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Oracle may offer the full gamut of business applications in its Fusion Cloud suite – finance, human resources, supply chain, manufacturing, advertising, sales, customer service and marketing – but the firm is under no illusion that every one of its customers will become an Oracle-only shop at any point soon.
Indeed, Oracle is now openly saying that it’s okay for customers not to be just Oracle, and it’s unrealistic to expect them to be, according to Cormac Watters, executive vice-president of applications at Oracle in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). The business is also taking a softly-softly approach to those customers still running legacy software from previous acquisitions like JD Edwards and PeopleSoft, or its own E-Business Suite.
“Some customers from the more heritage products are moving their workloads to the cloud, but a lot still need to do that. We’re not halfway there yet – we’re less than 20% still,” he says.
“That means there are a lot of customers running on-premise software from the legacy side that still have the opportunity to move and take the first step to the cloud,” adds Watters. “You’ve got to work with those customers to build a plan that lets them move at a pace they’re comfortable with, and not mandate that they’ve got to go lock, stock and barrel today. That’s not realistic.”
To support these heritage customers, or those wanting to move further into the cloud, Oracle has its own consulting organisation. But the firm has also made significant steps to be more partner-friendly, revamping the entire network so customers have a choice of implementation partner.
“There are a lot of customers running on-premise software from the legacy side that still have the opportunity to move and take the first step to the cloud. You’ve got to work with those customers to build a plan that lets them move at a pace they’re comfortable with”
Cormac Watters, Oracle
“The limited resource, because of the growth we’re experiencing, is on the implementation side, so we’ve tried to open up to be very partner-centric and to encourage customers to use the partner ecosystem,” says Watters.
DP World’s cloud pathway
Logistics company DP World is one of those heritage customers Watters refers to, having run some Oracle applications since 2005. Until 2017, the business was using on-premise software, but it decided to upgrade to the Fusion suite in a bid to speed up access to real-time data across its 60 country locations for its 55,000 employees. DP World decided to go with Oracle due to its depth of offering.
“We decided to stop mixing different solutions from different systems and different service providers. For back office, finance, HR, supply chain management, global tax governance and risk compliance, we chose to go with Oracle Fusion,” says Mohamed Absar, DP World's head of projects and solutions.
“With our on-premise legacy systems in different locations, cost of ownership was very high and it took time to consolidate and present the data. In the unified form, we get quicker decision-making, real-time access to key performance indicators and allow financial consolidation across the group almost instantaneously,” he adds.
Although DP World began its Fusion project in 2017, it’s still on a journey to implementing it in different locations. It worked with Oracle Consulting to help design the global templates, a process that took around a year and a half, and then started rolling out Fusion at the end of 2019.
So far, it has gone live in India and Africa, with a further 45 locations to be completed by the second quarter of 2022. DP World aligned itself with the best practices and global processes proposed by Oracle, rather than opting for a customised approach.
“When we are trying to consolidate from different regions and different countries, each country has their own specific processes linked to that local need. To consolidate into a single ERP [enterprise resource planning system], we have to harmonise the processes. The harmonisation process requires a lot of change management, aligning people and showcasing what is the best practice,” says Absar.
“The important thing is change management – getting the senior stakeholders involved throughout the project, making them know why we are doing what we are doing. And also paying special attention to data quality [to avoid] ‘garbage in, garbage out’. You have to be very careful in terms of data cleansing. We use a lot of artificial intelligence and take a lot of time analysing data, and we developed our own tools to clean the data.”
“With on-premise legacy systems in different locations, cost of ownership was very high and it took time to consolidate and present the data. In the unified form, we get quicker decision-making, real-time access to key performance indicators and allow financial consolidation across the group almost instantaneously”
Mohamed Absar, DP World
Oracle proved a good choice for DP World as there are so many different modules that can be added on, says Absar. DP World started off with just four and is now using 45 different modules.
“And if the product isn’t available within the Oracle portfolio, then Oracle helps us with finding it within the ecosystem it has created, a large ecosystem of partners,” he adds.
Bladnoch Distillery drops Excel for NetSuite
At the other end of the spectrum, 200-year-old whisky distillery Bladnoch was able to approach its implementation of Oracle NetSuite as a greenfield project. The business was essentially operating as a storage facility for casks of whisky when it was bought by Australian entrepreneur David Prior in 2015, with no legacy systems in place, just interconnected sets of Excel spreadsheets.
It opted for NetSuite OneWorld due to its seamless multi-currency, multi-country application, suitable for a distillery based in Scotland, headquartered in Melbourne, and selling globally via a team of 55 people. Bladnoch is now using NetSuite for finance, accounting, sales, logistics, inventory management, and an element of cost management as well.
Will Pitchforth, Bladnoch
“What we want is that one touch so we’re not dipping into multiple systems. When I’m making business decisions, I’m not having to run multiple reports and apply currency trends, transfer currencies and add things up. It takes a lot of the manual processes out,” explains Will Pitchforth, head of commercial at Bladnoch.
“However, it was a couple of years to get to a point where we really had NetSuite wrangled in the right way,” he adds. “That was less about the time taken for NetSuite and a bit more about migrating the team over and essentially working out what we could do in terms of good, strong cask inventory and product bills. It took me a good couple of years to get people to stop using Excel spreadsheets to run everything.”
A key piece of advice Pitchforth has for other businesses upgrading from Excel to a sophisticated ERP application is that it can be quite intimidating for those who haven’t used such a versatile platform before.
“There’s always a bit of a worry when people jump into it that they’ll break something or delete something. We run sandboxes for all of our different sets of user permissions, raising sales orders or invoicing. The sandbox lets them have a play around, but I would like to implement some more official training just to help with that learning curve,” says Pitchforth.
“For someone working in administration, you can access a huge amount of the back end of the business and it can be quite intimidating. Other systems, like Salesforce, are very graphical and follow the logical pathway. NetSuite’s a lot more powerful,” he adds.
Bladnoch has also built roles that give users access to only the information they need. Then, once they’re comfortable with the basics, they get access to more advanced features of the platform.
Railway cars company TTX’s road to full-suite Oracle
Like Bladnoch, North American railcar pooling company TTX was a first-time customer of Oracle when it made the decision in 2018 to upgrade its enterprise resource planning (ERP), enterprise performance management (EPM), human capital management (HCM) and supply chain management (SCM) systems. The basis for its decision was dual-pronged: to switch to a mobile-first strategy and to move to the cloud to escape the “rat race of constant upgrades that you never can keep up with”.
Previously, TTX was running a mix of SAP ERP, with some expense reports and tax applications in the cloud, and some other homegrown systems and manual processes.
The firm used a weighted scoring methodology to choose the best provider for its move to the cloud. While there were cloud applications that scored higher in a particular area, the overall score came down heavily in favour of the Oracle suite because of its ability to satisfy all of the different business functions at the same time.
“The team that looked at it really felt that from the technology stack view, the Oracle product was more integrated at that time. That’s not to say SAP won’t get there at some point, but at the time, the Oracle platform was much more integrated,” says Vicki Dudley, chief financial officer at TTX.
TTX went live on the new Oracle platform on 1 January 2020, just in time to support the remote working required by Covid-19 lockdowns.
“We are now trying to focus the team on getting involved with as many of the various groups within Oracle, because we really do have an opportunity to have a voice in terms of how we would like to see the software progress, and also the opportunity to work with other companies to understand how they’re approaching things,” says Dudley.
Fusion versus S/4 Hana
Holger Mueller, vice-president and principal analyst for Constellation Research, notes that Oracle and SAP may be the two market leaders for ERP, but says Fusion and S/4 Hana are 10 years apart in their product development.
“If you compare the two in terms of product maturity, Oracle is significantly ahead of SAP because Oracle has had 17 years to build Fusion and SAP barely had seven years – that’s not even [a] fair [comparison],” he says.
“Oracle is in a relative position of strength. It’s very good against SAP as a competitor; pretty good to very good regarding Infor, because it’s ready now in [industry] verticals; and with the setting up on Oracle Cloud, it’s very good against Salesforce and Workday as well,” he adds.
The biggest challenge for Oracle, according to Mueller, is that people don’t like to do business with it.
“I always joke that if SAP or Workday had the Oracle products and Oracle had whatever product, Oracle would be out of business because of its audit policy. All companies try to stay in the licensing agreement, but because Oracle can come and do an audit and wants to have payment then, in the quarter, that hijacks all kinds of IT projects.
“If companies realise they’ve been out of compliance and been using too many licences, then they have to pay. But if they have to pay by the quarter, lots of people who don’t even know Oracle, or don’t have a product from Oracle, hear, ‘Oh, your project got cancelled because of Oracle’.
“The margins that SAP have are more customer-friendly and allow users to cover those payments over the next year. That’s where Oracle has to be more commercially and customer savvy, and help customers, to add that extra supportive layer over its integrated suite of business applications,” says Mueller.