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Floyd Teter

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Watching the current trends and future direction of Oracle's Applicationsfteter
Updated: 17 hours 8 min ago

Blame It On The Drugs

Sat, 2014-08-16 17:21
Bronchitis.  I catch it a lot.  Rotten experience.  It's like an invisible elephant is sitting on your chest.  And the drugs are mind-numbing.  Got it now.  Shivering under a blanket in 90 degree weather.  But, it'll pass.  And, in the meantime, if I write something weird...well, let's blame it on the drugs, OK?

Had a chat with a dear old friend this week.  Middle-manager for a Fortune 500 corporation.  Big Oracle customer.  Lots of excitement brewing in his neck of the woods over all the money they'll save moving to "the cloud".  I thought it would be interesting to explore this further, so we did some very rough calculations on the back of a napkin.  Over the long run, those savings went out the window.  Have to admit, I knew how the conversation would turn out.  And I didn't mean to rain on his parade. Blame it on the drugs.

Big companies don't move to the cloud for long-term savings.  They move to increase agility in the face of rapidly-changing markets.  They move in order to refocus internal resources on profit centers rather than cost centers.  They move in order to complement existing systems without causing huge operational upset.  Smaller companies also move to cloud because the financial barriers to entry are lower - less of an upfront cost to get the same tools the big enterprises are using.  But long-term dollar-for-dollar savings...yeah, those numbers don't seem to play out.

So we wrapped up the conversation on cost savings with the tried-and-true "well, they've already made the decision that it will save us money, so we're moving ahead."  So I let that slide and we moved on to his excitement in learning something new (this will be his first cloud project).  So I asked the question:  "What kind of cloud?  Private, hosted, SaaS, hybrid...what are ya'all doing?"

Crickets.  Nothing.  Silence.  Now, I didn't mean to throw the guy another curveball.  I mean, he's my friend.  Compassion has to play in here somewhere, right?  But it happened.  Silence...maybe with a little edge of frustration.  Sorry.  Blame it on the drugs.

I get a little nervous when customers announce a commitment to "going to the cloud" without really understanding the benefits they can expect or how they plan to achieve those benefits.  It's putting the cart before the horse and wondering why things don't move forward.  Just makes no sense to me.

Don't get me wrong.  I think many enterprises have much to gain from considering a cloud approach for their enterprise IT.  I just think they should understand the basic concepts and know why they're taking the leap before they jump.  Different enterprises will come to different conclusions.

But I see it more and more as time goes by...people buying into the hype without really knowing why.  Then again, maybe it's my perspective that's off?  If so, blame it on the drugs.

A Quick Trip To The Mother Ship

Sun, 2014-08-03 15:11
The title of this post notwithstanding, I was not abducted by aliens last week.  Take off your tin-foil hat, it's all cool.  I spent a few days last week a few different teams at Oracle HQ, mostly digging into the progress of some cool new work in progress.  Thought I'd share what I learned.

One caveat before I start sharing.  My agreement with Oracle prevents me from talking about specific details and delivery dates.  Personally, I don't have much of a problem with that - product development news on Oracle's products is Oracle's news to share, if and when they decide to share it. Now that we're clear about that, let's get to the good stuff.

I was fortunate enough to have a good chunk of the brain trust from the Sierra-Cedar Oracle Higher Education Practice (that's the former Io Consulting group) with me:  Steve Kish, Elizabeth Malmborg, Anastasia Metros and Ted Simpson (yes, he of HEUG fame).  It was cool to watch them consider the new things coming for the Higher Education marketplace.  Gave me a measure of how the Higher Ed marketplace will respond.

Most of day one was spent with the leadership of the Oracle Higher Education development team, reviewing their progress in building the new Oracle Student Cloud product.  They're further along in the development lifecycle than I'd expected, which was a pleasant surprise.  And one thing became very clear to me as a result of the review:  planning to throw away PeopleSoft Campus Solutions should not be a part of anyone's short-term game plan.   Oracle Student Cloud is focused on offering a solution for managing continuing education.  Expectations are that early adopters of Oracle Student Cloud will be using the product as a value-added enhancement to the Campus Solutions product.

Don't get confused here.  Oracle has both the Oracle Student Cloud and the Oracle Higher Education Cloud in their development pipeline.  But we talking about two different products here with two different sets of target customers, development life cycles and different release dates.  The latter product will have a much larger focus than the former.

So, what's the best strategy for a higher ed institution that preserves their investment and offers maximum flexibility going forward?  Get to the latest release of whatever you're currently using, whether it's an Oracle product or not.  Make sure you're up to date - it's the best platform for moving forward.  And yes, there are other elements to the strategy as well, but that's not my main purpose for writing this particular post.

Day two was spent with the Oracle User Experience team.  Great stuff as usual.  A special thanks to Oracle's Michael LaDuke for putting the day together.  And it was fun to see the understanding of UX take shape in the minds of the Sierra-Cedar leadership team, especially during a discussion around wire framing practices.  We also some soon-to-be-released incremental progress with Simplified UI.  And, finally, we saw some cool new products in the works.  On this final note, it's pretty obvious that the UX team is now focused on innovating by applying Fusion Middleware technology to mobile use cases (both tablet and phone).  Saw some pretty good stuff with the potential for adding some high value to day-to-day business processing (both in terms of automation and collecting business intelligence).

I only got two days this trip...wasn't nearly enough.  The upshot?  Lots of cool stuff on the horizon.

Stitching Matters

Fri, 2014-07-18 09:49
photo credit to Deseret News Education Travel
Stitching matters.  Stitching holds disparate components and materials together in a form something close to what we had in mind as a solution to a problem. Could be clothes.  Could be wicker baskets.  In the tech world, stitching things together typically involves integrating components or services together into a unified solution.  And it matters. A lot.
I have a few applications on my mobile platforms that rely on integrated cloud storage services for saving my work.  Now, I've tried many cloud storage services. iCloud seems to be continually on the fritz for one reason or another.  Google Drive (or whatever they're calling it today) consumes CPU resources to the point that my devices start to smoke.  Dropbox has issues with losing data during sync. Box...well, they don't seem to really care about individual users anymore as they're not targeting enterprise users. Sky Drive, Live Drive, Hummingjay - you name it, I've probably tried it.  I finally settled on Copy: reliable, significant space for free, always working.
But, there's an issue with Copy.  Yup, you guessed it, no stitching.  I have yet to find spreadsheet, word processing, or presentation applications for mobile that integrate with Copy.  So I'll probably be moving back to Dropbox and leaving Copy...and backing up everything much more often.  Because I'd rather have a solution that works well some of the time than a solution that doesn't work at all.  Stitching matters.
Stitching is a differentiating factor in enterprise applications as well...especially if we're talking about SaaS.  From my worm's eye view of the enterprise applications market, I don't see many customers buying everything from a single SaaS vendor.  It's usually a mix of on-premise and SaaS, often involving multiple vendors. But those customers want unification across the enterprise:  single sign-on, single data source, consistent look and feel, a single business process, and so on.  So one of the bigger challenges in SaaS becomes stitching.  Not just doing it, but doing it well enough to meet expectations.  Stitching matters.
So when someone asks me for advice on choosing a SaaS provider, I always suggest that (among other things) potential buyers consider the stitching.  What integration comes pre-built out of the box?  Do the APIs and integration points comply with industry standards for SOAP and/or REST and/or JMS?  Are there cloud integration services available from the SaaS provider or a partner?  What stitching is available to handle larger data loads?  Can you do those data loads yourself or does the SaaS provider insist on doing them for you?  How about services integration with mobile platforms?  If the stitching doesn't meet your specific needs, will the SaaS provider assist?  If so, at what cost?  Stitching matters.
Now down to what Oracle has in regards to stitching ('cause Oracle is what I write about here).  It seems like Oracle is doing really well with service-based integration and application co-existence as their Cloud Application Services (aka Fusion Applications) continues to evolve.  
We're seeing an expansion of APIs and pre-built integrations, especially utilizing REST.  Both inbound and outbound integration of very light and simple data loads looks good as well.  The stitching in these areas looks pretty good.
Inbound and outbound integration for large and complex data loads, on the other hand, has some room for growth.  The tools are there, but the processes involved in using those tools in Oracle's Cloud still have some evolving of their own to accomplish.  But it'll get there.  Because Oracle's leadership knows: stitching matters.

Changing My Lab

Sun, 2014-06-29 19:02
As we continue to see more inroads made by cloud and SaaS technology, I have to admit to a downside...what can I work with in my local lab.

My local lab consists of two iMacs, an Apple Airbook, several arrays of 1-TB external hard drives from OWC, and a serious effort in leveraging virtual machines (I'm personally a VMware fan).  It wasn't too long ago that I could run most Oracle technology on my little lab platform.  And I like it that way...I prefer to have total control over all my prototyping and development environments.

But as Oracle transitions to the cloud, the software footprint for the various Oracle technologies I work with has just become too big for my lab platform. Fusion Applications, the Business Process Management Suite, OBIEE, the SOA Suite...heck, even E-Business Suite 12.2.x is pushing the limit.  Some of the footprint growth is due to new features, some to code bloat or technical debt, and some is just the nature of the beast with enterprise applications built for the cloud.

I'll also admit to being cheap here.  There's no subscription fees for AWS or Oracle Cloud coming out of my personal wallet.  Just not gonna happen.  And investing in new hardware seems to be akin to stocking up on buggy whips or vacuum tubes.

So, what's my plan?  My intent is to go back to basics for my home lab.  I can still run an Oracle database quite nicely (anything ranging from Enterprise to APEX to Express).  I can also run Oracle ADF (but, due to performance issues, I choose Glassfish over WebLogic).  OBIEE sample apps also fit and run well.  But I'll have to look to my company, my customer, or some other kind-hearted soul for bigger sandboxes - Fusion Apps or Middleware, OBIEE, and anything having to do with SOA integration or business process builds.  I'm not crazy about this solution, but it is what it is...

What about the rest of you out there?  How do you folks (especially the non-Oracle employees) handle your personal sandboxes these days?  Any ideas or suggestions?  Comments welcome.

About User Groups

Tue, 2014-06-24 17:37
I'm hanging out in the middle of nowhere this week...Fort Riley, Kansas.  Here to visit my granddaughters.  Which means I'm missing ODTUG's KScope14 conference.  Missed the OAUG/Quest/IOUG Collaborate14 this year as well.  Will also be absent at OAUG's ConnectionPoint14 in Pittsburgh.  Will be missing a few others that are usually on my calendar as well (But I made it to UTOUG Training Days, Alliance14, and the MidAtlantic HEUG conference - will also make it to the ECOAUG later this year).

With all the user conferences missed in 2014, I've had some folks asking if I still believe it Oracle user groups.  The short answer is yes.  The longer answer is yes, but I do believe the user group model needs to change a bit.

Attend a user group conference this year (sorry, Oracle OpenWorld does not count - it is NOT a user group conference).  Look around at the faces.  Other than those working the partner sales booths, the vast majority of those faces will be middle-aged and older.  See, when user groups were first formed, the model was built to appeal to Baby Boomers and Echo Boomers.  And the big thrill was face-to-face networking.  Now that the Baby Boomers and Echo Boomers are riding off into the enterprise technology sunset, the user group model can only flourish by changing the model for those who take our places.

Face-to-face networking is still important, but just doesn't seem to hold the same level of importance for these younger workers.  Easily accessed on-demand education sessions on the web (for free), virtual gatherings on GoogleTalk, facilitating group chats on focused subjects, information in short snippets...simple, quick and virtual channels of information delivery seem to gain more traction with the rising generation than annual, huge national or international conferences when it comes to enterprise apps.

So, yeah, I still believe in user groups.  But, as long as you're asking, I think the model will need changing in order to flourish into the future.

I'm going back to the grandkids now...

Learning From The Earnings Call

Fri, 2014-06-20 15:36
So now that we've heard the Oracle FY14 Q4 financial results, what did we learn?  Most noticeably, Oracle continues to be a company in transition...and that transition is beginning to take hold.  Changing a company and an ecosystem as large as Oracle's is like turning a takes time.  But we have some pretty clear evidence that the battleship is turning.

Let's look at the numbers for a minute.  Oracle's SaaS and PaaS for FY14 came in at $1.12B (US).  That's up 23% from last year.  Heck, they're going that part of the business like a weed.  Oracle is already well past Workday in terms of annual revenue (although the comparison is a bit unfair because Workday isn't really in the PaaS business, so let's not count them out by any means), and is approaching about 50% of the latest SaleForce revenue numbers.  Comparatively speaking, Oracle is an up-and-comer in the space.

But the transition is not without some pain.  New software licenses were flat for the quarter and earnings-per-shared missed expectations.  That tells me two things:  1) some of that cloud growth is at the sacrifice of software licensing deals; 2) Oracle has yet to figure out how to make cloud services as profitable as license deals.  We're likely to see the second point work itself out as the pressure for margins ramps up through existing Oracle customers take advantage of the Customer 2 Cloud program.

So what we're seeing is the continuing transition of Oracle into a SaaS and PaaS provider, but with some speed bumps along the be expected in any transition, especially one of this magnitude.  So, you may ask, what's driving the growth?

IMHO, Oracle offers three factors that differentiate their SaaS and PaaS offerings from other market competitors:

1) A database that offers the benefits of multi-tenancy without commingling data.  That's a huge advantage in overcoming security fears of many potential cloud customers.  And, from what I can tell, security fears are the biggest objection for most potential cloud customers.

2) A very well-design User Experience with Simplified UI.  While there's still work to be done (let's build responsiveness into ADF, the tool used to build the UX, so that we can build once for all platforms), Oracle's UX has built a big differentiator in the marketplace.  And offering up the templates and design patterns so that developers can build their own apps with the same UX is a great approach.

3) Deep pockets.  Check out that Oracle balance sheet.  With all that cash, Oracle can afford to invest in growing their cloud business.  That includes investing in strategic customer accounts.

So while Oracle's Q4 report could have been better, I personally saw what I was looking for: tangible signs of progress in Oracle's transition.  Learned from the earnings call.  Ya'all go ahead and sell that stock.  Poo-poo all over the outlook.  Whatever.  The battleship is turning.

DISCLAIMER:  I hold 10 shares of Oracle stock that I acquired while working for Oracle in the 90's.  I keep it just for sentimental value.  I'm admittedly a big fan of Oracle technology.  And while I'm not always a fan of Oracle's business tactics, I think they're a very smart company from a strategic perspective.  So, it's true...I'm biased.  Now you know.

Flipping The Fit Gap

Wed, 2014-05-21 10:02
I've been in the software business a long time now...I can remember from first-hand experience how things were done 15 and 20 years ago.  It seems like one of the biggest changes from then to now comes in our approach to "Fit Gap".

Fit Gap sessions are part of most packaged application implementations approaches.  The idea is to compare user requirements with software functionality in order to see how well the software "fits" with those requirements and where the software fails to meet those requirements (each of the latter is a "gap").

In the past, the focus was on fulfilling identified gaps by manipulating the software:  personalizations, extensions, customizations...what ever was needed to support changing the software to fit end user business practices.  But times have changed.

Enterprise Application systems now come with industry best practices baked into the software.  In fact, when Enterprise Software vendors talk today about "transforming your enterprise", they're really focused on three things:

1.  Leveraging the best business practices baked into the software to improve a customer's business processes.

2. Providing valuable information about your enterprise from all that data collected by the enterprise applications system (transactional reports, business intelligence and analytics, etc.).

3. Improve your operational agility and provide an opportunity to redirect your IT focus by moving your IT operations to the cloud.

The changes in Enterprise Applications have changed the nature of the Fit Gap process.  The emphasis has changed.  The objective is no longer to simply move your business processes to a new technical platform.  Instead, the target is to determine how well the best practices baked into the applications will work for your enterprise.  In other words, will this software package make my business better?

Over the past few years, I've seen a change as Enterprise Applications customers have picked up on the change.  There's less of an effort on building big requirements up front.  Instead, those customers are running the software "plain vanilla" out of the box in a test run (or Conference Room Pilot 1 or CRP 1).  Afterwards, the Fit Gap is conducted...but with a focus on how well the current enterprise fits into the business processes baked into the software.  Changing the software mostly occurs when the customer enterprise is, for one critical business reason or another, unable to fit into a best practice.

Big change when you think about it.  Fit Gap has been flipped from an emphasis on "make the software fit us" to "how can the software help transform our business"?  Fit Gap has been flipped!