Oracle, the Innovation Company

Fresh on the heels of our very successful OpenWorld in San Francisco last week I wanted to highlight this favorable blog post from Joshua Greenbaum at 

In it Joshua highlights a few topics that are also of particular interest for Projects customers.  First of all there was a good presentation of the Fusion apps that impressed the author.  To quote him: “Oracle has made good on its promise to deliver Fusion Apps, and has greatly exceeded my expectations in doing so. A very impressive debut.”

Second, he recognized that our strategy for Apps Unlimited is delivering on our promise to continue to enhance the products already being used by our customers.  E-Business Suite (of which Projects is one application) has been enhanced in many ways and we showed and discussed the roadmap for Projects 12.1 at the conference.  Customers can find out more information on Metalink for all of the details on that release.

Joshua also discusses the enhancements to the Oracle Business Intelligence applications.  We presented a paper at OOW this year about the OBIEE solution coming for Project Analytics.  It was very well received and like our customers we are very excited for it’s release.  It will open up a a whole new level of analytics to our customers and give them even greater insight into their projects.

Finally the author touches on the AIA (Application Integration Architecture) strategy of Oracle.  Rolled out last year AIA is Oracle’s toolset to glue all of the acquired products together.  As Joshua writes:

“This product, which orchestrates all the different processes across the vast, and disparate, Oracle Applications stack, is the place where the vision of Oracle becomes reality: There is no way for Oracle to pull off rationalizing its massive acquisition strategy without AIA making all the interprocess communications between, say, Glog, Siebel, Oracle Financials and PeopleSoft HR (and SAP, while we’re at it) seamless, easy, and fast. Absent a highly performant AIA middleware layer, Oracle’s dream of cross application process functionality becomes a user nightmare.”

For Projects, we are no less interested in leveraging AIA than any other part of the company.  We’re excited to be able to tie our applications in with some of the best of breed products that we’ve acquired such as Agile and Hyperion.  We’d very much like to hear from our customers as to which apps you would find most useful to integrate with and provide input on our AIA roadmap.


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!

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.

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 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 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?