Oracle OpenWorld 2018 will see the company breathe new life into cloud ERP with a range of intelligent capabilities that will help customers achieve greater productivity. Before getting into that, it is worth pointing out that as an ensemble, Oracle Fusion represents the most comprehensive set of enterprise-grade cloud-based solutions on the market today. However, while Oracle provides a broad span of capability, it is not always best in class. Nevertheless, Oracle has achieved a degree of success that is worth noting. From the presser:
More than 5,500 organizations in 85 countries and 23 industries have selected Oracle ERP Cloud to provide a complete, innovative, and secure financial platform for their organization. Today, more than 3,000 customers are live on Oracle ERP Cloud, and in the last year alone, customers including Bank of America, L.A. Lakers, Office Depot, Caesars Entertainment, Cleveland Clinic, Western Digital and Mt Sinai Health System have moved from competitor ERP systems to standardize on Oracle ERP Cloud.
Note the emphasis on financials. Today, Oracle is announcing additional capabilities that play to the mots du jour i.e. artificial intelligence in the shape of machine learning and RPA across a range of products. Again, from the presser:
- Intelligent Process Automation: Seamless integrations across Oracle Cloud Applications of intelligent rules-based processing enable the automation of labor-intensive tasks and allow organizations to redeploy employees to more strategic and rewarding work.
- Expense Reporting Assistant: A new chatbot assistant improves controls and audit compliance by processing expenses with greater efficiency and accuracy, while also simplifying expense reporting for end users.
- Intelligent Payments: New artificial intelligence capabilities enable organizations to reduce costs and build stronger relationships with top suppliers by taking advantage of in-the-moment supplier profile and risk data to generate vendor-specific offers in exchange for early payment of outstanding payables.
- Supplier Recommendations: Smart, multi-factor categorization and ranking of suppliers help optimize the procure-to-pay process. By combining ERP applications data about suppliers, purchase orders, invoices, payables, and other details with external sources of data, businesses can gain unparalleled insight into their company's supplier ecosystem.
- Intelligent Performance Management: Embedded artificial intelligence capabilities in Oracle Enterprise Performance Management Cloud can uncover hard-to-spot data patterns to deliver actionable and contextual insights at the right time, helping improve the quality and business impact of financial and operational decisions.
- Advanced Access Controls: Advanced Access Controls embed artificial intelligence to constantly examine all users, roles, and privileges against a library of active security rules. This includes more than 100 best practices (configurable rules) across general ledger, payables, receivables, and fixed assets to help protect business data from insider threats, fraud, misuse and human error.
What does all this mean? For that, I was briefed by Steve Miranda, executive vice president of Oracle Applications product development. Miranda and I have a long history of frank discussions and I always find those conversations to be compelling. This was no different.
First and foremost you're going to see a strong emphasis on customers across all the main sessions with each having at least a couple of customers on stage. In my session you'll see FedEx talking about their cloud financials implementation, Juniper Networks on their customer slash CX cloud implementation and Cummins talking about their HR cloud implementation. Each goes through the business benefits of the implementation so it's all about customer success at scale in the cloud.
In net new applications, Oracle will talk about public sector permitting as a new set of automated processes and workflows that impact both CRM and financial systems. This will have general application across multiple geographies. In higher education, student financing and loans get an airing but that is likely to be focused on the U.S. market for the time being since that has regulatory implications in different geographies. That comes from the Vocado acquisition made in April 2018. Supplementing the data cloud, Oracle is adding CDP capability to the customer/CX offering.
Machine learning and bias
Machine learning comes in three flavors. One you've seen before, next best actions, next best offer. In HR a new recruiting application that helps you rank candidates based on attributes that you determine are appropriate and have been shown to be successful within your organization. In finance we're applying machine learning in two ways - one in audit to help detect anomalies and second around payment processing and cash management to get recommendations around supplier terms and supplier payments.
These capabilities are rapidly becoming table stakes but in our conversation, I wanted to bear down on the 'ranking' element of ML in HR. Regular readers will know that Brian Sommer has been highly critical of dumb ATS and I wondered how Oracle plans to avoid those same pitfalls from the ML perspective.
This is the core issue. We are talking machine learning as a way of communicating what it is but also we are prioritizing the recommendations for interviews rather than candidates. I tried to stress that this is for characteristics that you define as successful. So that's alerting customers about what they have to do with it but also how they need to be careful. Specifically, we're not yet opening up algorithms because we believe that opens the door to misuse and misunderstanding of correlations. Second, these are supplementing not replacing human activity. Make no mistake the risk of bias exists but there are lots of cases where bias will help. So for example if I am looking for someone, it is most likely they will be in close proximity to me. In the recruiting case, that bias then works in my favor.
That's refreshing and the first time I've heard a vendor be as frank about issues in ML. I can also see how Miranda's argument for bias makes sense and it will be interesting to learn what customer see in their own efforts of applying these new capabilities. Moving on, Miranda talked about how Oracle is expanding the notion of ML into other areas.
The more interesting thing about machine learning from my perspective comes in its use in the user interface. We've rolled out a series of bots internally and pervasively and you'll see these for inquiry applications and for self-service applications. We have a digital assistant that is device agnostic so whether using Slack, Siri, Alexa, Google Home, the browser - you'll be able to do HR inquiries or simple HR transactions like vacation balance or reporting vacation but also extending into other areas like finance so you'll see Larry Ellison demonstrating these along with anomaly detection so that alerts on the back end are surfaced before approvals.
Colleagues will like this because it is taking the notion of end-user consumer-facing applications and bringing them home to the business. My guess is that millennials, in particular, will find this compelling although we know that services like Alexa and Siri have a long way to go before they become more than dumb terminals that occasionally screw up. Even so, I sense that Oracle is taking the now obligatory Alexa demo to the next level although whether Ellison can bring himself to use an Amazon service on stage will be one to look out for on Wednesday. My bet is he'll stick to Siri. :-)
Large customers starting to move
As we moved past the pure apps additions, I wanted to understand where Oracle is on customer success and benefits. As I've said on many occasions, there is a sense where customers are burned out from ERP and really want to get breakthrough value beyond the simple automation of rote tasks in the cloud which, I believe, is 0n everyone's agenda. Miranda's response was surprising. He said that while they expected SMBs to move quickly, they thought that the largest customers would take a much more measured approach, sticking with their on-premise solutions for quite some years.
What I didn't expect was to see the number of companies that are being disrupted or are disrupting so that even in our case, we used to sell products but now we need to be much more a service company and that's fundamentally different. The technical and business process debt across these companies ERPs is not helping them remain competitive in those processes while also reacting to customers in ways and at speeds they never had to before. That is the push in cloud ERP adoption that I didn't expect.
Hence, Miranda said that he expects to showcase some of Oracle's largest customers. We look forward to hearing the proof points.
As I said in my earlier piece, Oracle's history has been one of lumps and bumps but as Miranda spoke to the evolution of Oracle apps, it is clear to me that the company believes it is now in a strong position to tell a story that is both mature and compelling across the pain points of both new and existing customers.
Assuming that customers support the story then this will be a successful Oracle OpenWorld. But equally, it will be those customer experience stories that our team will be ferreting out.