Monday, December 08, 2014

Treasures From The Road

Reading departure signs in some big airport
Reminds me of the places I've been.
Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure
Makes me want to go back again.
If it suddenly ended tomorrow,
I could somehow adjust to the fall.
Good times and riches and son of a b*****s,
I've seen more than I can recall
                      — From Jimmy Buffett’s "Changes in Lattitude, Changes in Attitude"

I’ve been traveling lately.  In fact, since OpenWorld this year, I’ve been on the road around 75% of my time.  All in the continental USA.  From my viewpoint, that’s lots of travel.  But it’s been good - full of variety, working with lots of customers and partners.  Mobile, SaaS applications, BI, UX (including conducting an Oracle HCM UX workshop for Oracle Partners), keynoting at the East Coast Oracle conference (just got the feedback on my talk, and I’m really pleased with it).  I’m not complaining.  Now that I’m done for this calendar year, I have a chance to reflect on the treasures I’ve learned lately.

A really cool thing in all that travel has been talking and working with many of Oracle’s Higher Education customers.  I’m still getting to know that market, so it’s been an enriching experience.  And I’ve gathered some questions posed, observations collected, and commentary about Oracle Cloud Applications that seems to be pretty consistent across those Higher Education users. In fact, they seem pretty consistent in general.  So I thought I’d share them, along with my own thoughts about each, and see what y’all think.

1.  Comment:  My institution/enterprise/organization/firm really needs to get out from under the maintenance costs of our Oracle applications.  We’re continually burning resources with patching and upgrading.  We’re on a very expensive treadmill.  

My Response:  Software-as-a-Service was made for customers like you. With SaaS, Oracle works the patching and upgrading (on your schedule, by the way).  So your resources are now liberated from operational maintenance to work on projects and tasks related to your core mission, whatever that might be.

2.  Comment:  We have unique needs/customers/business processes and we can’t customize in the cloud.  

My Response:  Keep the things that differentiate you or make you unique on-premise.  Take the things that are necessary to do business, but aren’t part of your core mission, and move them into SaaS.  This allows you to stay unique at your core, but gives the operational headaches of the necessary but mundane things to someone else.  This approach is known as a “Hybrid” or “Co-Existence” deployment.  

Optional “Add-On” Response:  Best-practice business processes are baked into the cloud applications.  This is one of the unsung value-adds in SaaS.  It may be worthwhile to take a look at those best-practice business processes and consider whether they might work for you.

3.  Comment:  I’m worried about security in putting sensitive data out on the cloud.  

My Answer comes in two parts:  A) Is data security part of your core business?  It is part of Oracle’s core business.  As a result, they hire platoons of the best “A-Team” security experts to fend off thousands of attacks every day.  So perhaps your data might actually be better protected in the cloud than it is today?  B) Did you know that Oracle does not commingle customer data?  The data of every SaaS customer is physically and virtually separated from every other SaaS customer.  So, in terms of data separation, you won’t sacrifice anything by moving to the cloud.

4.  Observation:  The position of UX in the applications market has changed dramatically over the past year.  

Rather than being an optional value-add, UX is now a basic requirement for a seat at the table.  Ugly, complicated applications just don’t sell anymore.  Basic, packaged applications must meet the standards of elegant, consistent user interfaces and simple paths to results  just to enter the market.  And end users now expect custom, home-grown applications to meet those same standards.  If you can’t punch your UX ticket, you just can’t play…period.

5.  Question:  What’s the difference between Workday and Oracle Cloud Application Services?  

NOTE:  I knew this one would get your attention.  We're playing with fire now ;)

My Response:  I have a great deal of respect for what Workday is doing.  They’re designing and building elegant, clean, simple applications that have turned the entire enterprise applications market on its head.  I’m a fan.  That being said, I think Oracle has a differentiator with a deeper and richer set of features…you’ll find standard features that only exist in Oracle’s cloud applications.  That’s important because it allows Oracle to address a wider and more complex range of use cases and business processes.  There are other factors for and against both Workday and Oracle.  But, in my mind, that’s the big difference.

So those are the big treasures from my recent travels.  Thoughts? Feedback?  Comments please.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Cooking The Bird

So this has very little to do with Oracle, but it’s the big thing everyone has been asking me about over the past two or three weeks.  If you’re a vegan or a vegetarian, you may want to stop reading right now.

Thanksgiving is coming up here in the States.  It’s a bit deal in terms of remembering what to be thankful about.  It’s also a big deal in terms of cooking, especially cooking turkey.  Y’all asked for it, so here it is:  this is my best recipe for cooking a Thanksgiving turkey.  This will make about 18 servings.

Orange Brine

  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups kosher or sea salt, or one cup table salt
  • 1 cup white sugar or 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 oranges, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon of whole cloves
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
  • 1 Whole Turkey, 12 to 14 pounds, thawed
  • 1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Maple Glaze
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 small orange, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract

  • In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the water, salt and sugar to a boil.  Be sure you’re stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar.  Once boiling, turn off heat and let cool to room temperature.
  • In a 3-gallon food-safe container (I use a food storage bucket or a camping cooler), combine one gallon of water with the oranges, cloves, bay leaves and peppercorns.  Add the sugar-salt solution and stir.
  • Congrats!  You’ve made the brine!
  • Remove the giblets and neck from the turkey (I keep ‘em around for making gravy).  Remove excess fat and pat the turkey dry with paper towels.
  • Submerge the turkey in the brine.  Top it off with a weight if needed to keep it submerged.  If the turkey is a bit large, add more water.
  • Keep the turkey and brine in the refrigerator for 12 hours.
  • While the turkey is soaking in the brine, make your glaze.  Stir all three ingredients in a small bowl.  Cover and refrigerate until one hour before the turkey is done cooking.  Don’t worry, we’ll use this in a bit.
  • If you’re cooking in a smoker, load the smoker with apple or cherry wood and start your fire.  If you’re grilling, set up your grill for indirect medium heat (google this if you need instructions).  If you’re cooking in the oven, pre-heat to 325 degrees F.
  • Remove the turkey from the brine and pat it dry with paper towels.  Brush all over with a thin coating of the olive oil.  Do not season, as the brine soak took care of that.
  • Put your turkey in a large foil roasting pan.
  • Place the turkey, still in the roasting pan, in your smoker/grill/oven breast side up!!!  Close the lid or door and find something else to do - don’t peek.  If you’re grilling or oven roasting, plan to cook around 13 minutes per pound.  In a smoker, figure it closer to 30 minutes per pound - yeah, that’s a long cook, so plan accordingly.  NOTE:  if you’re grilling or oven roasting, you’ll likely miss out on most of the wood smoke flavor.  Grab some Liquid Smoke in Applewood flavor from the BBQ Sauce section of your local grocery - add in a teaspoon when you’re making the glaze; it’s not the same, but it’ll fool most people.  Just keep in mind that too much will make your turkey taste extremely bitter, so err on the light side.
  • Discard your brine.  You’re all done with it.
  • After two hours, begin basting with a combination of orange juice plus either water or apple juice (not both!); I prefer apple juice - more moistening and leaves no flavor behind, but to each his/her own. Baste every two hours until the glaze is applied.
  • One hour before the turkey is done cooking, remove the glaze from the refrigerator and let sit at room temp.
  • 30 minutes before your turkey is done cooking, remove the turkey from the foil pan.  See all the drippings in your pan?  That’s for the gravy.  Grab the can and put the turkey breast up directly on the cooking grate.  Close the lid or door and go make your gravy.
  • When you grab the pan and drippings for the gravy, brush the glaze all over your turkey.
  • Your turkey is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 180 degrees F.  Don’t have an instant-read thermometer? Stick a toothpick in the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone; remove the toothpick and inspect the juices running out of the hole; your turkey is done when the juices run clear.
  • When your turkey is done, remove from the heat to a platter and (very important) let it stand for 20 minutes at room temp before carving!
  • But wait, you say, what about stuffing???  Truth is, using this recipe, the inside of the bird will never get hot enough to entirely cook the stuffing.  I cook my stuffing in an aluminum pan on top of the stove…usually add a teaspoon or two of the drippings while it’s cooking.  If I want the bird stuffed, I’ll stuff it while it’s standing after the cooking is done…yeah, I normally don’t do this…never have heard any complaints.
  • One note about something everyone fusses over:  carving.  I use an odd technique taught to me by a professional butcher - it keeps the meat juicier, avoids shredding the meat, and makes the overall presentation much better.  First, remove the entire breast from the bone in one large cut.  Cut across the breast to make crescent-shaped pieces.  Move the pieces to the serving platter as a whole breast, then cut off and add the drumsticks, thighs and wings.

So there ya go!  We'll get back to the Oracle stuff next week.  In the meantime, enjoy and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Update at Windsor's request:

Monday, November 10, 2014

Penguins and Conferences

I just came back from the East Coast Oracle User Group conference.  Good conference.  Lots of solid, technical knowledge being shared.  Being there got me to thinking...

Over the past few years, a big concern for people attending conferences is the need to justify their attendance.  It's a big deal.  And, in my own mine, the only real justification is what you bring back, share and apply post-conference.  Let me tell you a story (can you hear all of my children groaning in the background?).

All the penguins in my neighborhood get together for a little meeting every month.  They talk about the happenings around the neighborhood, complain about the weather, catch up with each other, share info on where the fish are, and all sorts of things.  It's just a little social gathering.  At least, it was until last month.

Last month, a new penguin stopped by.  He was on his way north, looking for better penguin weather.  And he was flying!  The local penguin crew was stunned because, as everybody knows, penguins can't fly.  But the new bird promised to teach them all to fly.  And, after about four hours of instruction and practice, all those penguins were flying.  Soaring.  Barrel rolls.  Loops.  Bomber dives.  Spins.  What a bunch of happy penguins, high-fiving each other and laughing about the new knowledge and skills they acquired.

After another four hours, those penguins were exhausted.  Huffing and puffing.  Soreness from muscles they didn't even know they had.  But they were exhilarated. They all agreed it was a spectacular day.

And then they all walked home...

You want to justify your attendance at a conference?  Be smarter than my local penguins.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Bringing Clarity To The Avalanche - Part II

You had to be hiding under a rock (with no cell or internet service) to miss out on the fact that Oracle was trumpeting cloud messages throughout OpenWorld.  Far too much news for one person to track. So I'd like to approach discussing this in a very different way.

Today, I'm simply putting up a link to the best Oracle press release on recent cloud announcements.  The release touts the six new platform services for Oracle Cloud.  You can find it here.  This is the "sneak peek", made especially for those of you who think I'm too slow about writing things.  Heck, I'm much faster than George RR Martin, but anything to keep ya'all happy...

UPDATE:  So the highlights for me all have to do with PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service)...30,000 devices, 400 pedabytes of storage, 19 data centers around the globe...whew.

I had the opportunity to work hands-on with the Mobile Cloud, which puts development, deployment and administration onto one user interface (yup, it's the Oracle Alta UI).  Built a mobile app in about 30 minutes.  More on that in a subsequent post.

The Integration Cloud also looks exciting.  Yes, there are other integration service providers (Boomi comes immediately to mind), but working on integration of Oracle products on an Oracle platform offers some pretty unique possibilities.

The Process Cloud looks promising, especially if we will eventually be able to extend Oracle packaged applications with custom, cloud-based business processes.

Those are my big three highlights.  How about you?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Bringing Clarity To The Avalanche Part 1 - OOW14

Since the prior post here, I've had some people ask why I compared Oracle OpenWorld this year to an avalanche.  Well, to be honest, there are two reasons.  First, it was certainly an avalanche of news. You can check all the Oracle press releases related to the conference here (warning: it's pages and pages of information).  Second, I'm tired of using the analogy of sipping or drinking from a firehose...time to try something new.

So let's talk about some User Experience highlights from the conference.  Why am I starting with UX?  Because I like it and it's my blog ;)

Alta UI

OK, let's be clear.  Alta is more of a user interface standard than a full UX, as it focuses strictly on UI rather than the entire user experience.  That being said, it's pretty cool.  It's a very clean and simplified look, and applies many lessons learned through Oracle's (separate) UX efforts.  I could blab on and on about Oracle Alta, but you can learn about it for yourself here.


We all love gadgets.  I had the opportunity to get a sneak peek at some of the "projects that aren't quite products yet" in the works at the Oracle UX Labs.  Beacons are a big part of that work.  Turns out that the work has already progress beyond mere gadgetry.  The beacons were used to help guide me from station to station within the event space - this booth is ready for you now.  The AppsLab team talks about beacons on a regular basis.  I'm much more sold now on the usefulness to beacon technology than I was before OOW.  This was one of the better applications I've seen at the intersection of Wearables and the Internet of Things.

Simplified UI

I like the concepts behind Simplified UI because well-designed UX drives user acceptance and increases productivity.  Simplified UI was originally introduced for Oracle Cloud Applications back when they were known as Fusion Applications.  But now we're seeing Simplified UI propagating out to other Oracle Applications.  We now see Simplified UI patterns applied to the E-Business Suite, JD Edwards and PeopleSoft.  Different underlying technology for each, but the same look and feel.  Very cool to see the understanding growing within Oracle development that user experience is not only important, but is a value-add product in and of itself.

Simplified UI Rapid Development Kit

Simplified UI is great for Oracle products, but what if I want to extend those products.  Or, even better, what if I want to custom-build products with the same look and feel?  Well, Oracle has made it easy for me to literally fact, they want me to steal...their secret sauce with the Simplified UI Rapid Development Kit.  Yeah, I'm cheating a bit.  This was actually released before OOW.  But most folks, especially Oracle partners, were unaware prior to the conference.  If I had a nickel for every time I saw a developer's eyes light up over this at OOW, I'd could buy my own yacht and race Larry across San Francisco Bay.  Worth checking out if you haven't already.

Student Cloud

I'll probably get hauled off to the special prison Oracle keeps for people who toy with the limits of their NDA for this, but it's too cool to keep to myself.  I had the opportunity to work hands-on with an early semi-functional prototype of the in-development Student Cloud application for managing Higher Education continuing education students.  The part that's cool:  you can see great UX design throughout the application.  Very few clicks, even fewer icons, a search-based navigation architecture, and very, very simple business processes for very specific use cases.  I can't wait to see and hear reactions when this app rolls out to the Higher Education market.

More cool stuff next post...

Monday, October 06, 2014

Clarity In The Avalanche

So I've spent the days since Oracle OpenWorld 14 decompressing...puttering in the garden, BBQing for family, running errands.  The idea was to give my mind time to process all the things I saw and heard at OOW this year.  Big year - it was like trying to take a sip from a firehose.  Developing any clarity around the avalanche of news has been tough.

If you average out all of Oracle's new product development, it comes to a rate of one new product release every working day of the year.  And I think they saved up bunches for OOW. It was difficult to keep up.

It was also difficult to physically keep up with things at OOW, as Oracle utilized the concept of product centers and spread things out over even more of downtown San Francisco this year. For example, Cloud ERP products were centered in the Westin on Market Street.  Cloud HCM was located at the Palace Hotel.  Sales Cloud took over the 2nd floor of Moscone West.  Higher Education focused around the Marriott Marquis. Anything UX, as well as many other hands-on labs, happened at the InterContinental Hotel.  And, of course, JavaOne took place at the Hilton on Union Square along with the surrounding area.  The geographical separation required even more in the way of making tough choices about where to be and when to be there.

With all that, I think I've figured out a way to organize my own take on the highlights from OOW - with a tip o' the hat to Oracle's Thomas Kurian.  Thomas sees Oracle as based around five product lines:  engineered systems, database, middleware, packaged applications, and cloud services. The more I consider this framework, the more it makes sense to me.  So my plan is to organize the news from OOW around these five product lines over the next few posts here.  We'll see if we can't find some clarity in the avalanche.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Good UX - Don't Leave Home Without It

There was a time when I asserted that User Experience would be a differentiator for Oracle in selling Fusion Applications.  Lots has changed since then, so I think it’s time to change my own thinking.  What’s changed?

  • Oracle has a cloud platform
  • Fusion Applications is now Cloud Application Services
  • We’re seeing well-designed user experiences throughout Oracle’s offerings: Simplified UI in moving into the Applications Unlimited products, and is also evident throughout Oracle’s cloud services offerings.
  • Other enterprise application software companies now see the value of a well-designed user experience.  Look at the transition at Infor.  Check ADP’s announcement from earlier today.  Even the brand-W company that cannot be named recently released software that is a straight clone of Oracle’s Simplified UI.

OpenWorld has only reinforced my opinion.  Everyone here - Oracle product teams, Oracle partners, 3rd-party product providers - everyone is talking about and offering an enhanced UX.

So, I don’t consider good user experience design as a differentiator anymore.  I now see it as a necessity.  Enterprise software applications vendors must offer well-design UI to even have a seat at the table.

But what about custom-developed applications?  Good user experience still required.  You can’t expect user adoption without it.  In fact, I see the tools that facilitate good user experience design to be value-added products in and of themselves.

Good UX.  Don’t leave home without it.

Plea For Tight Messages - OOW14

It’s so easy to lose track of time at Oracle OpenWorld.  I think I’m writing this on Tuesday, but can’t say for sure…

Lots of information being shared here:  incremental development of Simplified UI, a myriad of new cloud services announced (including a very cool Integration Cloud Service), new features for MySQL, new mobile applications for the E-Business Suite, Eloqua services for Higher Education, a visualization-oriented UI for OBIEE (and saw a very cool new visualization UI from the UX team, but I can’t talk about that yet), some interesting uses of Beacons…it’s like drinking from a firehose and darn near drowning in the attempt.  Info overload.

One of the cool things one gets to see at OOW: the rise of new third-party applications that improve and enhance Oracle products..  On Monday, I had the opportunity to sit down with the brain trust behind Xprtly!  What impressed me the most is the focus of their message - they’ve got it down to four slides (including a title).  Take a look and see if you get it.

So why do I bring this up?  Go back and read the second paragraph.  We’re all on information overload here.  The virtual noise level is incredible.  Tight, focused messages cut through the noise and get the point across.  Wish we saw more of this approach here…