Saturday, 17 January 2015

UKOUG 2014 - What I like least about the UKOUG

I said in the summary blog, the problem with being passionate is you get defensive when challenged, well here is another of my rants:

Venues - yes we simply don't have the ones we need in the UK. Every venue we select for our annual conference is a carefully walked tightrope of compromise and never, ever perfect.

This week we had the review of 2014 and looked at feedback. Please never stop giving feedback it is the lifeblood of a user group how do we know what we get wrong if you don't tell us? But I also wish you would tell us what we do well more often, I would quite like to be motivated.

I travel to conferences all over the world and in most cases here myself thinking 'I'd love this venue in the UK'. I never thought I would write about hating UKOUG but I do wish it wasn't in the UK.

We need a plenary hall for keynotes, we need so many breakout rooms from small to almost keynote in size, and we need an exhibition hall. We would like seating and networking areas but getting the first three are hard enough. Devoxx who hold events for Java audiences use cinema complexes and venues with large but less rooms, that keeps the costs down but doesn't have the other things our audience want.

I read an article on google the other day about selecting conference venues and their advice resonated so much. Read the article to see what they said but let me get defensive on the points myself:

1. Accessibility: The UK does not have a great transport system but this is one area we need to get right. London to Liverpool was fine, as was Manchester but if you had to go cross country like I did from Gloucester it was not fun, and no body realised there was a peak train fare time from Liverpool which caused some people to leave early.

2. Lodging Accommodations: Liverpool rocked for this, so many hotels so close by, but some venues in the UK don't, they are great for day trips but not for people staying overnight. London can be difficult it has the hotels but not enough low cost for people paying their own way.

3. Availability: This sounds easy but with the UK having so few suitable venues they are booked up over a year in advance, it is so difficult to look and select one in the time slot we want.

4. Suitability: I'm not fussy, if it meets my criteria it is considered, oh to be able to worry about other things.

5. Costs: Again keeping costs down is paramount, but when there is little choice they don't need to negotiate. Moving from Birmingham as a permanent home means better rates from there are now available.

6. Staffing: Not a problem we normally have our own staff are very good at working with on site teams.

7. Facilities: For many years delegates and speakers have asked for sessions that are not staggered, so this year we didn't and we got great feedback, apart that is from the lack of toilet facilities at peak times.

8. Branding: I think UKOUG do really well at branding and this year's pennants were really great even if you couldn't see them in the wind.

9. Technical: Perennial problem, when you go to do a site visit the wifi always looks brilliant, when you stick 2,000 technical people in the building and encourage twitter not so. This year we even had a technical test for each room, no problem but the AV kit provided in the rooms off the exhibition were assumed to be the same as upstairs. they were not, I think they were borrowed from the Museum.

10. Food and Beverage: The problem we have in the UK is seating, no venue allows us to sit delegates teherfore it has to be buffet food. I would love to be an ODTUG where we can have 'birds of a feather' community tables, or use restaurants staggered when the delegate wants like at the DOAG. We simply don't have the venues available to us.

So again welcome to ideas but ones that would work, The Convention Centre in Dublin would work, but could we hold UKOUG there? I'd love to have the event in Belfast but it isn't really very accessible.

We can and will get better on the little details but unless there is someone reading this that wants to build the perfect venue we will always be limited in choice and have to make compromises.

WIT - A Self Fulfilling Prophecy?

Wikapedia says A Self fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behaviour.

First my own self fulfilling prophecy - this post will be controversial, but when I first started blogging that was the advice I got from my employer, if your blog is to make people think and you want people to keep coming back to your blog then it needs to be controversial.

Women in IT has been a popular topic at conferences for the past few years, I attend a lot and there are not many that don't have Women in Technology or Women in IT (as we call it at UKOUG) on the agenda. We had a brilliant session at the end of UKOUG. 

Our WIT Panel, Maria Colgan, Julie Stringfellow and Ana Perez 

I read and hear so much about what shouldn't happen, sessions that are full of people complaining that I believe this is a self fulfilling prophecy. If you just encourage people to talk about negatives then they will and it won't motivate change. That doesn't mean sweeping things under the carpet either. If there is a problem then state it, followed by a positive step for change, and that isn't 'just don't do it'.

At our session in Liverpool there was one comment about the social event not being aimed at a mixed audience, I am not sure I agree, I went to both and enjoyed them but if it discouraged some women then it needs addressing. We decided a positive way to address to to get more women to step up to volunteering to be part of organising committee. Left to the 'lads' what do you expect?

I've openly said that the people I admire are the role models as WIT and that is why I want more to come forward and share their stories. I wrote in Oracle Scene in the run up to UKOUG about how our speaker base was actually representative of the position in industry. That is what needs to change the number being encouraged and stepping up.

Kellyn Pot'Vin-Gorman who I really admire for putting WIT on the agenda in the Oracle World wrote a great piece recently about what the industry should stop doing, but even here several of the points are self fulfilling prophecies, I have never been asked about day care, or domestic arrangements except in WIT sessions! Someone said to me on reading it 'I feel left out, people only ask me about my job', and that is how it should be. 

There are things that need to change but no 1 is encouraging the right people be they male or female to step forward and join our industry, not put them off by underlining  issues. 

I am not saying there are not issues and they do need addressing but I have not been held back and most women I know in IT feel the same way. I have written about this before.

We can't change the representation today, but we can change some things and that is by getting everyone not just women to be aware of simple things, so next year UKOUG will look at putting the WIT on before sessions and open it up to everyone.

At UKOUG we want to talk about the positive things we can do to encourage women.

UKOUG 2014 - Last but Not Least - Who goes last?

The problem with being passionate about something is when things are then criticised you get very dis-heartened and in turn very defensive, so this set of posts are an honest, heart-on-sleeve rant of why things happen, not always perfectly but defiantly for the best of reasons.

Somewhere there is a scientific law that says if a conference finishes at xx o'clock people will leave early. It does not matter if it is a one day or 5 day event this holds true. For organisers that means you have to be especially careful to ensure you have your best sessions on at that time to try and mitigate.

All user groups talk about the difficulty of selecting papers from such a rich pool of content. The need to balance well known always popular with local talent, end users and first timers. I have written several posts on this but a great one I saw recently was this one from Oyvind Isene of the  Norwegian user group.

So should we put end users who are really nervous on at the end? Most I mentor want to get it out the way early so they can enjoy the event.

Do we put first timers on at the end? No again for the same reason.

One thing I often hear from those involved in the agenda planning is why don't we put sponsors on at the end? Absolutely not, all user groups work with partners for mutual benefit and rely on sponsorship to help fund events and keep costs down for delegates. Putting them on at the end makes the value diminish and most of them are at that time breaking down their stands as well.

So that leaves the community of well known, established speakers, the big hitters, the ones who will get an audience on the merit of their content. I myself am in this group and am often last thing, although I prefer Thursday afternoon i.e. last slot at Oracle Open World to first thing Thursday when the hangovers are visibly absent after the party.

We need to take being given the last slot as an honour, and ensure we bring fresh content to them so that those who look at the agenda don't think 'It's the same presentation as last year, or that was given at the last event which may not have been attended but will probably have been down loaded. A see that 'what I learnt from open World' is more popular than a related session given at Open World in a lot of cases, especially for that last slot.

And is being given the last slot worse than not getting a slot? Ask anyone that doesn't get selected, including me. I saw a lot more tweets about people not being selected than people moaning about the last slot. Agenda planning for a popular event is very very difficult, get involved, help, volunteer but please don't criticise for the things that can't be changed but we welcome ideas.

My dad used to say to me at dinner time when i was trying to avoid the vegetables, 'leave the best to last' so you had that to look forward to. It isn't the worst strategy.


Jeff Smith commented on this on Facebook and shared his recent post on this from the position of a speaker - it's brilliant and well worth a read

Cloud v On Premise – Understanding it all

Ok you know me I talk via analogies, so today I am going to talk about my recent move from PC to Mac and how that relates to Cloud v On Premise for your applications.

The problem with analogies are they are never an exact fit so let’s get cost off the table straight away. If you move to Cloud, user for user, process for process you should save money on a cloud implementation over existing on-premise implementation. I know, I have never heard that about MAC v PC.

For many years people have told me a MAC is better, I worked for a company that made PCs so it was a little irrelevant but my daughter wanted, (and got) a MAC, they were also quite trendy. When I left that company a little over a year ago she said to me ‘why don’t you buy a MAC? ‘ My immediate response was I wasn’t sure what I was going to do so I would buy a relatively cheap PC and consider it later.

I thought about all the things I need to do, I have to still have MS Office as that is what is used in my new company, but you can have office on a MAC. Obviously I need Internet but no one I know complains about Safari and some things I use work better on Firefox and installing that is no different. Everyone I know who uses a MAC loves it and in my peer group in the ACE Program it appears to be the device of choice (where corporate policy allows).

Picture courtesy of Graham Smith Oracle ACE Briefings 2013

I thought I had done my homework, so when I lost my laptop I decided to replace it with a MAC so at least after the experience I would be better off.

Yes MS Office is available on the MAC, but it isn’t identical. I use TripIt for consolidating my travel plans and it works brilliantly with outlook on office as I can subscribe to the TripIt calendar. You can’t do that on a MAC version. There is a way around it, I can use the MAC calendar to subscribe and the iCloud combines them both together on my iPhone, annoying but I am getting used to it.

Cloud Applications do have exactly the same code as on-premise version, but there are also some restrictions. There are also differences when migrating from traditional products like E Business Suite to Oracle Cloud Applications. I can’t directly go and query tables as I would have use to, but I can (with the right permissions) see all tables through the BI Publisher.

The MS Add Ons I need for Cloud Applications like Smart View don’t work on IoS so I had to install Windows on my MAC, and I know I am in danger of mixing my metaphors here, but it was the same experience, take what I knew from using either a PC or On Premise, break down each component and see how it works on MAC or in Cloud. Where they differ it is frustrating and I feel the need to set up a short cut in Google ‘How do I do x on a MAC?’ but once you have mastered it then you just get on and do it. A little way down the line you forget how it was.

Yes I am MAC converted, yes I am defiantly Cloud converted, but I recommend you are part of a support group for either. I make my long time MAC friends laugh when I tweet or email a question, but they love to help. Last week I attended an Oracle Alliances training course on ERP Cloud and between us we identified most differences in the way you work. User Groups are brilliant for sharing and gaining knowledge.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Response to Campaign for Clear Licensing Open Letter to Oracle

I, on behalf of UKOUG have read the Open Letter to Oracle from The Campaign for Clear Licensing (CCL) and actually applaud the 7 steps as best practice, although do not necessarily see them as direct indictments against Oracle.

When CCL published their survey quoted in the open letter, UKOUG responded through the press pointing out that Martin Thompson of CCL had attended, and in fact addressed the audience at our Licensing event last year, and based on that and our wider experience the picture was not as black as he painted. The open letter does pick up on lots of more positive things from Oracle and I feel is better balanced.

UKOUG know that licensing is an important consideration to our members and something we are committed to constantly monitoring, so lets look at those 7 points more closely:

1. Strategic FocusCustomer satisfaction, relationship strength and strategic value should replace audit revenue as a key performance indicator.

Users are very passionate when they feel wronged and immediately after an audit there can be a lot of shouting, and we hear of audits that happen in the last quarter and are then seen as revenue generating. The discussions need to be outside actual audits, with less emotion.

Oracle License Management Services (LMS) are trying to engage more with customers. Mark Hurd recently talked about employing 10x more staff whose only role was to improve relationships with customers, this is something user groups have asked for repeatedly; so let's give them the chance to demonstrate the payback to customers.

2. Audit Clarity Oracle needs to be crystal clear with audit activity and adopt the Campaign for Clear Licensing code of conduct

I smiled at this, the CCL want Oracle, and all software vendors to sign up to their Campaign for Clear Licensing code of conduct, of course they do, its not a bad thing but it isn’t a indictment of Oracle specifically either.

3. One voice pleaseOrganisations want clarity over Oracle license management from one voice. They don’t want to be passed around between departments who don’t communicate with each other.

Yes as I said above, it is a very common request from our members to have a single account manager at Oracle, but not just for licensing, and let's see if Mark Hurd’s investment addresses this.

4. KnowledgebaseOracle needs to invest in a well-organized knowledgebase to educate its customers

LMS are reaching out to customers to help educate them and most of what they are saying is available online, but this is a longterm exercise and UKOUG will continue to work at speeding this up for our members.

5. Re-engineer riskAs more organisations mature in their governance processes, more will shy away from Oracle as an unnecessary burden to manage. Oracle needs to engineer its products and license programs to reduce unnecessary risk. The focus of control needs to be placed in the hands of the business not developers.

I agree licence asset management is a business not a developer role, but a mature customer is less likely to leave Oracle, they will determine their vendor on the overall value to their business.

6. Software Asset Management EvangelismOracle needs to help educate its customers to assign appropriate resource for managing software and proactively assist with licensing training and management practices around Oracle software.

This is where UKOUG can continue our work with Oracle to ensure that their customers understand more about the audit process. Oracle have the right to audit a customer to ensure they are licensed correctly but the metrics are often returned wrong because of bad housekeeping by a customer, e.g. Not ending certain records correctly so count is higher than reality or the customer does not understand the actual metric, such as records they feel shouldn’t be counted but are legitimate. Education is needed to ensure asset management and audits are understood and a good representation of what is being used / paid for by customers.

We can encourage this education not just from Oracle but also by our members being open and sharing their experiences. In the past year we have had presentations from members and another blogged through their audit process; these stories help to dilute the myths.

7. CommunicateOracle is not being invited to participate in key business conversations because of mistrust. Oracle needs to step up conversations and provide clarity to regain trust.

There is cautiousness rather than exclusion but again this is about account management and not specifically licensing. UKOUG facilitate sessions with our members and Oracle on all sorts of topics, which help in this area.

Licensing has risen over the last few years as a concern throughout the industry, and the existence of CCL is a direct result of that. In 2012 our members had questions, and by 2013 they asked at a roundtable discussion at our main conference for a specific initiative. This in turn led to the dedicated event last year, which we plan to follow up with a C level event this year.

We also know that customers who are user group members are happier customers, because they learn how to get more from their investment by sharing experiences with others. At UKOUG we are committed to this education and will continue to work really closely with LMS.

I have also read other commentaries today on the Open letter, CloudTech talk about Oracle being first in the firing line of OCL, and the other big boys needing to brace themselves, but they also talk about Oracle's positives mentioned in the letter.

The move to Cloud is great opportunity to ensure the clarity CCL promote and UKOUG have recently launched an independent forum, but with the full support of Oracle, for members adopting Cloud, to ensure their whole experience is understood. This includes forging links with Oracle Cloud Services.

Could Oracle do better? Yes, but they have made a great start. The need for clarity is not unique to Oracle, it is an industry concern but one Oracle has recognised. Oracle, as CCL tell us, were the first software vendor to meet with CCL, locally they introduced CCL to UKOUG; they did not hide.

UKOUG will continue to facilitate dialogue between Oracle and our members and continue to share our learnings with the wider Oracle User group Community until it is no longer a concern.

If you want to join in the discussion, work with UKOUG or your local user groupyour voice.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

2014 UKOUG - ACES and a tale of just how Technical I AM NOT

UKOUG Tech and Apps 14 events were co-located in Liverpool earlier this month. In the run up to the events I blogged about the amazing ACE talent that would be on hand.

I was organising the ACE dinner, something I have done for a few years now, but it was thanks to an idea from Mark Rittman that this happens in the UK. Normally we get about 40 people to the dinner, actually the exact number for the last 3 years has been 42, no kidding it always is the answer. However this year, with the ACE program being extended to include ACE Associates and the sheer popularity of UKOUG with overseas speakers, we thought we had 61 ACEs on the agenda.

Luckily the requirements of the ACE program do not include reading instructions, as many ACEs appeared out of the woodwork in the run up to the events. Some to be fair were new additions to the program, some were attending but not speaking but several had simply not ticked the box that said 'are you an ACE?'. 

The day before everything kicked off, I thought I had 54 confirmed attendees, which was mainly (probably 42) ACEs, Jennifer from OTN, and a few selected Oracle Product Managers whose support for the program is so important.

This takes some organising, and a beautiful spreadsheet. I normally collect names from Agenda Planning, Select the extras and send out a MS mail merge invite. Updating the spreadsheet with responses, chase a few times and eventually ring the last few (you know who you always are).

That Saturday really early I thought I would send out a last minute reminder prompting any last minute cancellations to let me know. I did have a few invitees going to the Peter Gabrielle concert and I knew another ACE was going with then but he had said yes to dinner, I caught that one but you never know if there are others. 

Oh dear - bad idea:
  • First mail merge, my bad, two conditions and it is AND not OR so everyone got the email! It said last minute instructions, Ok for those going, caused a flurry or emails from those who had already said no.
  • Next no idea, still looks right to me, and it sent email to everyone, not just those who accidentally got first, saying 'Yes I know you said No, I'm sorry' - that caused a bigger flurry from all those who had said yes!!
  • Final attempt, was deliberately sent to everyone. it said, If you said "Y" then ......... followed by If you said "N". Seems simple enough? No - I am new to MAC and MS Office on MAC is an art form I have yet to master. Apparently the first line is some sort of syntax for whatever their tech is and it came out as ŒY² then ŠŠŠ - WTF!!! 
  • I give up email - "you all know what you said" - problem here was I was by now so stressed that I put '+1" not '+44' in front of my mobile.
Apart from lots of emails from confused ACEs (not that difficult apparently), I had many emails and tweets from amused ACEs. But I doubt anyone will ever challenge me about 'not being technical' again.

What it did achieve though was a few last minute, 'yes I can come' answers. So I popped into the restaurant when I arrived in Liverpool and said we might be as high as 55, someone always drops out.

Alex Nuijten and I took Jennifer on the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour on Sunday morning, it was great fun and onboard was another ACE who didn't appear in any of my lists, so he got added, then another at hotel check in. By the time it came to the dinner, I was lost.

UKOUG had their volunteer thank you reception, so I popped along to that and then left early for dinner. I arrived at the restaurant, the Spice Lounge about 15 early and a few eager ACEs were already in residence, and then more arrived, and more, and more.

It was very obvious the tables laid for me were not going to be enough so I spoke to AJ the boss and said it looked like I was going to expand. There was a little wobble of stress but calm soon returned and they got on with re-arranging the restaurant. This is not a quiet restaurant and they would have been full from walk ins regardless, in fact when i left at 11.30 there were still people waiting for tables. They were brilliant and within 20 minutes had managed to find tables for the 63 people who sat down for dinner, we did at the peak have 67 but a few left and returned to the volunteers dinner. That saddened me as we would have found the room, they deserved to be there.

We had to wait a while for the food to come out, but drinks were served and the whole idea of a sit down dinner was to ensure people had the chance to talk to each other, and that was certainly achieved. Jennifer went round all the tables introducing herself and speaking to everyone.

I was very proud, so many ACEs together, most of the UK contingent plus all those from overseas who chose to come to UKOUG, several from India, Australia, many from the US and across Europe, Argentina, the list goes on.

photo from Ajith Pathiyil

The food was excellent and based on the hugs, emails and tweets I received everyone had a great time. Thank you again OTN for supporting UKOUG and this now traditional event.

Ever Felt Simply Overwhelmed By How Big Oracle Is?

When I started working with Oracle technology in 1996 (don't even like typing that), they were a database company with some new apps. I had worked in IT for about 10 years and for the last few years on an ERP system based on Ingres. But I still felt lost.

I attended an Oracle Overview Course, and it was OK but didn't really set the scene for me which is what I needed. I was lucky I then had a whole month's training, what a luxury it doesn't happen nowadays, so when I really got going I had learnt a lot about the organisation, its culture and strategy.

My boss asked me if the intro was any good as there were lots of other people joining the organisation who knew little or nothing about Oracle, and I asked if I could put together an 'All You Need To Know About Oracle Course'. So for over 15 years I had been giving these internally, the content always changing as things change, but the objective remained the same, introduce someone to All Things Oracle and join up the dots of what they do know.

I did something similar when I was working for myself and now I work for Certus Solutions and we have customers who are new to Oracle so I have been putting together something we could use for them and thought why not make this available as an open public course as well.  

As part of the Certus offering they sell training and are recognised as the best in Europe for Cloud ERP Training, delivering not only direct to customers, but also Oracle University Courses and Partner Courses on behalf of Oracle.

So the course is entitled 'Your Journey with Oracle' and you can see the detail here. The content really is aimed at people who want to know more about the company, it won't teach you how to code, or use the apps, but how to understand and work with Oracle. Cloud is opening up Oracle to people who has never been interested before so there are so many people who could do with just a little bit of knowledge. 

I'm planning classroom training at the end of January but will deliver on site to a group of people if needed. It will have many short knowledge bits with lots of opportunity for questions, that way I get to learn too.

If you want to understand the level at which it is pitched, we have a free 30 minute webinar where I will look at the Oracle Business Analytics offering. I delivered it last week and will do so again on 12th January. You can register here.