Oracle HCM World - the pragmatic reality

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett March 30, 2015
Hard charging Oracle is taking the pragmatic approach to HR as it finds its market

future of work
We tend to think of Oracle as a hard charging vendor that takes no prisoners. That's certainly true in the rhetoric it uses when referring to competitors but it's where the sales rubber hits the buyer road that reality sets in. At Oracle HCM World last week we saw a more nuanced Oracle.

Let's be clear - Oracle has taken its share of lumps over Fusion, which by the way is fading in the product naming conventions. Late delivery, implementation difficulties, incomplete product to name a few.

But last week we saw an Oracle that it is thinking hard about the problems its customers are facing, one that is listening and responding to customer need and one where some high profile senior executives are not sales quota carrying but charged with what I term 'discovery' among the customer and potential customer base.

This was perhaps best characterized in a conversation I had with Gretchen Alarcon, group VP strategy who, when I pressed on some of the initiatives around learning,  acknowledged that Oracle is trying to help customers go at their own pace and pick what's right for them. That sounded a tad timid compared to what I expect from Oracle but as Alarcon pointed out, Oracle is taking a careful and measured approach. Referencing new capabilities in MyReputation, Alarcon said:

We're putting in a a range of things. So for example, there are suggestions for things I might want to do in MyReputation as part of learning or process execution. For example it could be people you might want to connect with, things you might wish to learn, things you need to learn as pre-requisites - all things that will impact your reputation within the business.

The message was clear: Oracle HR has a lot of capabilities in these more contextually social applications but how customers get from 'here to there' is a whole different discussion and one that often needs a unique approach because, as Oracle knows, organizational culture varies almost as much as the human condition.

This was also reflected in thoughtful conversations I had with Mark Bennett,  senior director Oracle HCM development and with his panel of consultants that talked to the many facets of change that are impacting the workplace and which set up enormous challenges for HR managers. Referencing the impending release of MyWellness, Bennett said:

We’re doing work/life as a way of addressing an important issue but in a measured way. We’re going to be very careful that as we roll out (included in core HR from release 10) especially, we’re going to listen to customers. We’re not going to blast away.

The millennials question loomed large in many conversations with colleagues questioning the perceived reality that this cadre of employees is in some way markedly different to previous generations. I've long questioned perceived difference, a topic which in my mind presents a confusing picture.

Mark Hurd, co-CEO Oracle for example pointed to both statistics and anecdotal data suggesting that this generation really does want to 'think different.' On the other hand, a Workforce 202 study on behalf of SuccessFactors has posited that the new generation isn't that different from the old. During one meeting, Lisa Rowan, analyst with IDC put it bluntly:

If they want to eat, they'll work.

My take is a little different. It seems to me that the almost zero cost to 'be media' has led to the public articulation of opinions and views that would otherwise have been hidden at a different time and place. This notion that millennials want to change the world is nothing new. My father who is close to 87 recalls similar sentiments in the build up to the last great world conflict. I recall being a snot nosed senior and convinced that only a certain type of political system would work for my generation. And then there is the song of the same name:

People try to put us d-down (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Just because we get around (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
I hope I die before I get old (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

Sound familiar? Yet when reality strikes, we should perhaps take greater notice of a recent IBM study that talks to millennial myths:

Myth  2: Millennials expect endless praise because they were raised in a culture of “everyone gets a trophy.”

Fact: Not only are Millennials not after endless praise, their #1 preference in a boss is the same as Boomers. Both want a fair boss who freely shares information. As it turns out, it’s Gen Xers who believe that everyone involved in a successful project should be rewarded, and members of this generation are in their early 30s-50s. Sounds like they are the ones misappropriating their inadequacies onto younger workers.

The difficulty for Oracle (and every other vendor) comes in figuring out how to articulate that in a meaningful way that doesn't end up sounding like a timid 'pick and mix' approach to talent at a time when some skills are in short supply while others must be retained.

Vinnie Mirchandani framed it well when he noted:

Fredrik Rexhammar of Swedbank presented another perspective as he described how their digital needs (mobile, online banking) demand very different skills while they continue to nurture talent needed to support their traditional, personal touch, large network of branch banking across the wide country.

Can we get excited about Oracle from an HR perspective? I think the answer is a cautious 'yes.' some colleagues worry that Fusion (as we still prefer to name) remains something of a mixed bag with acquired PeopleSoft still going well following a UX refresh but with third party maintenance ever present. But I was genuinely excited by the possibilities in the now fully formed learning modules. I'd use it and others who have followed more closely were positively effusive.

Tim Newnham for example reported:

Creating a new standard in enterprise learning, the new Oracle Learning Cloud reflects changing user preferences as digital natives join the workforce. Designed for the way people learn today, the next generation learning solution goes beyond traditional learning management systems to provide today’s digital workforce with better access to content, within context, shared by subject experts, and backed by the power of the Oracle Cloud.

But on the ground he was genuinely excited, believing that the mixture of services and rich media represent a turning point in how 'we' learn. Of course this is  really a mixture of services both internal to Oracle's systems and external with likes of YouTube, LinkedIn and TED content but that matters less to me than the recognition that information that is of value in the workplace can come from anywhere.

It will be in the next steps that Oracle takes where we see the start of the end game. In professor Dave Ullrich's closing keynote I could not help but be struck by his saying:

I think the next step is to connect customers to HR - am I linking what I know and do to the outside because if not then I’m not building sustainable value?

I have asked this question from a different viewpoint: Are our HR systems built to address employees in the same way we would like to address customers? Do they reflect the reality that talent researches us as much as we do when acting as customers? It seems that Oracle is facing that in the learning arena which it chose to showcase. How much of that gets reflected back in accepted usage at customer sites is an altogether different problem.

Bonus points: Bill Kutik's analysis hits on industry rivalries and fills in gaps I've not reported.