So just how important is HCM to Larry Ellison?

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan February 9, 2014
"How many times have Larry Ellison and Mark Hurd presented at the same event other than Oracle OpenWorld?" asks Oracle President Mark Hurd. There's your answer...

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So just how important to Oracle is winning the marketshare in the Human Capital Management (HCM) space and holding back the tide of Workday and the new generation of cloud apps players?

Well, we couldn’t really put it much more clearly than Oracle President Mark Hurd at last week’s HCM World gig in Las Vegas when he declared:

"How many times have Larry Ellison and Mark Hurd presented at the same event other than Oracle OpenWorld?

“Zero. And we're doing that here.”

He means appearing together at the same event, not doing zero of course, in case there was any confusion.

So, high stakes then.

And so it was that Hurd opened the Las Vegas jamboree while Ellison closed it with a keynote that pitched the mantra that ‘Modern HCM is social HCM’ and ended with an open discussion of various topics, including rather bizarrely the future plans for Lanai, the Hawaian island he bought last year. 

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(On which note, I can only echo Dennis Howlett’s comment last week that it is so good to see Oracle using Ellison up front and open at these sort of events. He’s still the strongest card in the deck when it comes to pitching the Oracle case and with the company up against a generation of CEOs who learned at his knee, getting the ‘big beast’ front and centre is the best bet.)

But away from the budget of small islands off Hawaii and back to the main topic of the day, the highlights from Ellison’s keynote:

What HCM does (or doesn't) do:

"People say ‘I know what HCM systems do - they let you request the date of your vacation. An HCM system says you get two weeks vacation, you have to take it this year.

“Yeah, HCM systems do that. You should be able to identify when you want to take your vacation but that’s a kind of 20th century HCM. That’s table stakes as they say here in Las Vegas.”

Why having the right HCM system is so critical:

“The HR system is the only system everyone uses. Everyone doesn’t use the sales automation. Everyone does’t use the accounting system. But every single person in your company or in your agency uses the HR system. That’s extremely important.”

Why empowerment has to go hand in hand with enablement:

“You hear the word empower a lot. You can’t empower people unless you give them the right tools.

“You can have philosophy of empowering people, but unless you enable them…It’s a two step process.

“It’s a combination of empowering your people and enabling them to do the job. The HR system is a critical tool in enabling your people to do their jobs.

"For years and years, we talked about empowering people. I think it's not that simple. You've got to give them tools, hook them up to mentors, give them learning tools, career planning tools, so when you do empower them they have the right perspective and the right skill set to make a contribution to the company."

The power of communication:

“It’s very important that people listen to the heartbeat of the company.

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“The company should use the HCM system to communicate with its people. If you had a great quarter, everyone should know about it. If you’re coming out with a new product, everyone should know about that.

“You should be constantly communicating with your people and spreading your culture among your new people and making your culture indelible amongst your existing people.

“The people themselves need to be able to communicate with one another. Most jobs inside organisations are not done by one person. Most jobs are done by teams of people.

“Through the HCM system one employee can mentor another. One employee can ask a question of another. That’s a 21st century HCM system - a modern, social HCM system.”

The power of social:

“ has Chatter. We have Oracle Social Network. No other company is using that social network paradigm for applications.

“We have the only HCM system that has an integrated social network. We're the only one that has integrated recruiting and social sourcing inside of the core HCM system.

“We're the only one with integrated learning management and the only one with predictive analytics throughout the system."


Why it needs to be really simple (so the CEO might use it!):

“There can’t be classes in this. There are no classes for Facebook. There are no classes for Twitter. There are no classes for buying a bottle of coconut milk on This has to have a modern, consumer user interface. It can’t be an elongated education system.

“This has to be easily usable from receptionist to CEOs. Let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to get receptionists to use these systems than CEOs. It has to be really, really easy to get a CEO using it. It is much easier to get your junior people using computer systems than your most senior. In this case you want everyone on board.

“We have adopted a social paradigm - I hate that word! Our application is a social application. It looks like Facebook, it looks like Twitter. It looks like a social network. That's good because most people know how to use social networks, It’s a consumer-based UI rather than an industrial-based UI.”

On Oracle’s own post-acquisition on-boarding tactics:

“Acquisition is a classic example of mass on-boarding of employees. It’s really hard.

“The thing about acquisition is there is no one size fits all. It’s situational. You have to deal with each of those acquisitions quite differently.

“It’s different when you buy a big company like Sun to a small company in Holland with particular piece of technology. With Sun, the products they had didn’t overlap at all with Oracle products. They were in different business.

"Sometimes the product does overlap and the reason we bought them is because the product they had is better and in that case the people in that company take a leadership position. In some cases we buy a company with 15 people in it and it just fits nicely inside an existing development organization.”

On the difficulties of on-boarding new employees (with an interesting ‘for instance’):

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“We had an Oracle employee who left to go to a competitor who shall remain unnamed except their stock ticker is CRM. [Editor's note: Er, that's then.]

“They recruited one of our sales people and he went in there and nobody talked to him for literally 6 or 7 days. Then he came back to us and said ‘I’m not really sure that I have a job’.

“That’s not really an ideal on-boarding process. On-boarding is tricky. Everyone is very busy. If you join Oracle in the at the end of May, it’s the last week of our busiest quarter. You might slip through the cracks for a few days.

"But a social network makes it easier for the new employee to connect with his peers, with his manager.”

So who does steal the Oracle talent?

“Who do we lose people to? Start-ups mainly. We don’t lose people to SAP and IBM. is not a start-up, Workday’s not a start-up.

“We lose people to dreams. I have no objection to that. We have a very large college recruitment program. We hire more engineers out of Stanford than anyone else. When we hire someone directly out of collage and then they’re with us for five or ten years, it’s perfectly reasonable for them to follow their own dreams.

“A lot of companies do not welcome those people back. They say if you leave and it doesn’t work out, then you can’t come back. I don’t believe in that at all. People have to follow their dreams. I did.”


To answer the headline question, HCM matters.

It's important. Important enough for Oracle's two most senior executives to get up and do the sell themselves.

I'm not entirely convinced that staking the claim to be the sole HCM system with integrated social capabilities will sit without challenge from the likes of Workday, Cornerstone-on-Demand or indeed the SuccessFactors team within SAP, but all's fair in love and cloud.

And I've got to applaud Ellison's 'go and live your dream' blessing. As he notes, he did and look what that's led to!

Without that mindset of course we wouldn't have and Workday - so it hasn't exactly made life any easier for Oracle.

But on a wider free market level, it has  empowered (and enabled!) the next generation of innovation and kept the old guard on its toes. 


Disclosure: at time of writing, Oracle,, SAP and Workday are premium partners of diginomica.