Monday 22 August 2016

Need Your Help Again

This is my third UKOUG Partner Awards whilst working at Certus and in that time I have had the privilege to work with some amazing customers. I know Certus deserve your vote in the UKOUG Partner Awards, especially in the  Cloud Applications category.

I could just ask you to vote for us. Vote Gold and if you want to just do that then thank you so much. But if you want to know why, read the nominations or read on in this post

Last year when I asked for your vote we were planning our Oracle Open World where our customer JT were going to speak about their implementation and what it had meant for them. They are a fantastic reference but in the cloud world you can't have just one, each customer needs to be happy, and we want much, more than that.

This year England Rugby (the RFU) are going to tell their story at OOW, and from a project perspective this is a combined FInance and HCM, again with a lot of firsts. They will also be sharing this story at UKOUG Apps 2016

The Office of National Statistics the first Government Department to adopt Cloud HCM & Financials are our customer and they are great at sharing their journey.

We have added Finance to HCM in the beta testing we do for Oracle development. There is a small group of partners who test these 6 monthly releases and Certus have been doing this for a long time; they recognise our expertise.

Certus decided about 18 months ago to increase their contribution to UKOUG through sponsorship of Oracle Scene and I hope you have found our regular advertorials an interesting read. We have deliberately approached it as a kind of newsletter rather than direct advertising, and I think you will agree it shows just how busy we are.

I say increase, as well as supporting me on my role as UKOUG Board Member Advocate, Tim Warner is joint lead in the HCM SIG and Richard Atkins is deputy of the HCM Cloud SIG. For a small company that is a really big investment. 

Another category we are shortlisted for are Training, and we continue to deliver training to not only our own people, customers but on behalf of Oracle and other partners. Chances are if you have Cloud HCM and Certus didn't implement it, someone in the project team was taught by us; ask them

Cloud has opened up opportunities for smaller SME customers and Certus has excelled here, as well as JT and RFU, we have a major charity and several financial services in our list of customers. And at Certus we don't walk away when the customer goes live, we have an ongoing offering that ensures customers continue to get new value from cloud. In fact this offering is so popular we also have cloud customers who originally had a different implementation partner.

Last year we won a number of awards for our work in proving the PaaS4SaaS offering from Oracle. This is an emerging technology as the portfolio grows and grows and we are currently beta testing the Application Builder Cloud Service against HCM, and currently working on our own application extension around immunisation.

Working for Certus is fun, I love it, and the people here deserve your vote.

Please vote for Certus.

Thank you

Monday 15 August 2016

OTNTourLA - The Long Trek Home

After an amazing day sightseeing the area around Pereira, it was a very late night but my first flight wasn't until almost midday.

I met up with Tim for breakfast and then made my way to the airport. There isn't really a waiting area airside, just two boarding areas, so you have to wait till your flight is the next one to be called. The area landside was very busy with whole families seeing individuals off, and it was warm, very warm.

Luckily I didn't have to wait too long, just long enough to use up my last local money on sweets for the office. I joined the queue for security only to have one of my bags stopped. There was no English spoken but they seemed to think I had scissors. I did, a small pair, with blades 3cm long and round ended. These scissors have been around the world with me in my knitting bag, which I took up to help with travel stress. UK hand luggage rules which are based on global guidelines, say they are OK up to 6cm. I know other countries can have other rules, but they went through security in Bogota, the Colombia capital on the way in. I wasn't happy.

My flight was delayed about 20 minutes, which meant I had just under an hour to make my international connection in Bogota. I only asked once for instructions so that unlike the way in, I knew what I had to do.

The queues were phenomenal and I did ask once if I was in the right place and an Avianca person helpfully told me to run. The queue for passports was enormous and everyone was drought, and I even saw locals telling queue jumpers (and there was many) exactly how they felt. My blood pressure was rising but I got to the gate after they had starting boarding but I did get it.

Arrival at Miami was less fraught, or so I thought. I had chosen to spend a night in an airport hotel as the only option was again a quick connection and I just knew it was impossible in Miami. They have automated immigration in Miami and although I though I was OK, the picture tells a different story.

Eventually I got through, collected my luggage and waited, and waited for a hotel shuttle. After a quick meal I decided to have an early night.

The hotel did breakfast to order, but I was in no hurry so I waited 30 minutes behind one woman, who then ordered 7, yes SEVEN breakfasts. Finally it was my turn, and I asked for poached eggs, only to be told that despite the sign saying"'Eggs - anyway"  they only did fried or omelets!! 

I intended to spend the day getting ready for work, finishing bogs, writing things up etc, but the internet was not really good enough, so I just wrote my complaint letter instead!!

Anyway, British Airways gave me a much appreciated upgrade to Premium Economy and after a straight forward flight and a not too busy passport control I was back in London.

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Sunday 14 August 2016

OTNTourLA - Final Sight Seeing

Alexis' wife Clara, sat next to me at dinner Thursday evening and was telling what a beautiful wider area Pereira was part off, and how I should explore it. Then Pablo who had done so during the day showed me some photos and I was determined to do something on the Friday, as I was not speaking.

Alexis asked me if I wanted to go with him to explore, and that Deiby was going to come too. Most other speakers were leaving directly so it was a small but fun group of us.

Deiby, Alexis and I

First we went to Cocora Valley to go horseback riding through the most amazing scenery. I am not a brave person but I wanted to do this despite knowing I would probably pull out once I got to meet a horse. However there was a sign showing a local leading a horse for small children, so I got Alexis to ask if someone would lead me? Once they stopped laughing the horse people agreed and we set off on our little tour, Deiby, just his second time on a horse, nervous but determined, Alexis who it turns out is quite the master horseman, and me, being led by a very amused local.

After leading us along the road for a few hundred yards we started on the track proper, through the most amazing scenery. The wax palm tree is the national tree of Colombia and each one stands about 45m high; Amazing and so beautiful.

After a while I was able to release my death grip of the saddle a little and start to enjoy the gentle pace, until that is we started on a steep hill down towards a river. I have to say anti natal breathing classes were quite useful at this point. Crossing the river was simple it was actually a concrete path under just a few inches of water. Then we came to a stop and my guide offered to take a picture of the three of us but as he let go of the lead my horse wanted to move and I was almost hysterical. Then we turned around and came back again.

I had my go pro filming time lapsed attached to the saddle and although you can't see me you can see some of the lovely scenery. Once we got back to the stables and I had elegantly (not) dismounted from the horse, I gave the guide what was probably his best tip ever. 

Then we had lunch nearby, a wonderful outdoor area. We were so lucky with the weather, in the hours drive to the valley it had rained heavily and yet cleared just in time for us  to arrive.

Then we drove to Solento which we had driven through on the way, a beautiful town much like Antigua in Guatemala, very colourful and a magnet for visitors both foreign and Colombian. In fact Alexi and his wife were staying here for the weekend.

Like Antigua there was a cross on a hill overlooking the town, and like the Mexico pyramid, there was almost 250 steps, but these were all equal and not too steep so with my trusty Nordic stick, not too much bother. Again well worth it for the views. We then did a little shopping for gifts in the Main Street, stopping for peeled mango strips with lime juice, a wonderful combination I shall be trying again. I also tried chontaduro with honey and sugar; which was nice but not my favourite.

Coffee was next in a lovely little shop. This is the coffee region of Colombia and even a philistine like me has to admit it was very good. We walked back through the main square to where we had parked the car; parking is an art in Latin America with skills I certainly don't process, to get cars into the smallest of gaps. I then realised I had lost my camera with the only proof that I had sat on a horse available, but luckily Alexis sprinted back to the coffee shop who had my camera and all was OK again.

We then drove the hour plus back to Pereira to collect Clara who had had to work all day from her hotel room, and set off in the other direction for another must see attraction of hot springs. This sounded very appealing after bordering and step climbing,

The road (viaduct helicoidal) to the springs was quite new and included a loop that appears from the mountain and has the most enormous drop. Luckily it was dark and I couldn't see it. I would have had my eyes closed anyway.

 Santa Rosa de Cabal is the town before the springs, which is famous for its chorizo or sausage. No lie, we must have seen 40 roadside cafes serving chorizo. Men with flags would wave you into their establishment and we did stop at one only to leave when we saw no one eating there, only to stop a few hundred metres later at one with a queue. It was lovely and another local thing to try. Did you know the they hold the Guinness record for 1917 metre chorizo

Then we arrived at the hot springs (Termales), a series of pools, first filled with a thermal waterfall and the last from a more normal cold waterfall. It was just what my body ordered and then with a rum drink I was in heaven. This was the most amazing way to finish the day.

Clara drove home, Alexis had found an ACE beer he couldn't turn down and when we got to Santa Rosa de Cabal Google maps sent us down the steepest hill ever, where we all thought we were going to get stuck and we could certainly hear the number plate scrapping the ground. I felt so sorry for Clara, but Alexis talked her through it and I switched between silent prayers for help and relief I wasn't driving. After that we got to the main road and it was quite straight forward all the way back to Pereira.

Another late night but Saturday was only for travelling; the long trek home.

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OTNTourLA - Last Stop Colombia

Colombia User Group

Sleep is a wonderful thing and in a much better frame of mind, we managed to get a taxi to the university for the event kick off. Once we arrived I was very impressed with the facilities, which included sports halls, pool, stadium etc. of almost Olympic quality.

The university appeared to be set in a bamboo forest which is very prevalent locally, in fact we also saw a toll booth the next day made from bamboo and most of our hotel was decorated that way.

There was a large auditorium and another hall. There were just two streams, one with translation and the other in Spanish. I had two sessions, first my upgrade presentation and like in Mexico as there was a high number of students so I changed the emphasis of the talk as to how to approach the going 'there' from 'here' part of IT projects using Fusion as an example. There were a couple of EBS customers in the room so later in the day I privately took questions from them, although I had to find someone else to answer the 'EBS doesn't run well on 2 node RAC' questions!

Tim and I were the only people who did the whole tour but Deiby and Alexis had done a few other countries and Frank Munz and Trond Enstad joined us from the Southern tour.

After a wonderful lunch served in a Bambi structure in the grounds I was back on again with my PaaS44SaaS. There was actually more middleware included in the agenda than I would normally expect, and there were great sessions on Weblogic, ADF and SOA. Mauricio Naranjo is an ACE Alumni who I have met previously in Latin America and on the ACE circuit and he is the mentor of Alexis Lopez that I met earlier in the tour in Panama where he was speaking. More about Alexis and Mauricio in a later blog.

At the end of the day the students had some entertainment for us, break dancing, hip hop, cheer leading, it was very impressive in an outdoor courtyard with brick floor rather than a traditional gym.

In the evening there was a dinner in a restaurant arranged by the user group, traditional food and drink, which went on later than I would normally like but I didn't have a session Friday so didn't mind too much.

I spent a lot of time speaking to Trond Enstad someone I have seen around but not really spoke to. I found him real I interesting and a master of many languages. Norwegian by birth he now lives in Spain and gave his seasons in Spanish.

Friday was just 4 sessions followed by workshops and I had a clear day so I took the opportunity to do some sight seeing with Alexis and Deiby. Leaving Tm behind to work on his videos, blogs and website.

I wish I had arrived in Pereira in a better mood, but the conference made up for it. I had lots of conversations with partners, end users and many students. People who are genuinely interested in what we do; a great conference to finish with.

And I also learnt how to spell Colombia correctly.

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OTNTourLA - The Journey to Colombia

The journey was not my finest hour; I had a total sense of humour failure.

I think I was never going to enjoy the journey, there was 3 legs we had always seemed excessive but then we heard from local peers on the tour that there was the option to do a much simpler Guatemala, Panama, Pereira than the Guatemala, San Salvador, Bogota, Pereira than we were doing! This would also have allowed Tim to fly home via Panama, the same route he came in on and thus saved a significant amount of money by having a return flight.

We book through Oracle travel, but they don't immediately see some options and if you have more than 10 legs their system no longer optimises the entire journey. During the tour I was trying to get some quotes for an APAC visit and hit the same issues. By pricing a refund to my first port of call and then doing the rest as a round set of legs it was must easier and much, much cheaper.

Anyway back to my miserable day, remember I did believe I had earned enough good travel karma after my Chicago trip; well obviously not. The first leg was fine except for the ungodly hour we started, leaving the hotel at 04:15 am. That was bad enough but my daughter had some news to share with me decided to facetime at 02:30, forgetting I was in a different timezone!!

San Salvador is a very small airport with only about a dozen gates, but it also had only 4 ladies' toilets. Two of these toilets were policed by an armed guard and only for use by passengers checked through to the US. There was a queue of about 30 women and I only had 10 minutes, so that didn't happen; but it should have been a sign to me:

Queuing, they have this in Central America, or rather they have invested in the infrastructure, everywhere you go in their airports there is an extensive network of posts with webbing, creating the network of queues we have come to expect worldwide, however the concept of queuing, i.e. joining the end of the line and taking your turn has yet to be communicated to about 50% of the population.

The second flight to Bogota, was fine, but then we had to navigate a busy hub with no Spanish between us and conflicting information from the Avianca staff we asked, in fact if you wanted 10 different answers just ask 10 different people in red. Time was ticking on and I was getting stressed, and I mean stressed. Immigration was nearly the death of me, or rather anyone thinking about not queuing. Without Tim I could easily have committed murder and ended up in some Bogota jail for the foreseeable.

After traversing the airport at least three times in every dimension we finally, just made our connection for our last flight, which should have been simple enough at under an hour to calm me down.

Pereira has a runway that appears to be built on a cliff, at one point there appeared to be a sheer drop at either side of the runway, which I think freaked me out a bit in the stressed condition I was in.

On arrival in Pereira, this tiny airport appeared to have no signage and no one who spoke any English. I know the official language is Spanish, but there was no one who could help us. If you follow Tim's video blogs you will see that when I get off the last plane my look could quite literally kill.

Pereira appears to employ about 50 guys with luggage trolleys all after your business but no information people or ground staff to meet you. Eventually we got our bags and outside found tourist information was advised taxi would take US$ and that it would be 4, then the taxi driver said it would be $7. All academic really as I only had a $10 bill anyway but it is the lack of consistent advice I hate most.

Once at the hotel there was a problem with the booking, and many forms to fill in that they were unable to tell us what they meant. Eventually I got to my room and dumped my stuff.

Tim, bless him was the calm one and once we had found somewhere to get local money and discovered that although no one seemed to be able to speak English they have a plethora of global food outlets we were fine.

An early night was needed to ensure that I could face the next day.

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Friday 12 August 2016

OTNTourLA 2016 - Guatemala

Oracle User Group Guatemala 

Guatemala was probably the most laid back leg of our tour. Having the event in a hotel, and then staying in that hotel means there isn't too much to worry about logistics.

We arrived mid afternoon and I took the opportunity to bank a few hours sleep. Then Tim, Alex and I went for a very nice local meal. Our hotel I am guessing was classified as an airport hotel as there were several hotels in the 2 blocks either side of ours and from the roof we could see the airport.

Unfortunately it was also an area with a lot of construction and they suggested at check-in I would prefer a high floor. What they didn't tell me was my 'penthouse pit' on the top floor was next to the elevator and directly under the jacuzzi and gyms the roof. Loud does not describe it and this is the first time I have given a 'named' hotel a BAD rating.

The translators
Anyway, the conference was very well organised and as well as ACE directors and Oracle it had attracted many speakers from Latin America; what a great testimony to a user group.

They had 3 streams in Spanish and 2 that had translation. I always worry about translation but apparently they like my 'beautiful English accent' as well!
I had 3 sessions nicely spread out, 'Is Cloud the same around the World?', 'PaaS4SaaS' and the 'Digital Disruption' session. I love this last one, people haven't really thought what a business model change Oracle and the whole eco-system is going through.

One of the other speakers who was on the tour told me afterwards that although he works for Oracle he hadn't appreciated the impact, and how much my session has given him to think about. That really encouraged me, the original idea started in a blog posting and then I was asked to expand for a OTech magazine article.

What I Came for
In the evening there was a speakers dinner that was held a golf club. Last year they were there as well and people like Heli who had attended said how much fun it was but I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. We all had a go on the driving range and some people were better than others and I think had we have had the Zacappa before the golf instead of after the dinner I may have climbed the rankings!

We had to say goodbye to Alex Zaballa who finished the tour here as well as Kamran from Azerbaijan but we will see them again soon at OOW

Tuesday was a free day, so Deiby the User group leader, his fiancé and sister, took Tim, Carlos an ACE Director originally from Mexico but long time based in the US, and I to Antigua. I had been two years ago, Cesar and his wife Amy took me, and I loved it. Cesar was at the user group event but I didn't get to see Amy again as she is expecting a baby very soon.

Antigua is a beautiful city, locked in time. We started by looking over the city, which isn't that big, from the Cerro de la Cruz. The story is the people lived by the Volcano, but when it erupted they moved into the valley. They then chose to move back but the volcano filled with rain and eventually exploded flooding the village, so they had to move again. The volcano is now known as the water volcano.

Then we had a private tour of a previously closed order of nuns in the Capuchinas Convent. It was amazing, how they lived but to me the architecture of the building and how cool it stayed despite the blistering heat. I was flagging. My favourite part was the echo chamber beneath was a courtyard of individual prayer cells formed in a circle. We were encouraged to sing, which I can't but a couple of lines of "How Great thou Art" did sound appropriate.

Tim was in heaven because they had a laundry in the convent.

No tour of anywhere can avoid the locals trying to sell you something, In both India  and China we had to endure factories, and here it was Guatemalan jade which is harder than Chinese jade.

Then we he a fantastic local meal, whilst the daily rains had their fun. Then we drove around the amazing cobbled streets looking at other landmarks and stopping for a few churches, looking at the floats for the Holy Week ceremonies, and then finished up with a little shopping to local crafts. It is no wonder that Dieby and his bride have chosen to get married in Antigua.

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P.S. If you read Tim's blog you may think I simply copied him but it isn't true. We both wrote them on the flight, which we did not sit together on, he is just quicker at publishing them. So I am getting my own back by posting this picture of him with the Laundry in the convent.

Monday 8 August 2016

OTNTourLA 2016 - Mexico

Oracle User Group Mexico 

One of the problems of travelling with Tim Hall (there are many more) is that he always gets his blog out first, and I have to struggle to write something different. Tim described the event as a mini Oracle Open World, and that is exactly how it looked, all red and white with a central marquee that was surrounded by the breakout rooms and the main hall. 

A partner CertficaTIC had an Oracle Penguin walking around the event and at the end of the day gave away with the user group several training and certification packages for Oracle certification; an amazing initiative.

The event kicked off with the OraMex team talking about how they had grown, and to me the is the true value of these OTN Tours. It supports local user groups, brings them top speakers they wouldn't normally have locally, and encourages them to grow local talent. Many of the local region speakers on these tours would count themselves as part of this success.

After their talk, Pablo did his bit telling the OTN story and then Tim was keynote. Quite funny as I don't think he was expecting it, but he did a great job and had the audience engaged, despite the language difference. This made it so much easier for all the sessions going forward as we knew the delegates (300+) were up for a great day.

OraMex did not make the mistake of having too many sessions and that meant everyone had really good numbers for all their sessions. I was in the Cloud track, and had two sessions. The first was to be 'Upgrading to Cloud from EBS' but although my room was full, standing room only, only 2 people were Oracle Apps users. About half were students and most of the rest were people in the first stages of their career. So I changed the content, easier for me to do than some of the more technical presenters; as my sessions are more story telling and thought provoking (I hope). 

I talked about why Cloud Applications and then how in my role within Certus, spend time with customers understanding how to get the most from them, how to approach a migration and all the things you need to consider, data archiving, migrating, integrations, user adoption etc. I used Oracle and our customers as examples, and hopefully what they heard is relevant to what a career in this area is all about.

Afterwards Pablo who was taking photos as my session was closing, told me he had heard lots of really positive feedback about my session; that made me feel great.

Although it was a big event, I only had two sessions here, because there were a lot of ACE Directors at this event and as I already said a lot of fantastic local talent. My second session was my Digital Disruption session and again very easy to make it so relevant to the again packed audience. I was on such a high; I really wanted to do the PaaS session as well as the room next door was dedication to Fusion Middleware.

There was a great networking session after the event, which most people stayed to. It was really rewarding to talk to the delegates that had spent the day there and understand what they got from the day.

Most of the speakers - photo from OTN

Then it was off to a speakers' dinner, traditional Mexican food in La Destileria in the Reforma District, where all our hotels were, although traffic meant a long trip.

Photo thanks to OTN
The dinner was lovely and again the chance to speak to local user group leaders and speakers and I really want to thank Rolando Carrasco, Rene Antunez and Plinio Arbizu for their great event and hospitality.

The next day was saturday and Rene hired a car big enough for Tim Hall, Tim Gorman and Kellyn, Kuassi, Kamren and I and took us to the Teotihuacan pyramids. I went two years ago and loved it. So to go again was a real privilege and again I managed to get to the top (just). Last time I needed Hans to help me, this imd I had a nordic walking stick!

Then we finished the day with a lovely meal. I can't thank Rene enough for his hospitality.

Also see the photos taken by Pablo from OTN in Mexico

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