Oracle Apps strategy gets the nod from Forrester Research

A new research report out of Forrester titled Which Has The Better Apps Strategy: Oracle Or SAP? (subscription required) was recently published.

The last time Forrester published a comprehensive strategic review of the vendors was in 2006 and as noted in the new research report, much has changed since that time.  Back in 2006 they called it a “battle of the architectures” and SAP was given the nod by Forrester.

Since that time however Oracle has closed the gap in terms of enterprise apps revenue (with a 33% compund annual growth rate versus SAP’s 13% ignoring currency fluctuations) and out of eight criteria for success identified by Forrester, Oracle has the advantage in 4 and SAP only 3 (one resulted in a tie).

More importantly, the criteria where Oracle is considered the leader shows that we have the focus on the most important aspects of our customer’s businesses.  For example we lead in Vision, Support for Openness and Standards and the Path to Dynamic Business standards – all of which point to a better future for our customers with Oracle than with SAP.

The traction we’ve gained since 2006 is starting to pay off and the momentum will continue going forward.  I can’t wait to see what Forrester thinks in 2010!

The insidious effects of Productivity claims

Interesting little tidbit in CIO Insight this week about productivity.  Parallax View – IT Spending – IT: A Bright Spot in an Economic Slowdown.

There’s nothing wrong really with trying to see the silver lining in an economic slowdown (ie. that workers are increasing their productivity while the economy slows), but I think we need to see beyond the short term effects of this productivity surge as they call it.

The writer’s feel that businesses haven’t been investing as heavily as they did in in the 1990’s and I agree with that.  I cut my teeth in the business world during the go-go days when everyone was installing ERP systems to head of the doomsday scenario that Y2K was sure to bring.  I felt fortunate to be in consulting those years because it was lucrative but I really should have been in sales.  I think you just had to sit by your phone for a few years in the late 90’s and fortunes rained down upon you.

Back to today’s reality however, I think the game has changed significantly.  The low hanging fruit is gone.  What major or even medium sized company doesn’t have an ERP system already?  There’s even plentiful solutions for the SMB market.  Where to invest the IT dollars isn’t as much of a no-brainier anymore but I think the returns to be had can be significant if you’re actually aligning your IT projects to your business needs.

Anyway, I started out talking about productivity and what’s left unsaid behind the numbers.  I tend to think that productivity is going to go up during recessions because companies force less people to do the same work that was done by more.  Whether companies actively reduce their headcount or let it happen by attrition it’s natural that the ones left behind will be obliged to pick up the slack.  You know they want to do it because the alternative is looking for a new job when there are plenty of others doing the same and businesses aren’t hiring.  I think this is, at best, a very short term solution.  I say we should look for productivity to increase going into the downturn but start to lag just like everything else.  Despite fearing for their jobs, people still get burnt out.  They will start to spend more time complaining about the way things are versus how they used to be.  They might still stay at work until 9pm and come in at 7am but the output during those hours just is not going to be sustainable over time.

One of my favorite sites, iTulip, posted this great article on the insidious unseen effects of Inflation.  Although the topic of the article is inflation, I think you can draw a great parallel between that and what happens during an economic slowdown.  In the iTulip article they used a restaurant as the business to illustrate how inflation changes the way they operate.  You can read between the lines though and see that all companies could react the same way – all businesses have people and they have inputs to their end product.   A restaurant or company cutting back can cut their fixed expenses by reducing the number of people, or they can try to lower unit costs by substituting cheaper products or providing less quantity for the price.  While having less shrimp in your pad Thai is a bad thing, I’m more focused here on what the effect is on the employees left to hold it together.

The quote from the article hits it right on the head:

Management tries to lower fixed expenses (versus per plate of food unit costs) by reducing staff. Customers experience this as slowness and crankiness among the remaining overburdened wait staff.  If your wait person is cranky and unresponsive, count how many tables they are covering before passing judgment. These days it’s probably too many.

The morale of their article is that well run, properly capitalized businesses that have a lot of cash can use these recessions to steal the customers from their weaker competitor’s.  The key is to not do the things that are forcing your competitor’s to go out of business.  Don’t raise your prices as much, don’t begin to skimp on the quality of the products you offer and most importantly, don’t let the service you provide slip because you’ve decided to rest all the work of many on the shoulders of less.

Bad things can happen when you push people to the point of breaking…

Are your projects failing? How to avoid the Pitfalls

In a recently published article entitled Why Projects Fail (And How to Avoid the Pitfalls) published by Enterprise Systems, Senior Director of Strategy for Oracle Projects Colleen Baumbach outlines many of the common mistakes that lead to project failure.

I think one of the best points Ms. Baumbach makes is at the end where she says the accumulated years of project failures almost creates a mindset from the start that a project is doomed.  As she notes, there are countless studies that have been prepared showing how dismal project success rates are.

How are companies addressing this?  According to a Forrester study published in early 2007, twenty-six percent of IT leaders planned to hire project managers and 59 percent planned to train their current staff in project management in 2007.  They noted that those numbers changed very little from 2002.

Further reasoning behind the rush to acquire or train more qualified project managers: 

“The reason for the continued emphasis on project management skills is because IT’s value to business remains contingent on it’s ability to deliver projects which meet business requirements both on time and on budget. IT staff accustomed to more technical roles struggle to transition to project management, CIO’s argue, and complain that educational institutions are not putting adequate focus on these skills through coursework.”

It should be a good time to be a project manager as long as you know how to avoid the pitfalls.

CFO’s rate Data Integrity a Critical Issue

In a recent article from Baseline titled, One in Nine CFOs See High Return Benefits from IT, they report that of the 629 CFO’s surveyed, close to half of them rate improving data quality in their enterprise as a critical issue.

Here in Oracle Projects one of our greatest assets has always been to promote our tight integration with the rest of the E-Business Suite, such as Financial’s and HR.  When products are built from the ground up to be integrated together, you eliminate many of the problems that occur from having disparate 3rd party systems all trying to share data.

Even if you must use special best-of-breed or niche products to help manage your business, then CFO’s and CIO’s should at least look into our AIA strategy to help them build tighter integration and hence improve their data integrity.

8 Ways to Save your next Project…and how we can make it happen!

On the Baseline site recently there was an article posted about the recurring theme of IT projects running chronically late.  The title of the article is 8 Ways to Save Your Next Project.

Here I’m taking that article and giving it an Oracle spin!

1. Get your head out of the software

Most project managers spend too much time in their project-planning applications and not enough time doing the briefing and communicating for which they are solely responsible. You should be spending the bulk of your time talking to and corresponding with project constituents – your team, the stakeholders, vendors, consultants and key end-users. The “soft” skill of communication is integral to project success.

Oracle Spin: Totally agree!  Our Project Collaboration module pushes the task of tracking progress and creating issues and managing documents and deliverables to your team members.  Why have the PM have to ask for status updates and then enter those when it’s best done if the hands of the task owners?

 2. Plan and define as much as possible—but don’t go overboard

A key component of project management is the thorough and meticulous planning of every aspect of a project, but a perfectionist could spend all his or her time in the planning stage. There’s no way to anticipate every variable so at some point, you have to pull the trigger.

Project managers are increasingly using rapid project deployments and iterative models that have been successful in the software development world. These models are based on the principle that in some ways it’s better to start the project and see what you’re up against.

Oracle Spin: Our project creation templates take the pain out of making new projects!  Why create a project from scratch when you already know 80% of what you want it to look like because you’re doing the same thing over and over?  From pre-defined templates with most of your relevant information included, to actually choosing a past project to copy from to build your new project, we’ve got you covered when it comes to saving time setting up your details.

3. Manage scope creep—for real

Like a turkey on Thanksgiving, you can rely on the fact that the project you think you’re heading for may bare only a passing resemblance to the one you end up with. With the increasing complexity of data centers and the Pandora’s box of surprises once you get under the hood, it’s advisable to game out and document the potential sources of scope creep. For instance, the team may want to take a different approach than planned, management may want to change, add or expand the deliverables or you may uncover a technical aspect you didn’t know existed.

Oracle Spin: Our Change and Issue management feature helps you keep on top of those constant changes that occur in your projects and even lets you see the impact of accepting a change request before you approve it!

4. Don’t be lazy with risk management

If you need 200 servers delivered at the same time for a worldwide mail server upgrade, it’s not enough to know what the risk is if the vendor doesn’t deliver. It’s time to manage the risk by deciding ahead of time that, as reliable as your vendor has been in the past, there’s little margin for error. Going with two or three vendors might be more complicated but in the end, it may save your project if only 20 severs aren’t delivered on time instead of 200.

Oracle Spin: Nothing to spin here since we believe Risk Management is something every good PM will do – in this scenario it’s a business decision that just might make sense for the given project.  If you want, you can model several different versions of a budget under various costing scenarios by different vendors so you can see what cost impact that redundancy will have.

5. Get a grip on expectations

Ask vendors and consultants for the best, most likely and worst-case scenarios and then use your own resources to calculate the aggregated risk so you can determine the probable outcome.

There are risk management software applications that can help you do the job. There’s no way to guarantee that a project won’t be delayed or go over budget, but taking off the rose-colored glasses will reduce the likelihood of extreme variances.

Oracle Spin: Check out one of our newest acquisitions called Crystal Ball – this best of breed predictive modelling software suite of analytical tools includes Monte Carlo simulation, optimization, and forecasting.

6. Govern with strength

Even with all the good work you did up front, problems and roadblocks will surely arise. Don’t blow it when it comes to actually addressing the problems. To the degree you can, refer to the approaches you documented and discussed with your team. If planned properly, your team should be able to tackle the problems early on before they become major hindrances.

Depending on the event, governance may include gaining approval from management to sign off on project changes that effect the project budget or time frame beyond a certain point. For example, if changing direction means the project will cost 10 percent more and take 10 percent longer, it may be time to bring senior stakeholders into the loop.

Oracle Spin: Again I refer to our Issue and Change Management features of our product which will help you assess the impact of unplanned project bumps.  If you’ve tracked an Issue (and if you’re using Project Collaboration, any team member can create an Issue!) and now it’s time has come, you can easily roll it over into a change request and route it for approval.

If you need enterprise strength Governance, check out our complete solution here!

7. Prepare for intervention

If your approaches are better in theory than in practice, it might be time to intervene with the project plan. Create an intervention plan before the project starts and communicate the plan to everyone directly and indirectly involved. The plan may include steps to take when adding resources, for assessing project-management practices and even changing the project leader.

Oracle Spin: Oracle Projects allows you to store and share documents with all of your team members to keep track of important items such as the Charter, Statement of Work, Risk and Compliance Procedures, templates etc.

8. Drive behavior to use the technology

Whatever you do, don’t rest on your laurels when the technical aspects of the project are completed. Creating a plan to ensure that people actually use the technology you just spent 18 months implementing will serve you well. If you and your organization want to see your expected return on investment, make sure you have a hand in educating and training users.

Oracle Spin: And if you want to see that your project ROI has been positive, be sure to use our Earned Value reports and calculations as you progress through the project.  So even if the end users decide they really didn’t need that whizz-bang new application that you built, at least you’ll make sure you were managing your project to expectations and within budget and you’ll have a great story as you’re looking for your next project to run!

New Oracle Whitepaper Released on Projects

A newly released whitepaper focuses on the common pitfalls that lead to project failures.  Written by our Director of PPM Product Marketing, Kazim Isfahani, the whitepaper entitled Why Projects Fail: Avoiding the Classic Pitfalls discusses the core reasons for project failure, and goes one step further by proposing recommendations for avoiding the risks and pitfalls.

This is a product agnostic look into whether project failures are considered normal these days given the high rates of failure, but also addresses six common reasons why projects are doomed to fail before they even start.

Mr. Isfahani will be speaking on Project Management Best Practices at Collaborate 08 in Denver this month.  See the time and a synopsis of that session below.

The curse of the buttons

Just read an interesting article over at PM World Today,called “Innovation and the Curse of Knowledge”.  It deals with the topic of how so many products are over-engineered because the people that design and build them are intimately familiar with so many of the features they jam in, they assume the end users will want them as well.  Using a TV remote as an example the author, R. Max Wideman, suggests many of the buttons are on there because the engineer knew what they did, but the typical user probably won’t have a clue.

The other interesting commentary in the article suggests that intimate knowledge of a product stifles innovation.  This is very true with engineers and product managers and really anyone that follows a typical business process over and over during their daily work routine.  I remember years back hearing Tom Peter’s make a comment that many companies lament when a person retires from say the AP department.  “There goes 25 years of experience out the door”, they’ll say.  Tom’s take on that was “No, there goes 1 years experience repeated 25 times!”  Everyone tends to fall into that trap where it’s often easier to just do things the way they’ve always been done than to continually push for innovative ways to improve the process or product.

We’re no stranger to this phenomena ourselves with our products.  We do hear from customers that some of our pages and processes are a little more cumbersome than they need be, and we love to listen to this feedback.  When we’re designing a page it’s easy to fall into the trap of putting multiple buttons and links on it so the users can do whatever they want, whenever they want and from wherever they want.  With ultimate flexibility though comes complexity and often confusion.

Our goal is always to improve upon our processes and streamline whatever we can.  We want to make a typical process much easier to complete – less pages, less clicks, less time – while at the same time offering the ability to branch out when the non-typical process is called for.  So gathering that feedback from our customers is critical to the process of learning what is it that people use versus what’s superfluous on a page.  That’s the kind of experience you can’t gather from someone working 15 years with the same product.

Who will bring SexyBack?

With apologies to Justin Timberlake, I read with interest an article in CIO Insight today about a blogosphere debate over the merits of ‘sexiness’ in enterprise software.

It seems that Bill Gates started the maelstrom by insinuating consumer technologies got more than their fair share of press coverage versus the enterprise offerings.   Thus a blog dispute was born by some heavyweights about whether or not enterprise software needs to be friendly, let alone sexy.  I have trouble with both of those terms since they’re pretty nebulous.

When they say friendly I guess they mean intuitive, logical and allows the end user to complete their tasks in minimal clicks.  Or does it mean providing context sensitive information so the user is presented what they need to know or task specific help at the time they’re following through a business process?  Maybe it’s all of the above.  But ‘sexy’?  What is that in relation to enterprise software?

The author of the CIO article tries to define it later on when he states ‘Usability is a measure of sexiness…’  I can live with that although I think usability is also an overused term.  If end users tell me they want better usability and provide no more details, then I’d have a hard time guessing what specifically they want.  Faster processing?  Different colors?  Less clicks?  Or perhaps more options to drill down into information?  Any of those items could fall under usability.

Finally, I find it very ironic that CIO Insight is covering this topic on sexy software when they themselves have one of the ugliest websites around.  They have more junk all over their page than I certainly prefer and a lot of it is advertising.  Also, where can readers leave comments and see what other readers have posted to spur some lively debates on the topic?  Oh yeah, you can email their editors and they’ll be sure to get back to you. 

 Not very sexy if you ask me.

The ‘S’ in SaaS doesn’t stand for ‘sticky’

I attended an interesting conference yesterday called the Software Marketing Perspectives Conference here in Austin.  Although the focus of the conference was on Product Management and new trends or solving some common issues for product managers, the most interesting portion I found was a discussion we had about the growing emergence of SaaS (Software as a Service). 

I’m sure most everyone is familiar now with SaaS since the rise of certain companies like Salesforce.com have given legitimacy to the concept, so I certainly don’t want to expound on the virtues, many thought there may be.  I was definitely more interested in the challenges of creating a product that is SaaS focused and how to sustain and grow said product. 

Certainly one of the big benefits for SaaS is the low cost to get started when using an application.  I don’t know how much Salesforce.com costs, but I am focusing more on smaller applications anyway, such as an application like OpenProj from Projity.  They have an MS Project killer application on their hands that costs only $19.99/month per user.  Awesome!  Hereis a recent review of OpenProj.

Here’s the issue I thought of yesterday when I was discussing this with one of the conference attendees…what is there to stop anyone from switching products as often as they gas up their Prius?  As I mentioned in an earlier posting, there is no shortage of companies out there trying to sign you up as a customer for their next killer project management application.  Certainly given the low cost (or often free for a while) price tag companies can continually shop around trying new products and seeing who truly is the best of breed.

Here’s the bottom line – the challenge for SaaS vendors, especially smaller ones who may come late to a market, is how do you keep your customers coming back after you’ve given them the taste of your product?  What keeps your products sticky?  It’s much easier for big enterprise companies because the investment up front was already substantial and to switch to another large enterprise vendor will cost considerable dollars.  But in this new nimble world of smaller, on demand software what is going to be the catch that keeps the customers coming back when the barriers to switch are getting lowered all the time?

Distractions and confidence? What do they have in common?

I said a little while back that I was going to review some of the Project Management software out there.  Funny how quickly things become a little while back, then turn into a longer while back, then it becomes too embarrassing to even bring it up again.

This is a good segue into one of the first products that I thought had some really interesting features.  A company called Devshop has focused their sights on planning for Software projects.  Even though they have a narrow focus, that doesn’t detract from the value of some of the features they built into their product.

The first one, which relates to why I’ve been remiss in updating this blog, is all about distractions.  Who doesn’t have distractions these days with the ability to be contacted by almost anyone in numerous ways throughout the day.  When you’re trying to focus on completing project tasks the amount of distractions that come your way directly affects productivity, your progress and then of course the on time delivery of your project.  This is handled in Devshop by allowing you to tag tasks as distractions.  These are non-project related tasks that pull your resources away from completing their project tasks.

I remember my days when implementing PeopleSoft at customer sites back in the later 90’s.  Using a mouse and Windows was often a new experience for some of our manufacturing customers.  They were used to the green screen systems.  So a large part of my time was spent teaching them how to use a mouse, how to open and utilize multiple windows, where to find the Solitaire game, etc etc.  Being able to show my PM all of the distractions that happened during the day would have been a great way to raise the visibility of those time sucking tasks.

Also, by being able to track the distracting tasks and make them visible to project executives, it makes it easier to get change control items approved.  Of course anyone could create new project tasks to track distracting activities, but I like how Devshop has considered this and built it right into their product.Another key feature I think they’ve built in is the confidence factor.  Anyone can create a plan with dates and say when they believe the project will be done.  That doesn’t do PM’s or executives any good though when dates keep shifting as the project moves along and tasks slip.  If decisions are made based on those dates, wouldn’t you want to know how sure the PM is that those dates are truly achievable, and how much of it is pie in the sky, best case scenario?The confidence factor in Devshop is directly tied to how many requirements, designs and time estimates are in approved or unapproved status.  The more that are approved, the higher the confidence level and therefore the more ‘confident’ you can be in your plan dates being hit. 

The simplistic beauty of this confidence index number is that when someone asks a PM for a finish date on a task or the project overall, the PM can give them an answer along with a caveat based on the confidence number.  Now you’re giving more information to the decision makers.  Do they want to go ahead and order some expensive new equipment when a dependency task has only a 10% confidence factor that it will be done on the current scheduled date?  If that confidence factor is 80% how would they feel?

The other important thing to remember is that these confidence scores come from actual work being done and approved.  They aren’t just a best guess of the task owners collectively so you can put some faith in the number.