Saturday 27 February 2010

Almost Technical

Last year at RMOUG I gave my first deliberately technical paper, however during my performance I said several times 'I am not technical but' and that was the feedback. Several people commented that I should not say 'I am not technical' if my presentation is aimed at a technical audience, they also said it was very educational about the technology being used in Fusion Apps, which was my aim, so I was very happy and vowed to sort out the 'technical' bit.

Over the last year I have therefore re-invented myself as 'technically literate', but I am still not a practitioner. My role in Fujitsu is about education, learning what is happening in Oracle and teaching that to my colleagues (I work in a very large global practice), our sales and account teams, our existing and prospective customers and then within the ACE and User Groups my most rewarding role is to further educate by sharing my knowledge with the wider community.

When submitting for this year's RMOUG, which is one of my favourite local conferences I did an update on my paper from last year 'Thinking of Supporting or Extending Fusion Applications' which was great for me because this year I am not under NDA and can actually talk through the applications. It was not a big audience, only about 35 however only 1 person had attended last year, so a new audience with new questions and everyone went away having learnt something which is what I use as my success marker.

RMOUG where good to me they gave me an early session on the first day which meant I got to relax early on. The quality of speakers this event attracts is very high and this includes many from the ACE Community. In fact the opening keynote was an ACE panel which I took part in, but more about that in the next post. I like to attend sessions from other people to challenge myself, not just to learn what they are intending to teach but also to learn from their presentation styles.

There are two very different methods I want to comment on, from two great friends, and I admire both them and their styles.

Mogens Nørgaard spoke with just a few hours notice, he had not intended to speak but a speaker had to cancel and he agreed with Peggy King, RMOUG's president he would take the slot. Mogens like to be controversial, invoke discussion and yet is knowledgeable enough to answer the questions. He talked about the Optimizer, RAC for SQLServer and then his experience with Oracle Licensing. The audience were very engaged and whilst there was not a slide, a white paper or even a plan in sight (WeDoNotUSe) he pulled it off. I admire this but don't think my nerves would ever stand up to it, although I have done an Unconference Session on Fusion Apps and then shutting me up was the problem, perhaps you just have to be really, really sure of your subject area. When I first started this blog my employer gave me the advice that a good blog is controversial and thought provoking, perhaps Mogens is just a human blog.

The speaker I most wanted to see was Cary Millsap, I follow his blog avidly and whilst he is very technical and a complete genius he has a way of getting the message across as pure common sense anyone can understand. His paper was about Thinking Clearly About Performance, It had 20 points to cover and yet he started one of these by saying that humans do not like a list longer than 10, true, but in Cary's case I would call this double the value (and tweeted that at the time). Not only did I learn from his presentation and really recommend you read the paper, but his slides are just excellent, simple, uncluttered and witty. I went to congratulate him afterwards and he said he was glad I learnt from it, as he thought of me as the lowest common denominator, it had been his son but he is now too clever. What a cheek, I am sure he was just joking - but if it he isn't I am very honoured. Perhaps I have not reached 'completly technical' yet but I have one of the best teaching me.

Thursday 18 February 2010

The Black Art of Marketing

I am a director of UKOUG and when I first joined the board I took a real interest in how the board actually worked. In UKOUG we do not outsource our services they are provided by our own staff, in our own building. This autonomy is much desired and envied by other groups but has its own challenges. As a director I am responsible for the future success of the company and the legal requirements such as trading, accounts, staff health and safety. I took a diploma with the Institute of Directors and was very proud when after much late night studying and writing my professional evidence portfolio and facing a panel of peers I was awarded Chartered Director in 2006.

One of the subjects I enjoyed most was marketing and especially the subtle marketing such as viral marketing. I have written before about how the ACE Program taps into the powerful messaging someone outside Oracle has. The fact that I talk about Oracle with passion and yet an equal amount of cynicism is recognised by Oracle as being very effective (even if they don’t say so out loud). The ACE Program is an example to all organisations. One place I could never work is Oracle itself, and they probably would not want me anyway.

So this week I found myself at my local IOD annual dinner. The chairman of the IOD in Northern Ireland is Joanne Stuart who coincidentally used to work for Oracle and I have known her for many years. This year as an after dinner speaker Joanne had invited BJ Cunningham. I didn’t know how global a brand he is and to be honest I had never heard of him before. I can’t say I hadn’t seen him before as we checked into the hotel at the same time and he was quite a character, wearing his tuxedo under an olive long length parker, I was tempted to ask if he had left his moped outside.

BJ is an entrepreneur who pushes everything to the limit. He believes in doing the unexpected and has not always been successful but he loves what he does and has a fantastic story to tell. His main claim to fame was the ‘Death Cigarette’ now I am not condoning smoking but you have to admire his thinking. He says look at the problem to find the answer. Everyone knows that smoking is not good for you, yet tobacco companies try everything to make you buy their products, governments do the ‘right thing’ but banning advertising and printing health warnings but they don’t want tobacco to go away they make an awful lot of money from the taxes. So BJ created the ‘Death Cigarette’ put a skull and crossbones logo on them and in a two fingered salute to the tax man found a legal loophole. He had seen people evade prosecution for non payment of VAT on cigarettes and alcohol brought from Europe by declaring them for personal use. He also knew that the legal definition of an agent acting on someone’s behalf meant that they were an extension of the person they acted for. So he set himself up as a cigarette agent! Eventually the tax man caught up with him and he ended up in court where the judge said and I can’t do the wonderful French accent BJ used but imagine it “In law you are correct, but the law was never meant to allow you to do this, so you are wrong and therefore guilty”, hard to argue with.

This is very funny but the point the was trying to make is around the brand and loving what you do. He said a brand is a promise and not a logo. I totally agree and have written about the Saatchi and Saatchi Lovemarks concept, which I talked to BJ about later, he was impressed I knew about it. Regardless of the product his business case stacked up and he was able to borrow money. In his talk he also had a humorous look at business cases and their later success. I have to say at this point I wondered exactly what he was smoking as to an audience of 400 people in Belfast, In the Europa which has the dubious honour of being the most bombed hotel in Europe, he decided to use religion as his case study. The business case of a virgin birth and the ultimate sacrifice may not sound a good investment but whatever you believe it is successful, with a great logo and phenomenal following. You could have heard a pin drop until he finished, I think he may have been the only person to survive religious humour in the history of N Ireland. But he was not making a joke at anyone's expense, he wanted people to think about the concept of the brand.

He went on to say to be successful in your business you must love yourself, your product and your customer, success is not just about the money. I so agree, I am not the best paid but I feel I am successful and it made me think of a recent blog posting in the same vein from Cary Millsap

It was a fantastic and thought provoking look at business, and later I spoke with BJ and I asked him about how he markets himself. He doesn’t yet really but is thinking about it and I know he will be successful. I suggested he do more short videos and put them on youtube. His story is funny and yet has a great message. Video is the new pod cast, blog etc, you only have to look at the Miracle Channel to see how powerful it can be.

In a way I am in marketing, I am selling the brand of UKOUG here in this blog, the promise that ‘We serve the Oracle Community’ and less obviously the brand of my day job where the attributes I display are in tune with their philosophy. And yes I love what I do.

BJ I apologise for any inaccuracies in my memory.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Thinking Ahead to The Future

A few weeks back I was asked by one of our SIGs to give a Fusion Applications update. I said yes, but as I started to think about it I thought, I spoke to this group in October and then we had a lot of very successful Fusion Apps content in our annual conference, so did they want just a repeat of that?

Then the Scottish SIG committee asked me if I could talk about Fusion and EBS in 5 years time, and I thought yes that is what I can do for both groups. I spoke to a friend who is also a customer and she agreed, presentations just on Fusion Apps seem quite distant from the EBS we have today.

Looking forward, is a great exercise, what might change? What do we know will happen and what based on what has happened in the past may happen in the future? What other potential risks are there?

The UKOUG board is about the strategy to keep the organisation viable, financially healthy and providing what the member needs. We have regular strategy planning sessions and we too need to take the long term view. It is early days but recently Ronan and I have been looking at how we think UKOUG may look in 5 - 10 years time, and how do we plan to get there? We have a planning day with the board soon and between us we will agree a strategy. However it is not a once off exercise and must continuously be revisited. This is why the board is so important, it is not just about the next event.

I have been on the board for 8 years and deputy chair for the last 6 but every two years when it is time for board elections I get really nervous. So if you think I am doing a good job, or other members of the board up for re-election, then vote for us, or tell your main contact to do so. I really want to carry on supporting you.

Back to my presentation on Fusion Apps and EBS the next 5 years. A lot of people attended the session and I got very good feedback. I will present this a few more times around UKOUG where invited and in several overseas conferences over the next few months, but just like for UKOUG I need to constantly revise.

The presentation should be in the library soon and I could do a posting on it, when I find some time for this blog if people are interested.

Monday 15 February 2010

Wrap Up of IOUC Meeting

I am sat in the kitchen of John and Peggy King ready to start the next big adventure at RMOUG Training Days where I will be giving an Update on the paper I gave last year 'Thinking of Supporting or Extending Fusion Applications - An Update'.

However before RMOUG starts I need to do a quick wrap up of the IOUC meeting. I have talked in previous postings about the big Sun Strategy Day and my visits around Fusion Set Up Manager but the real reason for being in town was the annual IOUC meeting.

At the Presidents Meeting on the Wednesday afternoon it was excellent that the attendees roughly matched the global percentages of Oracle's customers for the first time I can ever remember with only 35% being from North America. There was a great contingent from Latin America, a good representation from EMEA and from Asia Pacific.

As ever Oracle had laid on a great selection of executives to update users groups on what is happening, the only problem being that you can't attend them all.

And although we say this every time, the real value in these events is learning from each other. Ronan, James and I took home a lot of actions to follow up on ideas that may add value to UKOUG.

Sun And Apps

On the 27th January 2010 Oracle had a big showcase event to talk about their acquisition of Sun, and as a User Group Leader I was privileged to have a VIP seat, at least I was at the start, the only thing missing from a very polished and informative morning was a few comfort breaks.

Quest International asked me to write this article on the impact of the Sun/Oracle merger I said ‘why not?’ so here I am a few weeks later just before the deadline putting my thoughts into writing, and I am not so sure now, but they agreed I could blog this so here we are.

You can actually watch the whole event, and Oracle have cut it into 7 manageable webcasts, or simply presentations so you. I am not simply going to regurgitate the presentations for you but tell you what I thought it meant to applications users. At a minimum watch the first section where you get an overview and the last which is the Q&A session with Larry Ellison.

First on was Charles Phillips on how the acquisition transforms the industry, and it certainly transforms Oracle. This makes them not only able to supply the entire stack for their customers, but it also changes them into a manufacturing company, with operations and logistics they have never had to manage before.

Sun is foremost a hardware company and this was an area I am particularly interested in, because although I work in the services organisation, my employer Fujitsu provides the Fujitsu provides SPARC64 processors and SPARC Enterprise M-series servers for Sun and the acquisition we hope will be good for us. Oracle acknowledged their continued strategic partnership and co-development and I was very pleased with that.

The newspapers, blogs, twitter and all other commentary talks about the end of a great era, but if Sun was that great, why was it not making any money? And if it was unprofitable how does Larry Ellison think it will make a profit within its first quarter? Well it was not a problem with the product, look what Oracle and Sun had already done with their joint venture around the Database Machine. What I understood from the day was that Oracle believe 3 fundamental changes will turn Sun hardware around:

First they will sell direct to the top 3000 customers, and to prove that they were serious each Oracle Executive had a ‘we’re Hiring’ badge on. 2000 sales and development posts.

The second major change was that they intend to move from a ‘Build to Stock’ to a ‘Build To Order’ model, making the manufacturing process more lean and cost effective.

Finally another big savings area is in efficiency, Oracle have great back office systems, a single global instance of E Business Suite and Siebel and a very slick and well rehearsed consumption of acquired companies process, that will strip costs out of the Sun operation. Yes they did lay people off but said about 1000 roles, so still a net gain of 1000 jobs. They will have to add manufacturing and logistic systems but again they have them in their portfolio. It is also interesting to note that this may delay Oracle’s own migration to Fusion Applications as an entire suite as manufacturing is not in the first release expected later this year. However my belief is that it will make them an even better reference for Fusion as they will have some core functionality in Fusion and integration to these more niche areas, the model I believe most customers will take initially.

If you are a Sun hardware customer your account manager may change, and that means yet another Oracle person ‘on the bus’, but hopefully they will all know your Oracle investment. Does it mean better service in purchasing, I hope so? If you run Oracle Applications over Oracle Middleware and Database, you will be a full stack Oracle customer and Oracle went onto say that you would have an improved experience with Support. The migration of Sun Support to MyOracleSupport will be fast and you will have visibility of all your issues in one place, their proactive tools will prompt you for interoperability issues or improvements. They will also offer a full integrated service through Advanced Services. My first reaction was ‘Yeah, at an extra cost’, and yes Advanced Services is an additional cost but if you could have all your support simplified and integrated it may well be cost effective, so don’t dismiss it out of hand without careful consideration. They also promised to keep support windows for the Sun products so no hidden price hikes.

Solaris as an operating system, gives Oracle full coverage, their move into Linux gave them a lot but the majority of customers still wanted their enterprise to run on Unix and Solaris is one of the major players.

If you don’t use Sun or Solaris will it mean Oracle will stop supporting what you use? No they want to ensure they keep their customer base as this is what funds their Research and Development so they will continue with the Open Standards strategy that will allow this. It is likely that Solaris and Sun will get certified first against products and over time some functionality will I expect move into the stack to encourage you to use Sun.

Oracle wanted Java as this is the backbone to their next generation applications. Oracle have bet heavily on Java, it is taught in school, there is a vast pool of well train but realistic salary expecting developers and these skills are transferrable, they are not proprietary like Oracle Forms or PeopleSoft Tools. Oracle want to ensure Java does not go off at a tangent, and they unveiled plans to work on the mobile versions of Java which have already started to move that way, with a slightly different version for each device, they are intending to move to a write-once, deploy-many concept. This was very well received.

The area that had most press was MySQL, this is open source and many people and especially the European Commission were worried that Oracle that the healthy competition between MySQL and Oracle Database would be eroded. I am the deputy Chair of the UKOUG and our chair Ronan Miles along with Ian Abrahamson of IOUG travelled to Brussels to address the European Commission. Miles said “Oracle has a proven track record in supporting open standards,”. True to their word Oracle announced improvements for MySQL and that it would remain as a separate Global Business Unit.

Oracle did a great job of talking about what specific products would move into existing Oracle portfolios like SUN Role Manager, analytics for your security moving into the Oracle Security family and the records software SUN Master Index joining the Master Data Management suite.

As they said Oracle had 9 months delay to do the planning and as soon as they got the go ahead the Oracle Machine set rolling and it was a great, thorough and indepth update of what they will do with Sun. With every acquisition the acquired customers are understandably nervous and with each acquisition Oracle has proved they can improve on customer satisfaction. This is why Quest and all other user groups believe the acquisition is good for both existing and new customers, and why we backed the acquisition. A successful Oracle is good for their customers and so whatever Oracle product you use, you will benefit from another successful acquisition and your user group will ensure that happens. When Larry Ellison held his amusing Q&A at the end of the day, Heli Helskyaho , President of the Finish User Group and the joint spokesperson for the EMEA Oracle User Group Community stood up and said, ‘we as user groups made the decision to support you on Sun, please don’t let us down’.

Fusion Applications Set Up Manager

I have spoken at length about how much I like Fusion Applications and how they will change the way we do things, but today I want to talk about how they will be set up. I have talked about how they can co-exist with current applications with integration, but what I want to discuss here is the actual configuration. As ever remember this is my blog and my understanding and it may change before release.

I work for Fujitsu who are a very large Systems Integrator and in the past I have been responsible for the many E Business Suite implementations and upgrades. Working my way through the setup steps, creating the BR100s (AIM Methodology) to ensure the next build in the development cycle will be the same. These setup processes are a large part of consultant’s roles and the boot camp training I had when I first started was about 60-70% setup and only the remainder about processes. So my interest in setup really comes from the heart.

However ‘a quick word about my sponsor’, Oracle have allowed me phenomenal access to Fusion Apps at all stages since its inception. I spent a week summer looking at Fusion Financials in one of the Customer validation waves and all the way through I was thinking with my Systems Integrator hat on, what set up is needed for this? At the Fusion Inner Circle at Oracle Open World I asked the question and was given details of who to contact. I was then invited to another customer wave a few weeks later in Oracle’s UK HQ to go through the Set Up Manager in a one to one session, and then a quick follow up in Redwood when I was there in January. That is unrivalled access, and a privilege I am very thankful for.

I eluded to it above and the first important point is that this is a module, not simply a manual. The Fusion Set Up Manager is an ADF front end to every process required. Some of these are web services and some simply a shortcut to a process within the application. Conceptually you are creating an end to end orchestrated process for setup. You can allocated discrete processes to other resources by assigning them tasks, define dependencies or parallel processes along with due dates, the same concepts we are used to with MS Projects, with workflowed notifications etc. You can add place holders for manual tasks such as keying or loading in values. It will validate the dependencies, that they have happened not what you have actually entered, e.g. that your Chart of Accounts had been defined and met the rules, it can’t tell that you meant to call a segment something else. All of this creates a project end to end

It will include the upgrade processes for Applications Unlimited. You will implement Fusion and then using the provided ETL processes migrate your data across from whatever Applications Unlimited product you had (there is a lot of information as to which versions are supported here). If you have a different source system or need for some reason to write your own ETL you can add this as a process to the Setup Manager.

Your project once complete can be preserved as a single XML file, and this in turn can be exported to another instance ensuring the next build is the same. In the same way if there is an extension you need it can be added. Oracle or Partners will create offerings which you can download into your project. The concept is very similar to the Apps Store we use with the iPhone, you will be able to browse offerings and possibly even purchase online and simply download not only the project element but the BPA elements, any required components for the application itself. This will happen from the front page, getting started, you will be able to explore, understand and learn about the Setup Manager and its components. As well as the XML export you can also download a CSV file of all the steps in your project, you can attach documents where required.

One question I have had for a while was around Oracle Business Accelerators. These have revolutionized E Business Suite, and are a bit like a quick starts, basically for different industries there are a long set of questions which generates data for you to use in the setup. You get consistent application setups and an easier to control implementation project and budget. Come back in a few weeks and I will link to an Oracle Scene article a friend has written about how OBA is changing his business (and I bet you won’t be able to guess who). I had been worrying that if OBA was about having an industry template for implementations, was the promise of supporting any process in Fusion Apps the complete opposite? If OBA has changed the way we implement Apps Unlimited, then will we want to leave that concept behind? So when I thought I understood this concept of importing setup into my Fusion Project I thought, this is where OBA fits in, however it was pointed out to me that OBA is about data and Setup Manager is about the tasks. To get what I want they need to be combined, but yes it is being looked at.

So who has been involved in the development of Setup Manager? Not only have some partners and Oracle Consulting been included, but also Support and those responsible for online help from day one. Hopefully this means warning messages and contextually help will be of a very high standard. And as with every module in Fusion Applications the User Experience Team have been an integral part, to ensure this really is the Way We Work.

I was interested in the methodology. Oracle has introduced their Unified Method which gives a framework for all their products. I am from EBS where the methodology is AIM, great for apps but doesn’t move to BI where the process needs to be more agile. I want this module to be OUM ready from day one and I am proud to say that my Product Development Committee that brings all user groups together had a long discussion with the OUM executive and we know there is now a desire to make this happen. So while you are listening Oracle, can we have a single, working enhancement process for Fusion Applications from day one please.

If you are an implementation consultant out there, I suggest you learn BPA quickly because understanding and mapping an organizations' processes, real consultancy is what your role will be with Fusion Applications, Setup is going to be managed online and fun, not the laborious process it is today.

Well done Oracle.