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The Redwood UI

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There has been an unnecessary amount of concern about the new UI which arrived / is arriving in 20C (depending upon which wave you’re on). Admittedly the wording of the announcement probably hasn’t helped (calling it the new default UI is technically true, but does raise worries). For those already on 20C you’ll already know most of this, but for the others here’s what you need to know.

What is the Redwood UI?

Redwood is the new user interface to Oracle Cloud Apps. If you’ve seen any Oracle presentations or their website since OpenWorld last year it’ll be immediately familiar – a really quite stylish and softer look with African/Oriental/Aboriginal influences and more natural tones than the bright red that Oracle used to use everywhere.

Why are people confused?

The announcement said that Redwood replaces the default theme. This panicked some clients into thinking their carefully crafted, corporate theme was going to overwritten. That isn’t the case of course.

If you have customised the theme you’re using, Redwood will be added as an option that you can select, but will not change the theme in use.

It’s only if you are using an unmodified version of the Sky Blue theme will you be automatically changed. Pretty much everyone will have at least changed the logo and saved as a new theme so will be OK.

Things were confused a little further as some of the documentation for Redwood also touted the benefits of the Newsfeed/Responsive UX. We should all be using Newsfeed already so this shouldn’t be new to us so to mix this in too was a bit superfluous.

Branding Redwood

If you like the look of Redwood but want to give it a flavour of your own organisation you can, but your options are much more limited than if you chose one of the other Newsfeed themes. You can change the logo and background, that’s it – and even then it says they’ll be “Redwood-ised” with a Redwood colour overlay.

Replacing the logo works just fine (although you are instructed to use a monochrome version to maximize readability and accessibility). I tried swapping the background however and it didn’t work, so I think there are still some wrinkles to iron out. Or at least it only changed the cover image, not the background:

To me it had the feel of a theme that has been designed for Oracle to do attractive demos and isn’t quite so geared to customer pods – at least not yet.

I suspect you could change the background with some CSS cleverness but I haven’t tried this yet.

Is that everything?

Nearly. Even if you remain on your custom not-Redwood theme you may notice some new icons creeping in that weren’t there before. I’ve not seen any information on this from Oracle so this may be an undocumented change. They do look to have the Redwood style to them, so it looks like we get these regardless of the theme chosen.

If Shooting Stars, Ice Creams and Birds Nests aren’t your thing there’s an idea lab suggestion to give us the option to revert if required. Find it here.

Oracle Cloud Project Management Practitioner

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A couple of months ago Oracle announced they’d be releasing a Project Management certification alongside the wealth of technical and functional certifications already available. This caught my eye as having a certified PM is now a requirement for any of the new Cloud Service track Expertises. For example, for a partner to achieve the Oracle HCM Global Human Resources Cloud expertise as a minimum you’d need:

  • 2x Implementation Specialists
  • 1x Cloud Solution Architect
  • 1x Support Specialist
  • 1x Project Manager
  • plus customer satisfaction surveys etc.

There are a number of options to satisfy the ‘certified Project Manager’ requirement (Prince 2, PMP, Scrum Master etc) however Oracle’s new Cloud Project Management Practitioner certification is also an option so I thought I’d give it a go.

The course content is available to consume in a number of ways. The best is obviously the live sessions, however I struggled to attend these as they’re during the working day. Thankfully the content is available to review at your leisure – both session recordings and the content PDFs – so it’s not difficult to catch-up when you have the time.

Once you’ve absorbed all the material it’s then time to give the exam a go. It’s not an easy one either. The content obviously covers Project Management fundamentals – with a slant towards the Cloud – which is what you’d expect. I enjoyed the sections on the Cloud Delivery Framework and the High Impact Cloud Knowledge Areas (HICKAs).

What caught me out is that the content is across all of Oracle’s Cloud offerings – so while I was perfectly happy answering topics around implementing Oracle’s SaaS offerings, and some of the PaaS offerings around OIC and OAC – the IaaS, MicroServices and DevOps topics were completely alien to me.

I therefore had a bit of learning to do, e.g.

  • What are the scoping considerations when lifting and shifting Seibel CRM to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure?
  • What is a collection of tags/branches Git and Maven repositories?
  • Is a key consideration of a move and improve project to OCI whether the application is certified for ADW?

Once I’d learnt enough to differentiate CI/CD from CASB and MV2ADB from Maven I was all set to give it a go. The test itself is a bit of a monster – 90 questions from a bank of about 300 – so it takes a while and you’ll get a totally different set each time.

I just missed out on my first attempt (60%, when the pass mark is 70%) however after taking a few days to revise my weak areas I gave it another attempt and happily passed. I now have a new badge:

Thanks to Sarkis Kerkezian and team for the great initiative.

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.

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.

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.

Duck-Typing and a Homepage Warning for IE11

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During a testing phase on one of our current clients we encountered an issue where some HCM Cloud pages weren’t displaying correctly to users who used the Internet Explorer browser.

This presented us with a problem, as Microsoft no longer really support IE11 (recommending Edge instead) and some users weren’t even on the latest release, having versions as far back as IE6 – which has been outdated for at least 15 years. With it not being supported by MS it’s not fair to expect Oracle to fix the issue. We cannot force all users away from IE as although the company could mandate a more modern default browser via AD group policy we cannot control what users choose to have on their personal laptops.

So it was decided that we would still allow users with IE11 and prior versions to access HCM Cloud, but to place a warning on the homepage to inform them that they’d get a better experience on a more modern browser. We obviously don’t want to trouble users of other browsers with this message however.

Identifying Browsers / Duck-Typing?

A little research on identifying browsers via Javascript led me to understand that checking the browser’s user agent string is not reliable. The best-rated solution on Stack-Overflow uses a technique amusingly called duck-typing. This uses a duck test—“If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck”—to determine if an object can be used for a particular purpose. In this case, instead of querying the browser user agent (essentially expecting the browser to accurately describe itself), duck typing tests how the browser behaves. If it behaves in the way we know IE browsers behave, then it must be IE etc.

Here’s the Stack Overflow answer.

Displaying a warning for only Internet Explorer users

Now we can identify IE users, we need to display a message to them.

First I decided where the warning would look best, deciding on just below the welcome greeting. I copied the name of this div for later use.

Within a Sandbox I used Page Composer to edit the springboard. I added an HTML Markup object and named it ‘IE11 Warning’.

Within the HTML Markup I added content that contained some javascript that appended to the greeting div with the warning only for users that we’d identified as IE11 via duck-typing.

The End Result:

It works a treat, displaying for IE users and not for anyone using other browsers.

IE11 warning

Oracle’s Q4 Results and a hidden gem

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Oracle posted some storming Q4 results last week, beating both Safra Catz’s own guidance and analyst expectations. Total Quarterly Revenues were $11.1 billion, up 1% in USD and up 4% in constant currency compared to Q4 last year.

Oracle CEO, Safra Catz said “Our high-margin Fusion and NetSuite cloud applications businesses are growing rapidly, while we downsize our low-margin legacy hardware business. The net result of this shift .. to cloud applications was a Q4 non-GAAP operating margin of 47%, the highest we’ve seen in five years.”

That all sounds very healthy.

Oracle CEO, Mark Hurd continued with “Our Fusion ERP and HCM cloud applications suite revenues grew 32% in FY19.”

Again, this sounds positive. Others, such as Diginomica, highlight the mentions of recent wins from competitors, including Diebold Nixdorf (from SAP), Helmerich & Payne (from Epicor), Tiffany and Experian (from SAP/Microsoft).

This is also a very good sign. This is where most of the reported coverage finished however. There was a hidden gem at the bottom of Oracle’s press release that I haven’t seen highlighted in many reports. Mark Hurd also said:

These strong results extend Oracle’s already commanding lead in worldwide Cloud ERP. Our cloud applications businesses are growing faster than our competitors. That said, let me call your attention to the following approved statement from industry analyst IDC:

Per IDC’s latest annual market share results, Oracle gained the most market share globally out of all Enterprise Applications SaaS vendors three years running—in CY16, CY17 and CY18.

Very interesting indeed …