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.
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.
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.
After networking lunch I went to the payroll stream to listen to Oracle’s Andy Spencer introduce the Oracle Payroll Cloud.
The final session I attended was Merrick Hartslief and the benefits of Oracle Social Sourcing (extending Taleo Recruiting functionality).
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:
If you missed out and would like to attend next time, please contact email@example.com
HCM Data Loader (HDL) data ready to load into Oracle HCM Cloud is in pipe separated text file format, however most people will create and manipulate these files in MS Excel as it’s the handy swiss-army-knife for data manipulation that almost everyone is familiar with.
The way that we’ve worked is that we create template files containing the sheets and columns corresponding to the fields that the client is using, which the client then populates, then we’ll validate and load into HCM Cloud. Although we use the Data File Validator for HDL as a final pass, most of this validation is first performed in Excel.
Some of this validation is basic (checking for trailing spaces, making sure the provided values are valid in the lookups etc) and some is slightly more complex, eg. looking at consistency across templates. It was whilst doing the latter today that I colleague and I came across a tip that we didn’t previously know.
How VLOOKUP almost works
My normal method of looking up a value in a table elsewhere in Excel is to use the VLOOKUP function. It’s quick, easy and has saved us from countless data issues by spotting problems early. There’s a problem however, which I’ll explain, and provide the solution.
A simplified example is Banks and Branches. First we obtain the list of valid Banks, then we check the list of Bank Branches to make sure that the Bank operating each Branch appears on our list of Banks.
On the left here we have the list of valid Banks in column B, and a text string in column C saying ‘OK’. This is the value that gets returned if the bank matches. (This is a heavily simplified example, the genuine data would have many thousands of branches to check.)
On the right we have the list of Branch owners to lookup against the list on the left.
By using a formula we want to check each of the banks in column E is somewhere in the table on the left. So we use:
=vlookup(<bank to check>, <table of valid banks>, <column to return>, FALSE)
which translates to this for the first cell:
This works a treat, giving the following results:
We can clearly see which branches are run by banks on our list and which are not.
The reason that this sometimes fails is VLOOKUP isn’t case sensitive. Looking up the value LLoyds in the valid banks table would result in a match (despite the second upper case L), however it would obviously fail when we tried to load the data in using HDL.
The method that I now use is a ‘Lookup Exact’. It combines two Excel functions (surprisingly, LOOKUP and EXACT) to give a case sensitive equivalent to VLOOKUP (with the added benefit that the lookup table doesn’t need to be sorted alphabetically).
The formula has the syntax:
=LOOKUP(1,1/EXACT(<table of valid banks>, <bank to check>), <values to return>)
which translates to this for the first cell:
And if I add this to column G we can see that it looks up perfectly against our table, correctly identifying even those in the wrong case (where vlookup in column F fails us).
To give credit where due, I didn’t create this Excel function. It is well explained in this YouTube video:
The ‘Year in Blogging’ reports have come through so I can see what posts and newsletter items garnered the most views.
The Fusion Tipster Blog
So, according to the summary, the most popular post was Introducing OTBI-E, followed by What’s Coming in Taleo 14B, and then the posts on specialisation. Of those, only the former was written in 2015, with the other two coming from 2014. The other popular posts written in 2015 were Storyboarding with Oracle and Microsoft Edge and the Oracle HCM Cloud.
About 40% of the traffic is from the US, 20% from India, and 15% from the UK and smaller amounts from Brazil, Canada and Australia.
The Fusion Weekly Newsletter
The Fusion Weekly newsletter subscriber base rose from 174 to 216 during 2015 which is an approx 20% increase. The ‘open rate’ sits around 40% for any one issue (against an industry average of 17%) with the US and UK each accounting for 35% of readers, and India 9%.
Interestingly, the Fusion Weekly readers are a lot more likely to read on a mobile than the PeopleSoft Weekly readers (32% vs 22%).
The top articles in terms of clicks were:
- Compare Oracle HCM Cloud to Workday (45 clicks)
- BT’s Journey from PeopleSoft to Oracle HCM Cloud (31)
- Gartner on Picking between SAP, Oracle, Workday (30)
- Oracle vs Workday (28)
- Spotlight on HCM Cloud R10 (26)
- Hakan Biroglu’s Tips & Tricks for a succesful implementation (24)
- Histography (22)
- Continue Learning Post-Oracle OpenWorld (22)
- HR in the cloud, is it secure? (21)
- Dennis Howlett’s Oracle OpenWorld Verdict (20)
- Is it really cheaper to put your HR system in the Cloud? (20)
- Why Workday is Tumbling (19)
- Seven Ways to Compare the Enterprise HCM ‘Big 3’ (19)
- 10 aspects you should consider before selecting a SaaS solution (19)
- Oracle is quietly becoming a cloud giant (18)
- HCM Data Loader Overview (18)
- Enterprise Software’s Life Lessons (17)
- The real-life Doppleganger (17)
- Back Stretch of the HCM Horse Race (17)
- The 10 Most Valuable Features of HCM Cloud R10 (17)
Although there had been many analyst and Oracle ACE briefings for much of the preceding week, Sunday night was the ‘proper’ opening for Oracle OpenWorld 2014. It kicked off with Larry’s first keynote of the conference. (He traditionally does two, however skipped the second last year to watch the thrilling finale to the 2013 America’s Cup.)
His hour long address was given over exclusively to the cloud. Here’s a summary of the important points for those in the Oracle applications marketplace.
Layers of the Cloud
There are of course many layers within The Cloud … the Applications sit at the top level (Software as a Service), however there’s also the platform beneath this (Platform as a Service), and the infrastructure at the bottom (Infrastructure as a Service). Oracle is moving to being a company that can offer the complete stack of cloud services to the enterprise. Larry’s first big point was that Oracle is the only company that can do all three layers.
It’s an interesting – although to a certain degree, academic – point to debate. He said Salesforce only does the Application layer (he’s correct that they don’t have the infrastructure service layer, although I think that they would rightly argue that they have a large and mature platform layer – Salesforce1). He also said that Amazon just does the Infrastructure layer (although they would quite correctly argue that they also provide a platform layer).
The only companies that can come close to Oracle’s delivery in all three layers are Microsoft – they have Infrastructure (Azure) and Applications (Dynamics is now available in the cloud) but their PaaS offering is not as well known – and Google – who have infrastructure (Google Compute Engine) and Platform (Google Application Engine) however their SaaS offerings are Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs, rather than full-blown HCM or ERP offerings.
Platform in the Cloud
The newest of Oracle’s three offerings is the Platform layer. You can now move any database to Oracle’s database in the cloud service very simply. Furthermore, any Oracle application (or any Java application) that runs on top of an Oracle database can be moved to the cloud very simply too. This is apparently possible on Oracle’s upgraded 2014 platform. Larry’s also promised that these migrations can be done with just two button presses, which is a bold – many would say unbelievable – claim.
This platform supplies the building blocks with which any applications in the Oracle Cloud are built – whether they’re built by Oracle or by customers/partners. One of the points that Larry stressed again was that Oracle is the only vendor that gives end users the same platform to develop on that they use internally. Other vendors either have no platform service at all (Workday) or use different tools in-house (like Salesforce – who offer Salesforce1 to customers but use a different platform to develop the core application with in-house).
In what sounds like an entertaining session, during his second Keynote on Tuesday Larry has promised to both extend Fusion applications and perform the ‘two button migration’ in live demos. I think you should always get extra marks for demoing your own products, as many speakers usher someone else on-stage for this section – although as Larry is CTO now I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s going it himself.
Infrastructure in the Cloud
Larry spoke briefly about Oracle’s IaaS offering. He skipped over a few of the slides quite quickly, I’m not sure if he was running short of time, however he made some interesting points. It still strikes me as unusual when he claims that Oracle will compete with Amazon and Google on price – as Oracle solutions are typically more towards the premium end of the price-scale – however it’ll be interesting to see how they get on in the commodity pricing marketplace.
Larry’s claim that “the Oracle Cloud is bigger than most people think” was certainly correct for me. They currently have 30,000 servers and serve 62,000,000 discrete users every day!
HCM in the Cloud
Larry stated that Oracle has long held the lead in Talent Management in the Cloud – he was clearly talking about Taleo here – however for the last two quarters Oracle has overtaken the competition and is now the top-seller in Core HR. This ties in with the information from the latest Oracle earnings call (in the last financial quarter Oracle sold Fusion HCM to 60 new customers, and during the same period Workday only added 25).
Larry believes that the reason that Oracle HCM Cloud is selling so well is that it’s got Social integrated. Benefits, Payroll etc. is “table stakes”, but the Social tools are important for what he calls 21st Century HCM.
ERP in the Cloud
Larry says that he is particularly proud of the Oracle ERP Cloud as it was built in-house. He says that Oracle is the first company to sell mid-market and high-end ERP in the cloud. Given that Oracle has only been really selling this for a touch over 12 months, this is an impressive logo slide:
He also mentioned that Oracle is selling EPM in the cloud – so they’ve moved Hyperion to the cloud – and claims that Oracle are the only company within an EPM in the Cloud offering.
Speed of Growth
Larry stated repeatedly that Oracle’s strategy is “build and buy” … some of Fusion has been developed in-house, other parts have been purchased. Of the parts that have been built in-house, this is the growth (or hyper-growth in Larry-speak) in the last 12 months:
He says that 2014 is an inflection point for Oracle in terms of selling these solutions. The fact that 19 out of the top 20 SaaS providers use the Oracle Database and Java is obviously something that Larry would enjoy (and the lone company that doesn’t – Workday – uses another Oracle Database – MySQL – for some of its back-end processing).
He also poked fun at SAP for their HANA powers the cloud slogan by asking “whose cloud does it power, because it doesn’t power theirs” (SuccessFactors, Ariba and Concur all run on Oracle).
In summary, despite stepping down from the CEO role Larry couldn’t resist opening the conference with a bang. There weren’t as many new product announcements as previous years, however he was able to shine a light on some strong progress and healthy sales traction across many product lines. It’s clear however, that the product lines that will get the most focus are ones with ‘cloud’ in the name. There wasn’t a single mention of PeopleSoft, eBusiness Suite or Siebel during the entire session.
Everyone likes to be productive, however pretty much everywhere we work there’s something with the ability to disrupt our concentration. Some are necessary – like most meetings – however others break our flow of thought and it takes a while to get ‘in the zone’ again.
I’ve recently changed jobs and the new company’s office is in Kings Cross, London. In many ways this is hugely advantageous, but it can be a bit noisy. I also do quite a bit of working from home now, and that can be noisy too when the kids get in from school.
A great way of eliminating most of the distractions is to use music, however the tracks that you choose can themselves be distracting, especially if they contain lyrics. The solution is to use either noise generators or ‘programming music’.
I’ve found one solution is to use ‘noise generators’, programs or sites that create an endless stream of background sound. Here’s some of my favourites:
Jazz and Rain
The webapp plays a continuous list of instrumental jazz music alongside a soundtrack of soft rain. You can adjust the volume level of both independently and let them run in the background.
Gives you a selection of noise tracks which you can combine (and adjust the volume of independently). Select from Rain, Fire, Birds, Waves and Coffee Shop. I normally take all but the latter (then tone down the birds a touch!). On the following page they also offer Night, Train, Fountain, White Noise and Playground. Night and Train are good additions also sometimes.
Just rain, but you can adjust not only the volume, but the intensity of the rain. You can also control the frequency of thunder.
Just rain. Sometimes – particularly if your workplace isn’t too noisy this is all you need.
Just White noise. Or Pink Noise. Or Brown Noise.
This is just the sound of someone taping away on their keyboard so it’s unlikely to drown out the heavier noises, but you can vary the intensity, from ‘Monday Morning Coding’ to ‘Hackathon Coding’ to ‘Angry Dev Coding’ (which isn’t relaxing in any way!).
Music for Programming
A series of downloadable mp3s designed to allow maximum concentration.
Get Work Done Music
If you’re after something a little more up-tempo, this is a good choice. It contains a selection of ambient/trance music.
Nature Sounds for Me
If you’re after something a little more natural, then this is a good site. You can select from a wide variety of sounds, combine a few others in, and then save it as a link (allowing you to easily access the combination again in the future). If you like the ambient sound of the forest, mixed with some bird tweets, a gentle waterfall and some whale song(!) then this is ideal.
Ideal if you like your atmospheric music a little more meditative.
This week Oracle announced 3 major deals. Deals of this size would normally be the single biggest piece of news in any typical week, so to get 3 in successive days means that they were lined up and unleashed in a deliberate manner to create the largest splash possible. And it’s certainly got people’s attention, with many analysts penning a series of posts on the matter.
The Microsoft Deal
Oracle and Microsoft announced a deal to make a slew of Oracle products available on the Microsoft Azure platform (their rival to Amazon Web Services). What’s so surprising about this deal is that historically the two companies haven’t been the best of friends and are the two main rivals in the battle for relational database supremacy.
When Larry teased during the earnings call last week that there were some big deals coming – including one with Microsoft – many expected something much tamer, like Microsoft certifying Oracle’s Java within Azure for example. What was announced is much bigger. Microsoft is making Oracle Java, Oracle Weblogic and – amazingly – the Oracle Database available within their Azure cloud.
The Salesforce Deal
Although Marc Benioff honed his craft while under Larry’s wing at Oracle, he’s his own man now and Salesforce and Oracle have been on a collision course for a while. Salesforce currently runs on the Oracle database, there has been some speculation that they were looking at PostgreSQL to help reduce that dependency. This deal not only negates that threat, but ties the two companies very closely together. Salesforce will run on Oracle’s Exadata machines, Oracle Linux OS, Oracle Java and the Oracle database platform for the next 9 years (although Benioff has subsequently said that it’s actually 12 years), and implement Fusion HCM internally (they currently use Workday). Quite a deal.
There are lots of positives for Oracle from this deal, but you have to wonder what Salesforce employees will think. They’ve a daring, charismatic and visionary leader who has taken the CRM market by storm, taking them to become the world’s #1 for CRM and the world’s biggest SaaS company. By aligning themselves with Oracle they’ve lost some of their autonomy, Benioff will often be playing second fiddle to Larry, and this does box Salesforce in to the CRM market – HCM and Financials will be all about Fusion (work.com and FinancialForce.com will presumably not be touted so strongly).
Does Larry also see Benioff as a successor? Larry is only just over a year off of being 70. Although we suspect he relishes deals like this, and his appreciation of Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ is oft-recounted, there will become a time when he’ll want to reduce his influence – as Bill Gates did at Microsoft.
This isn’t good news for Dell (who previously supplied all of Salesforce’s servers). It’s a real kick in the teeth for Workday though. Extensions to Workday are created in the Force.com platform, Salesforce’s Chatter is integrated with Workday, and the CEOs are frequent speakers at each other’s conferences. It’s safe to assume that some or all of this is going to cease and it’ll be Larry presenting at this year’s Dreamforce instead.
The NetSuite Deal
This is definitely the least surprising of the 3 deals as Oracle and NetSuite have always had a friendly relationship (Larry was a heavy initial investor). The biggest question is what market is the deal aiming at? They’re after mid-sized companies where they’ll deploy Fusion HCM and NetSuite Financials – both SaaS hosted, one would assume as that’s the only model available for NetSuite. To me, this sounds like they’re aiming at Workday.
Larry has really pulled a masterstroke in getting the whole enterprise software industry talking. He’s created a huge cloud marketplace with some of the industry’s leviathons, and positioned Oracle at the centre of it – at the same time as devaluing some competitors. Larry is – right now – probably the Enterprise Tech industry’s most powerful leader.
The implications of most of these deals will come in time. Big questions remain, however:
- How much revenue will the Azure tie-up actually bring?
- What happens to Fusion CRM? When will it be sold in preference to Salesforce?
- Are Salesforce’s HCM and Financial offerings no longer viable?
- Will Oracle eventually purchase NetSuite, Salesforce, or both?
Most of the early screenshots that came out about Fusion were all from the Web-based UI, things like the 9-box grid etc. Now that the product is out there we’re getting to see more. I attended an excellent webinar that explained a few things that were new to me:
1) The Professional User Interface is separate to the Casual User Interface
Oracle are terming the ‘Professional UI’ to be the one that we’ve seen most of so far, and the ‘Casual UI’ to be the one that was christened Fuse that we first saw at OpenWorld. I would expect that the former is targeted at administrative or power-users, whereas the latter is more geared towards Self Service applications. Here are a couple of shots of the Casual UI (click for bigger):
2) Outlook Integration
Oracle also showed the Fusion CRM Desktop within Outlook. This looked fully integrated (as many of the tasks could be carried out without leaving Outlook and accessing the Fusion UI). I’m not going to go into any detail on this as a) desktop integration is already a staple feature of most ERPs, and b) Desktop email clients like Outlook are losing popularity to web based email so this is less important than some of the other items.
3) Fusion Tap
We also saw some screenshots of Fusion TAP integrated with the Oracle Social Network (a professional Facebook, so to speak). Fusion Tap is going to be very useful to those with tablets, and with the continued progress of tablets in the workplace – and especially the growth of BYOD – this population is only going to grow.
One thing I particularly like about Fusion Tap is that it’s configurable, so you can adjust what the user sees and what they don’t. It’s not just a static native app.
This is still in development, but it’s very aesthetically pleasing (as with the above pics, click for bigger):
5) Oracle Voice
The biggest surprise of all for me was the mention of Oracle Voice. It’s basically a Siri, but for Fusion. It’s being integrated with CRM first (and it’s not hard to see that this is where it’d be most useful).
So in summary, there are some really strong UI facets that are currently available, and there are some very exciting innovations that are in the pipeline.
(All of the above is covered by the standard Oracle Safe Harbour agreement, so don’t base anything contractual on what you see here. Some of the above is still in development too, so there’ll be improvements before it is ready.)