Oracle OpenWorld is still over 11 weeks away (September 30 – October 4) but those considering going need to decide soon whether to participate this year. Registration costs will increase $300 at the end of this week. More importantly, hotel and flight options become more scarce and expensive as each day passes. OpenWorld has become so large, with at least 45,000 people expected this year, that it stretches the limits of downtown San Francisco to accommodate everyone comfortably. Those that register fashionably late pay a heavy price for doing so.

For the JD Edwards community, OpenWorld is now one of three major annual events. Collaborate tends to be the most complete experience and the one that those who can only afford to go to one usually choose. Next years Collaborate will be held in Denver on April 7-11, 2013.  The next Quest JD Edwards conference called INFOCUS  will be held in Broomfield, Colorado on November 7-9 at the Omni Resort. It sounds very exciting, but as a new event it is hard to predict in advance what it will be like.

The unique appeal of OpenWorld is the breadth of its coverage of the entire and extensive Oracle product line. Those wanting a broader perspective of the company behind JD Edwards and all the other things it offers will find OpenWorld to be the best place to go to get it. The options are so extensive it takes some planning to take advantage of them because the event is spread across a wide area.

Those whose interests include database technology, hardware appliances, mobility, Business Intelligence and even Linux can benefit from going to OpenWorld. If your focus is just in the applications space there is more to see and learn about than just the JD Edwards content. Oracle’s “edge” applications cover functions as diverse as CRM, HCM, transportation management, advanced manufacturing scheduling and much more.

Perhaps the best reason for application-focused professionals to go to OpenWorld is to learn more about Fusion Applications. Oracle has been slow playing the introduction of its next generation ERP suite, but at some point it is bound to turn up the heat and try to get us all excited and buying.

It is too early to tell if this is the year of the big push for Fusion Applications, but no matter what this will be the best chance for a long time to learn about them in some depth. I remain convinced that over time these applications will mature into something that will impact every JD Edwards customer. Whether that time is now or still off in the future is one of the most important things we are likely to learn this year at OpenWorld.

So far many JD Edwards customers have tended to stay aloof and to not strongly identify themselves as part of the broader Oracle community. This attitude will continue to slowly change. As it does more of you will want to better understand the very unique company that is behind the product with which we identify. OpenWorld is the one place where each year Oracle gives us a few tantalizing peaks at what is going on behind the curtain. It is the only scheduled forum where CEO Larry Ellison appears (without a script) to tell his customers what is on his mind.

I hope to see many of you at OpenWorld and many of others at INFOCUS or the next Collaborate. For those that cannot come I hope to again provide you with some insight from a JD Edwards point of view via these postings.

Collaborate is always worthwhile but it forces you to work hard to catch back up after a week out of the office.  The time since Collaborate has given me a chance to reflect on all that I learned there.  This posting will net out my reactions to a great conference.

The JD Edwards community was out in force in Vegas with over 1100 individuals from customer organizations, 600+ vendor employees, and plenty of JDE focused people from Oracle.  Best of all, the people I talked to were energized, optimistic and pleased with what has been happening to the applications on which they depend.  The dark concerns of past years about the long-term viability of JD Edwards seem to now be completely gone.

My posting before the conference lamented the fact that Oracle was not sending President Mark Hurd or another of its top guns to our event.  After attending the presentation by Oracle CIO Mark Sunday I have to admit that I over-reacted.   The presentation Sunday gave (on a Tuesday) did an excellent job helping us understand how Oracle eats its own cooking.  It reinforced the impression I have that Oracle is very effective running the behind the scenes parts of its business.  Oracle’s approach to marketing is so secretive and low-key that we rarely get to see how the company we depend on really works.  This presentation did not offer any big insights into Oracle’s product strategy or future direction but it was a fascinating look into what goes on out of sight.

In the presentation we learned that Oracle plans to start making internal use the new Fusion Applications in stages beginning after its 2013 fiscal year kicks off in June.   The first application put to use internally will be CRM.  Other Fusion Applications will follow over time but there was no indication of when.  Oracle’s decision to slowly adopt Fusion Applications internally was another indication that the plan for this new product line continues to be to slow-play its introduction.

It remains impossible to determine if the leisurely rollout of Fusion Applications is part of a brilliant strategy or the result of problems getting it completed.  I suspect it is some of each.  I continue to believe that these applications will some day be a dramatic improvement over the ones we are using today.  It remains unclear when it will be realistic for most of us to start putting them to use.  The approximately 250 organizations making use of some of them have not yet come forward to declare them mature, wonderful and ready for everyone else to employ.  That may come over time, perhaps starting at the next OpenWorld in October.  One of the few mentioned by name was the Red Robin chain of restaurants.  It is apparently attempting to make broader use of the full suite of applications than most of the others.

The overview presentation I attended on Fusion Applications did provide some further insight.  Apparently the software is up to its fourth major release which implies that it is starting to achieve a level of stability and maturity.  Not surprisingly, quite powerful servers such Oracle’s Exadata series are needed to provide acceptable performance.  Many of the early users have been given deep discounts on Oracle appliances as part of the early adopter program.  There was also an indication that the ability to run these applications in a cloud environment has been the most popular option so far.

Oracle’s decision to downplay the importance of Fusion Applications has been fine so far within the community represented at Collaborate.  In general, users of JD Edwards, PeopleSoft and E-Business Suite are happy with what they own and have limited interest in making a wrenching change to something new, even if it sounds wonderful conceptually.  They remain curious about Fusion Applications but only vaguely interested in making use of them anytime soon.

The meeting of Quest members featured a presentation by Adam Lashinsky, author of the new book Inside Apple.  A key theme was how obsessive Apple is about secrecy.  The book documents the close personal relationship between Apple founder Steve Jobs and Oracle’s Larry Ellison – who served on the Apple Board of Directors for many years.  Obviously both share a philosophy that marketing should be about brand image and awareness and not involve sharing information about future plans.

The cult of secrecy that appears to have worked well for Apple seems to be a guiding principle of Ellison’s as well so I expect that Oracle will remain as secretive as ever.  I have come to accept that Oracle will remain inscrutable as part of an intentional strategy.  A likely consequence is that presentations made by Oracle employees will continue to generally be bland and lacking in any attempt to connect on an emotional level with the audience.  The only exception at the conference to this general rule was Lyle Ekdahl’s session.   It did not provide a great deal of dramatic news, but what he had to say was presented with energy, excitement and great graphics.

Far too many other presenters fell into the trap of trying to do product demos during presentations.  Am I the only one that can never follow on-stage software demonstrations?  The screens always seem cluttered and impossible to read.  By the time you begin to figure out one screen the presenter has thrown up two more.  I can never follow the presenter’s patter, visually see what was done, and make sense out of the user interface all at once.

A recent study discovered that most children dislike clowns.  Apparently people assume that while they don’t care for clowns themselves, others surely must like them.  I wonder if in a similar way everyone hates it when presenters attempt to demonstrate software but that no one is willing to admit that they personally can’t follow what is going on.  Sorry if this side note does not resonate with some of you.  It just feels good to rant a little about something that annoys me at all software conferences not just Collaborate.

Clown-like software demos aside, I came away from Collaborate 2012 feeling more informed, optimistic about the state of the evolution of the software that we all care about, and generally energized.  The great mystery that is Oracle Corporation did not solve itself, but I came away better understanding that it likes it that way.

Attendance at Collaborate this year was up roughly 50% from 2011 with over 1,100 people from JDE customer organizations and a total of over 6,000 attendees. The move back to Vegas certainly helped but the turnout is also a sign of an improving business atmosphere and a renewed interest in investing in IT. Monday at Collaborate always features roadmap sessions for each of the product lines and that is where I spend most of my first day. It was a great way to get an overview of what Oracle is up to in the applications space.

As usual, the best-attended session was Lyle Ekdahl’s overview of the JDE product line. At least 1,000 people came. He was the only presenter that avoided using PowerPoint slides in the usual over-used Oracle format. I didn’t ask what software he was using, but it resembled the user experience of an iPad. Instead of using a clicker to ask for a change he made a broad wave of his arms as if he was swiping across a giant iPad screen. It sounds odd but it was a cool effect.

The presentation format may have changed from past years, but the underlying messages have not. In overly simple terms they were:
• JDE is here to stay, so keep enjoying the ride with us.
• Lots of improvements are here and more are on the way.
• Keep upgrading to newer releases.

This year’s featured factoid was that JDE revenues have grown at double-digit rates in each of the past four quarters, surpassing growth rates of eBusiness Suite and PeopleSoft. The once prevalent paranoia that Oracle management does not care about JDE and wants to phase it out has now been almost completely stamped out.

Another heavily promoted fact was that the introduction of new releases of E1 and World at the same time represented the single biggest day for improvements in many years. To some extent the timing of the releases was just a coincidence but it did reinforce the point that major investment in improvements continues.

Exact details of the announcements are available on the Oracle website. Many were targeted at narrow requirements but the collective impact was very impressive. Perhaps the most interesting one was described with the new word “gameification” which was defined as injecting some of the elements of game-like competition into business practices through software. The idea is to use numerical results to encourage people to compete with each other to improve. I am not sure how radically new the idea is, but the name seems unique.

Ekdahl also provided his usual high-level look at the kinds of enhancements that are coming in future releases. Details were not provided but the areas of focus on enhancements will be:

• Further improving the user interface.
• Increased capability on mobile devices.
• Additional integration with other Oracle software products.
• A tool to help move custom enhancements into new releases

As always there was strong encouragement to upgrade. The innovative web site dedicated to this subject (www.upgradejde.com) was heavily promoted and we strongly encourage our readers to check it out.

Throughout the conference Oracle sent mixed messages about Fusion Applications. I will put together a future posting just on this subject. Oracle seemed to be trying to say that at some unknown point in the future Fusion Applications will be earth shaking but that for now they are in the early stages of rollout in a few hundred controlled customer settings. We are encouraged to both be excited about their potential while not being concerned about their emergence having any negative impact on current offerings.

Ekdahl walked across this tightrope nimbly by saying lots of nice things while not suggesting much beyond watching this space for future developments. Later in the day I went to the Fusion roadmap session and emerged with a similar impression – things are going well so far, great applications are on their way, and your turn to use them will come well before the Sun explodes and melts the earth.

There is so much to report from the best Collaborate conference in years – I will post further reactions soon.

At the first few Collaborate conferences after Oracle acquired PeopleSoft and JD Edwards then President Charles Phillips gave the opening keynote speech. A key message was that Oracle cared deeply about all of its application customers and especially those new to Oracle. I was fortunate enough to interview him on two of those occasions. His candid and articulate style added a great deal to those events and helped make our community feel welcome and wanted.

The final time Phillips appeared was via a taped message played as part of the opening keynote. It was not the kind of polished presentation that Phillips was known for and did not convey much information of value. Phillips left Oracle only a few months later so it was not surprising in hindsight that his heart did not seem to be in the presentation to Collaborate.

Last year when Collaborate was in Orlando many of us wondered if Mark Hurd, Phillips replacement and former H-P CEO, would deliver a keynote or at least appear via video. That did not happen. At that time Hurd had been at Oracle for a little over 6 months and it was not clear what his duties included. Oracle did not send anyone else to provide an overview of company direction.

Last September when Oracle Open World rolled around many of us wondered how big a role Hurd would take there. The answer was almost none. He just appeared briefly two times essentially as MC and traffic cop. As usual, CEO Larry Ellison limited his appearance to one major speech dedicated largely to talking about new hardware appliances. The net result was that OpenWorld passed without an attempt by Oracle to communicate much beyond plans for individual product lines.

At Collaborate next week the closest we will get to a member of Ellison’s inner circle is a keynote by Oracle’s CIO Mark Sunday about internal use of its own products. Obviously now that Phillips is gone Oracle is content to let its products speak for themselves and to not attempt to communicate a corporate strategy. This is certainly Oracle’s prerogative, but it does leave those of us whose working lives are impacted by what Oracle does in the difficult position of having to guess what might come next.

Without the benefit of a corporate overview we will be left to speculate about things such as the impact Fusion Applications will have on the application suites we depend on. There will be no way to judge whether Ellison’s recent obsession with hardware appliances will continue to be the center of Oracle’s world or if he has started to move on to something else. Recent media reports indicate that while some of the newer appliances are doing well, overall Oracle is rapidly losing market share to IBM and H-P. Apparently both Herd and Ellison are largely preoccupied manning the pumps in an attempt to keep the hardware business afloat.

So far there is no evidence that the attention diverting decision to focus on hardware in recent years has hurt the application products that we all care greatly about. What we will never know is what might have happened if that energy had been focused in our direction. Oracle remains great at producing technology products and relentlessly enhancing them so that buyers remain loyal. Hopefully, the hardware misadventure will not have a long-term negative impact on the applications that we care greatly about.

Fusion Applications are supposed to be the next big thing for us to look forward to. It remains hard to get an exact fix on how they are evolving and when they will be ready for ordinary organizations to adopt. Hopefully, Collaborate will provide some useful insights into this and other big picture issues that attendees will bring to the conference.

Without an attempt by Oracle to explain itself, we will likely be forced to try to make sense of how the pieces fit together on our own. During and after Collaborate I will offer the best view I can. Tea leaf reading by semi-informed people like me is a poor substitute for hearing directly from Oracle executives as to what direction the company is headed, but it may have to do.

OpenWorld is so big it is really many conferences all held together.  To cover as much as possible,I brought along three associates who spent all their time attending JDE specific sessions and talking to JDE customers and partners.  I focused on the keynotes and Oracle big picture sessions while fitting in as many JDE sessions as time permitted.  Collectively, we came away feeling very positive and optimistic about the state of the JDE product, its customers and
how the future will play out.

The most encouraging thing was the upbeat attitude of nearly everyone we talked to in our community including Oracle’s JDE management team, customers and partners.  It helped that the uncertainty over what Fusion will be and when it will arrive is now gone.  The nice set of incremental enhancements that was announced also contributed to the overall great mood.  The annual Quest networking event at the Thirsty Bear restaurant seemed more energetic and fun than ever before – perhaps because the Karaoke machine uncovered some amazing singing talent.

Lyle Ekdahl’s state of the JDE union was not as zany as some of the past versions, perhaps because the story was strong enough to carry itself without enhancement.  He put the new Fusion Applications in context with a mildly strained analogy of two trees in a forest – a large, mature one (JDE apps) versus a new sapling (Fusion) that will one faraway day tower over it.  The point was that Fusion will slowly become something to consider, but that it currently represents no reason for concern.

Not one person expressed any negative concerns to any of us during the conference about the impact of Fusion Applications on JDE.  No one seemed even to care that Larry Ellison mentioned all the other major application products during his overview of the Fusion introduction but not JDE.  The
once strong paranoia about the future of JDE seems to now be completely gone.

One of the JDE executives confided in me that the relative lack of attention from top management was a good thing since it provides great freedom to do what is right for our community. I was also told that during Oracle’s 2011 fiscal year JDE revenues actually grew at a higher percentage rate than eBusiness Suite or
PeopleSoft.  My personal guess is that all three were in the high single digits.

The JDE enhancement that got the most attention and positive feedback was support for iPad – something great for me personally as a devoted Apple user.  The most important news in my opinion was that the next tools release for EnterpriseOne will enable a major upgrade to the User Interface for applications.  I can’t wait to see exactly how that works.

One of the featured advantages that Fusion will bring is a new user experience.  The new UI coming via the tools release is intended to bring key elements of that experience to JDE applications without the need to replace them with the Fusion equivalent.  This reinforces the strategy of making the transition
to Fusion Applications as simple and painless as possible.

Another nice piece of news is the available of web-based tools to help justify and plan upgrades.

As reported in previous postings, the keynotes focused heavily on new hardware appliances raising the question of what impact faster and less expensive hardware will have over time on applications.  That impact will clearly be felt first in applications like Business Intelligence where questions that once took hours to answer may soon be answered in seconds.

I have intentionally held off attempting to analyze the introduction of Fusion Applications at OpenWorld.  The subject is large and important enough to
warrant a series of postings which will come out as we digest what was announced formally and take an appropriate amount of time to understand.  For now it is safe to say that the introduction of Fusion Applications was an important milestone in the evolution of ERP software that will have a large and positive impact over time.  JDE customers can also feel very comfortable taking time making sense of Fusion since it remains something new and still
largely unproven.  Stay tuned for lots more over time.

Salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff has become the newest addition to the enemies of Ellison list. Benioff had paid a million dollars for the right to offer a speech at OpenWorld but was told late in the day before his presentation that it was being cancelled. Apparently, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison was worried that Benioff’s message would contradict what he planned to say later in the day. If his goal was to silence Benioff, the cancellation had exactly the opposite effect. The incident has turned into an instant case history in how not to behave in the age of social media.

Benioff’s speech was going to focus on how good Salesforce.com had become at leveraging social media as an integral part of its cloud-based CRM service. It was scheduled for a theater that holds only a few hundred people and likely would not have been full.

Benioff simply rented a hotel room across the street and gave the presentation anyway – to a standing room only audience supplemented by over 7,000 people watching it live over the web. Over a hundred of his employees stood outside the hotel making a scene for the large number of media people covering the event and offering donuts to the 1,000 people standing in line to get in. His updated speech relentlessly made fun of Oracle (something he would not have done otherwise). He then made the compelling point that the social media his company was so good at made it possible to quickly organize this alternate event and make it far more impactful than it would otherwise have been.

Ellison made his scheduled speech in the afternoon. After a brief overview of the new Fusion Applications he announced the introduction of the Oracle Public Cloud. Ellison took every possible opportunity to contrast it with the approach to cloud computing that Salesforce.com, Amazon and others take. Ellison’s main point was that the Oracle approach to cloud computing used industry standard languages and interfaces, something that Salesforce.com and others do not do.

It is too early to know which approach to cloud computing will turn out to be the best one. I heard good points made by both Ellison and Benioff. Oracle’s decision to un-invite Benioff at the last minute only served to give Salesforce.com a far more effective platform on which to make its case. Ellison’s pit-bull approach to competition makes for good entertaining theater but actually reduces the effectiveness of the arguments he makes. He is rarely wrong on purely technical matters, but there is so much emotion tied up in decisions as to where to perform vital computing tasks that his selling style could undermine the strength of his arguments.

To me, the Oracle Public Cloud sounded like an updated form of application hosting – something that has been available from many vendors including IBM for quite some time. The degree to which Oracle has enhanced this model of computing was not obvious to me from the presentation. I am sure it will come out over time.

The decision to pick a fight over cloud computing overshadowed what I consider the big news that Fusion Applications are finally here – something I will cover in detail in future postings once I have a chance to digest all that I learned here and gather input from others.

After two days OpenWorld could be called Oracle Hardware World since “engineered systems” is all that Oracle executives seem to want to talk about. The only other topic that has gotten any serious airtime so far is “big data”. A huge sign by the entrance to the main presentation hall declares: Oracle is big data. In addition, the theme of EMC’s keynote that opened Monday’s presentations was Big Data meets Cloud Computing (a topic Ellison will attack in his second keynote Wednesday). Michael Dell also climbed aboard the big data train on during his Tuesday morning keynote.

Big data is a cute name for a very real phenomenon, but one that is only of consequence at the moment to a handful of the largest enterprises in the world. These entities have a compelling need to analyze very large amounts of data – anywhere from hundreds of Terabytes to multiple Petabytes. They include on-line retailers trying to make sense out of millions of customer visits to web sites, huge government agencies, and giant financial institutions managing billions in assets.

It is nice to know that the largest IT vendors are capable of helping some of their biggest customers handle the unique needs of storing, processing and analyzing vast amounts of data. Hearing what the giants at the leading edge are doing can be informative. It is also of limited practical value to the vast majority of organizations still struggling to make sense out of small data.

The sad reality is that most people work in organizations where data analysis is mostly done with user-built Excell spreadsheets. The data loaded into these spreadsheets tends to be inconsistent, incomplete and too often inaccurate. Even the modest amount of data that passes through financial systems is hard to easily analyze. Before worrying about big data most of you need to get small but important amounts of data under control.

A growing body of solutions are available to address the more modest needs of those needing to get “small data” under control before worrying about big data. I have a natural bias towards our own RapidDecision solution, but it is just one example of many things of potential interest to those with more modest needs.

It is easy to come away from a conference like OpenWorld feeling that your organization is hopelessly behind as you listen to what is happening at the leading edge. If all the talk about big data is making you feel this way you don’t need to be concerned. Some day every organization will be happily crunching big data but long before that happens the more mundane need to get small data under control will need to be resolved.

It would be helpful if major conferences paid more attention to the real needs of typical attendees. Fortunately for our community, the conferences Quest puts on are far more focused on solutions for the masses rather than the special needs of the giants. Those of you that made the sensible decision to go to a Quest event rather than fight the crowds here at OpenWorld can take comfort in this specific case that you made a good choice.

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