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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

Adoption of workforce analytics is increasing as organizations seek to recruit and retain employees more effectively and ensure that their people deliver the productivity they expect. According to our benchmark research on the topic, 89 percent of organizations want to make it simpler to provide workforce analytics, which is not surprising as our analysis shows that only 12 percent of organizations have reached the highest level of maturity here.

Maximizing cost-effectiveness and productivity is the goal of workforce analytics, and Kronos is focused on that. Kronos also provides workforce management applications, which I recently assessed. Now the company has released a new version of its workforce analytics software. In Kronos Workforce Analytics version 6.3  the technology is complete refreshed with the embedding of MicroStrategy, which is well-known for its robustness in business intelligence and analytics. (We recently assessed it also.) Kronos is smart to transition away from its previous Microsoft technology base, as Microsoft has not kept pace with innovations in business intelligence as well as MicroStrategy has. Kronos puts together analytics to help organizations measure and monitor employee activities such as time and attendance, absence, labor and related areas. The application provides a range of ad-hoc reporting and analysis and published dashboards. Users can perform data discovery by drilling down on charts, tables and reports, which are the most common components for presentation of labor-related analytics.

I had a chance to review the new release and found it easy to use the analytics to ascertain issues and opportunities to improve use of labor across the workforce. Kronos has improved integration of data for workforce analytics, which will help analysts spend less of their analytic process time on data-related tasks and more time on analysis; this is significant as our research shows that they spend two-thirds of the time preparing data. An easily accessible library of metrics and analytics reduces cumbersome setup for organizations that do not opt for prebuilt analytics.

Kronos has extended its core offering to industry-specific workforce analytics applications for healthcare, manufacturing and retail. These applications include prebuilt analytics that, for example, can help retailers quickly compare store labor to sales volume, or manufacturers check labor’s cost contribution to margin. To get organizations up and running quickly with the technology, Kronos provides a range of education and implementation services.

Kronos’s advancements are welcome, considering that almost half of organizations are not satisfied with their current workforce analytic processes, which should not be surprising as about two-thirds  use spreadsheets. This new release should appeal to organizations that are concerned about labor-specific analytics. Having workforce analytics in a secure, centralized place helps ensure that everyone is working from a consistent set of metrics. Our research shows that only 30 percent of organizations are satisfied with their existing analytics technology. As well as encouraging its existing customers to upgrade, Kronos also adds value for its suite of workforce management applications. I hope to see more support for mobile technologies such as smartphones and tablets in future versions, especially considering they are already supported by MicroStrategy.

Workforce analytics is becoming a requirement for every organization that wants to maximize its investment in the workforce. If you have not seen a demonstration of Kronos’s latest release, now is the right time to do so.

Regards,

Mark Smith – CEO and Chief Research Officer

Mark Smith – Twitter

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