Our first thought whenever there’s some conditional logic is to turn to Expression Language (EL). We needed a statement that we could put against the visible property of the fields along the lines of:

when page = Resignation, then visible = true
when page = Disability, then visible = false

So we just needed an EL statement that would allow us to check the page name. After consulting the documentation here we noticed the following:

Unfortunately we couldn’t get #{pageDocBean.title} to return the page title – or anything at all, in fact. Other EL expressions from the same page in the documentation worked (e.g. #{securityContext.userName}), but there were none that provided what we needed.

It looks like we’re not the only ones to hit this issue, as there’s a post on Customer Connect about the same issue.

We gave up on this approach and reverted to using a personalisation to inject a small piece of CSS onto the page.

Within a sandbox and Page Composer we inserted an HTML markup area into just the disability page (where we wanted the fields hidden). We then used Chrome Dev tools to locate the ID of the fields that we wanted to hide, and constructed an HTML snippet thus:

<style>
<div selector goes here> {
    display: none;
}
</style>

It worked perfectly. Sometimes you have to fall back to basic tools and methods to achieve what you need.

A 2nd look at the HCM Gartner MQ

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Towards the tail end of last year the release of the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Cloud HCM Suites for 1,000+ Employee Enterprises caused a lot of excitement. For a number of years Oracle had been positioned behind Workday by Gartner in their Magic Quadrant graph. In 2018 they were approximately level, and then in 2019 – for the first time – Gartner positioned Oracle HCM Cloud as ahead (in that it was the furthest up and to the right on the Quadrant).

This was obviously celebrated by much delighted posting on LinkedIn and Twitter with screenshots of the Magic Quadrant graph itself, and with good reason as it’s a positive message:

With all the delight at now being ‘ahead’ on the quadrant graph itself, I feel that some of the other messages in the narrative of Gartner’s report were missed (and – although there are naysayers about its rankings – it is a very comprehensive report).

The full report is well worth a read, however I’m going to pull out a few of Gartner’s comments that I think are the highlights:

Having closed all major gaps in product breadth, Oracle has more recently focused on innovation in UX, enhancing newer modules, as well as deepening support of hourly workforces. … The product is well suited to MNCs that want a global SOR for core HR and talent processes. During the past few years, Oracle has exhibited a sustained commitment to expanding and deepening its HCM applications.

Strengths

Oracle HCM Cloud’s overall customer reference satisfaction with application functionality is well above average for this Magic Quadrant.

Oracle is one of only two vendors included in this research offering feature-rich platform as a service (PaaS) capabilities. Oracle scored well above average for mobile support, incorporation of emerging advanced technologies and integration of HCM suite with other applications.

Oracle has demonstrated vision and innovation by adding an Experience Design Studio, as well as expanding the use of digital assistants, mobile responsive design and alternative UX.

Cautions

Here, Gartner commented on configuration limitations (and mentions that Experience Design Studio will aide here, but at the time was not fully rolled out). They also mentioned that reference customers are harder to locate outside of North America, UK, India and APAC.

Summary

In summary, it looks like Oracle was adjudged to be in a great position. There were plenty of strong positives and they weren’t called out for any cautions that are as glaring as the competition:

  • SAP – “challenges associated with disparate acquired architectures, such as complex implementations, release absorption and reporting”
  • Workday – “has application functionality gaps relative to its competitors” and “customer satisfaction with the value of the product for the money spent is well below average”

It feels a little like commenting on a school pupil’s report card, but Oracle HCM Cloud has made some large strides forward during the year and this progression is reflected in the results attained.