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Organizations succeed through continuous planning to achieve high levels of performance. For most organizations planning is not an easy process to conduct. Planning software is typically designed for only a few people in the process, such as analysts, or organizations might use spreadsheets, which are not designed for business planning across an organization. Most technologies only allow you to examine the past and not plan for the future. For decades organizations have tried to focus planning on driving better results through higher participation, but they have usually failed, as technology has not advanced enough to support this business need.

Tidemark has been working to help organizations plan and perform more VR_2012_TechAward_Winner_Logoeffectively across business, including finance and operational areas. My colleague Robert Kugel a year ago analyzed the launch of the company. Last fall it came to market with generally available applications that operate across the web and mobile technology. They are designed for business but also illustrate my point about business leading the way to cloud computing. Ventana Research awarded Tidemark our 2012 Technology Innovation Award for Finance, as the company’s efforts make finance more effective and smarter in business planning operations. Tidemark’s focus on the user experience engages users with easy–to-read metrics. The software’s ability to update the plan and let users collaborate has gained it attention from organizations looking for a better approach to planning. Early customers such as Acosta, Chuck E. Cheese’s and G&K have validated its premise of a smarter way for organizations to manage performance through analytics and planning designed for everyone in business.

Using dedicated applications to support a business process like planning is a smart idea. Our recent research into business planning vr_bti_br_whats_important_in_choosing_technologyfound that organizations that use dedicated applications report a level of accuracy of 86 percent, compared to those using spreadsheets at 60 percent. Increasing the accuracy of the plan was the top item (47%) where change could improve the value of the financial and business planning process. More importantly, 82 percent of organizations using dedicated applications indicate they have all or most of the numbers for aligning performance through planning, compared with 39 percent of those using spreadsheets. Businesses struggle to blend planning and business analytics. Integrated business planning that encompasses every department should be available for any range of customer, operational, financial, HR, sales and revenue-related needs.

Tidemark focuses on usability, which our research into business technology innovation found to be very important in 64 percent of organizations, higher than any other evaluation criteria. Its metrics and planning processes are easy for people to read, view and understand, unlike today’s typical mashup of email messages, presentations and spreadsheets, or attempts to push a set of standard charts into a dashboard view, which I have already said to be pathetic.

The new Spring 2013 release is the company’s next major product milestone. It introduces the ability to present analytics and metrics in what the company calls Tidemark Storylines – visual business-focused infographics that are dynamically created to interpret and present information about the business in a past, present and future approach that I have not seen in a product to date. Beyond this tool to help inform business and provide better methods to interpret the data, Tidemark has enhanced the business modeling capabilities that make this all possible, and this is what business analysts will love about the product. By using driver-based planning and other important approaches, the application can help provide a unified view of actual and plan data along with business charts to let users examine what changes are needed or envision what-if scenarios. Addressing one of my personal rants over the last decade, the software’s English statements on the analysis and analytic computations (metric or key indicator) make it easier to understand what you are examining, and you can change a statement to drive the presentation of the analytics. Tidemark’s focus on the visual presentation of business analytics goes well beyond that of the majority of technology suppliers in the market today. It takes only a couple of minutes of seeing the application to understand how the intuitive and interactive charts tell the business story and don’t just present the numbers.

This new release provides advancements in collaboration, vr_ngbi_br_benefits_realized_from_collaborative_biwith annotation and collaborative methods built in as part of the application. For years IT analysts have failed to understand that collaboration is the essence of what people do every day to drive improvement, and what those held accountable for business actually need. Our technology innovation research found collaboration to be the second most important priority after analytics, and having collaboration embedded within applications was the preferred method in 43 percent of organizations, over use of Microsoft Office or standalone tools. Tidemark provides collaboration within the context of the analytics and plan. It is able to integrate a range of comments or a document relevant to the analytics. It can securely store content to help with the need for disclosures, or any level of secured document storage, through a partnership with Box. Our recent research into next-generation business intelligence found that by using collaborative methods, organizations improve decision-making and have better communications than those that do not. I would assume that every organization would like these types of benefits for their business.

The next largest advancement is in how Tidemark allows for rapid configuration to make the application quick to deploy and use for a wide range of analytics and planning needs, no matter how strategic or operational they might be for an organization. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach; the Tidemark application can be adapted easily for any business process or planning needs.

vr_bti_br_technology_innovation_prioritiesAs organizations begin to realize the drawbacks of using spreadsheets and legacy applications not designed for the planning and performance processes, they will find that almost half (47%) can get to the details faster with dedicated applications compared to those that use spreadsheets alone (21%) or those that use spreadsheets with other applications (16%).  Respondents in our recent benchmark research in business technology innovation ranked business analytics their top priority (39%), in part for their importance in business planning. As organizations look at how to get better at strategic and long-range planning, they need to ensure they spend the right amount of time, as my colleague eloquently points out.

Tidemark partners with Workday to provide its products integrated with Workday’s HR and accounting applications that operate in the cloud, which are rapidly replacing on-premises ERP implementations. Tidemark also takes advantage of big data related to unstructured content using new technologies like its partner Cloudera.

Just investing in business analytics to analyze the past is not sufficient for achieving higher levels of performance. Without planning it is hard to determine what business should do to improve. Tidemark uses cloud computing and mobile technology in a unique way to advance business planning across the enterprise, and is worth your time to evaluate. Tidemark provides a strong foundation, but it should provide easier access for people to try the application for a short period of time, as I believe that once organizations try it, many will become customers. Tidemark can help meet organizations’ planning and performance needs and determine how a business can reach its full potential with its new and innovative release.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO & Chief Research Officer

I attended Oracle’s annual OpenWorld conference this week. The company claims it holds the world’s largest technology conference, with 50,000 attendees and a million people viewing sessions online. It was a great opportunity to get close to the Oracle Fusion Applications, which the company presented as proven and ready, with customers using them on-premises and in private and public cloud computing usage methods. In keynotes from executives Larry Ellison, Mark Hurd and Thomas Kurian and application-focused sessions with executives Steve Miranda and Chris Leone, Oracle repeated the message that Fusion Applications are not just for cloud computing and web services but are also accessible through mobile technology called Oracle Fusion Tap that operates natively on the Apple iPad. The company left no confusion about its applications’ readiness for cloud and mobile computing, and provided insight into future advancements.

After last year’s Oracle OpenWorld I made a cloudy forecast for Oracle Fusion for CRM and HCM due to Oracle’s lack of clarity in its message, the applications’ lack of readiness for cloud computing and slow progress on its on-premises customer deployments. These items have been addressed over the last year. The company presented significant customer and partner validation on deployments of Oracle Fusion Applications in HCM and some in CRM for Sales. Oracle discussed marquee Fusion HCM customers such as ConAgra, Nikon and Red Robin, and boasted about overall progress on adoption. Oracle Fusion for HCM has expanded with the company’s acquisition of Taleo, which has been progressing nicely. Oracle recently announced its intention to purchase SelectMinds, whose software adds depth in recruiting and hiring processes through the use of social media to promote a company’s brand and attract talent. Oracle is rapidly filling any possible gaps in its ability to meet the expanding need to manage human capital effectively.

On the Fusion CRM side, especially for sales, I didn’t find as much validation from customers at OpenWorld, though the application is ready for faster adoption, as it proved by earning our highest-level Hot rating in our Sales Performance Management Value Index research; you can download the executive report at no cost and see for yourself. Oracle discussed its own transition to using Oracle Fusion CRM for Sales, which for any sales organization the size of Oracle would not be easy. Oracle also has embedded in the application a spectrum of analytics including predictive ones to provide indicators of retention issues with employees, just as it can help predict the potential behavior of customers in sales.

Oracle also showed off advancements for offerings in the contact center and marketing, but we will talk about those offerings and provide deeper analysis in the future.

On the mobile side, Oracle officially unveiled Oracle Fusion Tap, which provides an intuitive approach to using Oracle applications on the iPad. Oracle made a demonstration version of the software available on the Apple AppStore in August. I tried it out after seeing the demos at the conference. The application took seconds to start and was easy to use. The demonstration is focused more on sales organizations than on broader human capital management. Oracle takes advantage of Apple’s swipe and gesture support, and its organizational selector makes it easy and fun to assess a team and their activities. Oracle Fusion Tap is well ahead of offerings from many other companies that compete in sales and human capital management. It should be on HR and sales organizations’ evaluation lists, especially since they can try it in seconds themselves without having to do any complex configuration or waiting for approval by Oracle.

Oracle’s largest challenge with Fusion Tap is in the performance indicators part of the application. It provides easy access to key areas of focus, but its metrics charts are not well presented and not designed for autosizing and interaction. When you try to examine a chart more closely, it does not size to the maximize size of the display, nor does it let you explore charts interactively. On the plus side, eventual integration with Oracle Social Network will make Fusion Tap more powerful by adding collaboration features. The other challenge with Fusion Tap’s performance indicators is a problem I have written about recently and tried to educate people about for years: Performance is only one type of indicator necessary for action on analytics. I hope Oracle will address these issues and make the analytics more actionable and engaging. I wrote about this same issue of usability of mobile analytics in my analysis of Oracle Business Intelligence Mobile earlier this year.

I decided to see if the underlying Oracle Business Intelligence Mobile has advanced since much of this technology is used in Oracle Fusion Applications. Oracle had updated its mobile business intelligence for the iPad in August, but it appears the offering has gotten more complex in many areas of presentation and interactivity, and the demo performance compared to Oracle Fusion Tap was very slow. This could be compensated for with Oracle server computing power unless Oracle has placed the burden of processing locally on the iPad. Also, unlike Fusion Tap, Oracle still makes quick access to try its mobile business intelligence cumbersome with required configuration and registration, which leaves more room for improvement.

I found it refreshing to see the embedding of Oracle Social Network within Oracle Fusion for CRM and HCM. I was pretty harsh on Oracle last year for not being ready in its presentation of the software. I thought that we would not hear a lot more about the product until this year’s conference, and I was pretty much right. Now Oracle seems to have learned that simply providing social collaboration software by itself is not as valuable as embedded in the applications. Social collaboration should be part of business processes, as we have found in our business-specific research across sales, customer service and human capital management. According to Oracle it plans to make it available inside of Fusion CRM in 2013; it’s not clear yet when it will be available for Fusion HCM, but I expect also in 2013. I believe that Oracle Social Network is enough of an advancement that offering a trial of the software on the Internet via public cloud computing, as Salesforce.com has done with Chatter, would help give customers and us in the industry more confidence in its human and technological advancements. It would have been great to have everyone at Oracle OpenWorld using it to socialize and engage about Oracle advancements. Maybe next year.

Oracle also sees the importance of engaging employees and managers on a routine basis to increase the efficiency of their interactions. Oracle previewed what appears to be a Fusion employee and manager self-service set of applications. I liked what I saw but I am not sure when the company plans to release this, but competitors such as SAP, Workday and even Salesforce, with its Work.com and Do.com, already have similar existing approaches in the cloud today. Oracle also showed the future expansion of its footprint in traditional workforce management, where worker time and absence are tracked no matter whether they are salaried or hourly employees. This expansion beyond what Oracle already offers in Fusion HCM today, informed by its experience with previous Oracle and Peoplesoft approaches, is critical to helping the company stay competitive, and could be especially useful as organizations blend their focus on talent and workforce management together.

After two days of Oracle and customer sessions, along with a visit to the demonstration stands in the exposition area, it was clear that Oracle has made an important change in its approach to the market and its executive-level commitment to Fusion Applications. I saw more dialogue with partners to complement its applications, and many announcements, including Oracle’s on partners in Fusion CRM, who were also visible during presentations and demonstrations.

Oracle largest challenge is marketing to a business audience and being seen as a friendly and effective supplier of business applications. Businesses that have established relationships with other cloud computing application providers will not be easy to gain as customers just because Oracle is Oracle or their IT departments say it is a good idea.

Oracle Fusion is worth your consideration whether you are considering a move to cloud computing or still run applications on-premises or use a hybrid approach which provides more choices to customers than just a cloud computing only approach. We are now in a renaissance of business driving what it needs from business applications, and vendors that convince business they can be trusted will be at the center of a new world of cloud, mobile and social computing.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO & Chief Research Officer

Mark Smith – Twitter

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