On the brink of Oracle Live for cloud applications, I gave Oracle's Steve Miranda a bit of a hard time. About what, you ask? I'm not a fan of vendor fisticuffs. Yes, they grab headlines.
Oracle and SAP have been going at it lately, with Oracle's punch landed in Ellison's Q3 2021 earnings call. "I just don't run into many customers that care about vendor wars," I told him. But customers do care about informative use cases - in their industry, in their situation.
Miranda was ready for me there. Cloud customer stories are Miranda's bailiwick - synced with the Oracle Live event for Oracle Cloud Applications (Miranda, Oracle's EVP of Applications Development, is keynoting the show). Miranda already walked me through Oracle's slice-and-dice use case library - but he's got fresh stories for the show. Each brings lessons in CX, ERP, or HCM. As Miranda said to me:
We have three outstanding customers that are interviewed. Vanguard will talk about their move to cloud financials with us, and the benefits they achieved. Marriott International will talk about their global rollout of full HCM, including recruiting, as well as payroll and talent management on top of HCM. And then Broadcom will focus on CX, customer experience around service, sales force automation and CPQ, but really also highlighting the benefits of having an integrated front and back office solution.
This event is timed with Oracle Cloud Applications' latest quarterly update. That means attendees also get a first look at new functionality. Miranda honed in on: helping customers manage supply chain volatility. Miranda:
In supply chain, we continue a heavy focus on machine learning, especially around IoT features and fleet management, as well as features around global trade management and transportation management. Particularly, you know, through COVID-driven, we're starting to see an acceleration of companies and supply chain, looking to rethink, particularly, locations - and become more resilient by eliminating single points geographically. And then in some cases, bring the manufacturing closer to the actual sale, as opposed to, "Let's manufacture in part of the world, and ship to another part of the world." Because of COVID, and different cost factors, that changes. So you'll see that highlighted. And then in financials, you'll see continued machine learning, really to speed the close.
Is AI up for the supply chain volatility challenge?
But hold up. I see the use cases for machine learning in financials, from fraud detection to accelerating the close with document recognition. But is AI mature enough to make a difference to supply chain volatility? Supply chain data sources are external and varied - not easy to cleanse and crunch. You could argue "AI" and predictive technology were pretty ineffective when the pandemic hit. Miranda responded:
I don't know that our apps are out to predict things like the pandemic. What we focus on is using machine learning or AI to do fleet monitoring, not only for prediction failures of particular areas, but to detect slowdowns in your supply chain, and suggest when those slowdowns are going to cause you problems - and how you remediate.
We're working with Grupa Bimbo, the bakery out of Latin America. When we told Larry Ellison that Bimbo was an early IoT customer, his first reaction was, "What is a baker going to do with IoT? Are they putting sensors in the cupcakes?" No, they're using it for their internal machines, to monitor the supply chain. That's an area people haven't thought about as much.
A lot of people think of IoT as "Okay, you build a widget; you put sensors on that widget; you deploy it out there, and we can tell Jon Reed when his headphones are running hot because of some sensor, and you're going need to buy a new one, or you're going to need to get this repair, or we need to download software to fix it before you have a problem." We have both flavors.
One topic I am pushing cloud ERP vendors on this year: documenting cloud ERP maturity. I contend that many important cloud ERP benefits are not achieved at go-live, and require fierce effort to achieve. Yes, a good cloud ERP go-live can eliminate legacy systems and reduce data silos. It can be a vastly improved user experience for a remote workforce. But some of the most convincing benefits involve grit and imagination after go-live. Milestones like customers making better supply chain decisions on real-time data - or using modern ERP to power new business models, e.g. "servitization," if you can stomach the buzzword. I asked Miranda: is Oracle documenting these types of wins? Miranda:
On Oracle.com right now, Western Digital talks about their supply chain transformation and the real-time data off of their data warehouse and the business transformation of there.
Watching the Western Digital video on their Oracle ERP and data platform experience, this quote jumped out:
Initially when we developed our solution, there was an eight and a half hour refresh time for our data warehouse. We were able to get that refresh time down to twenty minutes. So we have operational reporting that's real-time, and we have analytical reporting which is available in twenty minutes, which is unheard of... We were able to cut down from 15,000+ cost centers down to around 3,000 cost centers. So if we can use machine learning and AI to take all that work out for people, they can actually be financial analysts who do financial forecasts, instead of data consolidators.
At Oracle Live, Miranda expects Vanguard to speak to these themes: "Vanguard talks a lot about that - the transparency of information, the speed of close, and decision-making across their portfolio of assets."
My other bone of contention: in one customer example, Miranda referred to the integration of back office and front office. I'd like to eradicate those terms. If you still think of ERP as back office, you're on the wrong track. If your new ERP solution isn't the backbone of your business, you've done something wrong.
Miranda says to keep an eye out for Broadcom at Oracle Live: they don't like the terms back office or front office for their project either. Miranda paraphrased Broadcom's views: the terms front and back office make no sense to them - the only thing that matters is delivering for the business.
Miranda joked that there is one downside to quarterly software releases: there isn't the big news dump we used to get with an annual on-premise release. I don't care for the vendor wars, but I have no problem with a show that lacks splashy news stories. If talking about project success, and extracting benefits from cloud applications, isn't sexy enough, you're in the wrong industry. Project success is never something to take for granted. We need to make the ingredients to that success visible.
I encourage Oracle Live attendees to push the issues and pose sharp questions during the live Q/A. Example: absorbing new functionality each quarter is, in my view, a superior model, but that doesn't mean it's easy to take full advantage. Customers still struggle with change; that includes the speed of functionality cloud vendors are delivering. Nor is the pandemic economy a very happy place, even if better times are looming. We need open and frank discussions of how customers are adapting - and how their software and consulting partners are rolling up sleeves to help them.
Hopefully we'll see those types of stories over the next couple days (there are two events in different time zones).