I logged on for a virtual chat with Steven Chan, an Oracle Technology Adoption Programs Director and author behind the new Oracle eBusiness Suite Technology blog. We talked about his dream job, customer relationships, Fusion, blogs and other topics. Read on for more details below.
Let me start by asking about your Oracle beginnings.
I started with Oracle in 1998. Prior to Oracle, I’ve held management consulting positions with Deloitte Consulting and development positions with a variety of firms including IBM.
What are you responsible for now?
I’m a Director in the Applications Technology Group, the group that owns the technology stack for the E-Business Suite. My formal title is Director, Technology Adoption Programs, which means that I manage Early Adopter Programs for certain E-Business Suite technology stack components. I also participate in the general development process for some of our technology integrations.
So are you in Development or Support?
The Applications Technology Group is a development group, so I’m in Development. I get the opportunity to work across a broad variety of areas. This includes product development, working directly with customers via our Early Adopter Programs, and speaking at various conferences. I consider this my dream job.
Sounds like it. Have you always been involved with the applications? You seem to have a technology background…
I started as a Development Manager in Oracle’s Consumer Packaged Goods group, a systems integration product suite that has since been superseded. I have also held development and release management responsibilities for a variety of other products, including the Business Intelligence System (BIS), the Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW), Product Lifecycle management (PLM), and others. The Applications Technology Group is the central group that owns all of the E-Business Suite integrations with Oracle technology, so I was extremely lucky to find a role within this group. I’ve been with ATG since 2001.
I am familiar with some of those products. I assisted with implementing BIS for Financials and Projects a couple of times. As consultant, you learn what your customers buy and use.
How did the environment at Oracle change since all the acquisitions, in particular Peoplesoft? Are you playing nice with all your cousins?
From my limited perspective, we’ve had new staff from the acquisitions join our team. They uniformly have terrific skills and we’ve been learning a tremendous amount from each other.
I find it interesting that all of our respective organizations have been working on similar “Next Generation” ERP suites in parallel. Fusion is an exciting opportunity to pool our shared expertise and ideas. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much energy and the sheer volume of new ideas since joining Oracle.
The amount of development activity underway right now is staggering. Keeping up with all of the new developments that occur on a daily basis can sometimes be challenging. I’m trying to give glimpses of that in my new blog, but there’s so much new information, it’s sometimes difficult to determine what’s stable vs. what’s newsworthy at this stage.
Speaking about Fusion and developing next generation ERP, Ray Lane said in his key note at the Software 2006 conference: “â€¦We [ERP vendors] made a mistake in the 90s of developing applications for their buyers, not users“. I realize he might have been playing to the crowd. But, not trying to put you on a spot here, how would you respond to people who agree with Mr. Lane?
As with all generalizations, there’s probably a kernel of truth in that, but I donâ€™t have the perspective to comment on the general ERP industryâ€™s strategy.
I don’t personally work with the functional side of our Applications, but as an end-user of certain modules like iExpenses and Self-Service Human Resources, I can see design aspects that could be improved. Thereâ€™s always room for refining a user interface and functional flows.
From the Apps DBA perspective, we have a lot of very strong system architects who are trying to provide tools to make systems administratorsâ€™ lives easier. The challenge for us is prioritizing all of our ideas and hearing from Oracle customers and users about real-world use-case scenarios.
This is one of my goals of our new E-Business Suite Technology Stack blog – to open up dialogues with other Apps DBAs.
And God bless you for that. I love your blog and wish all Oracle product managers had one.
One of the themes that I repeatedly touch on when speaking at conferences like OpenWorld and the OAUG Collaboration Conference is that a handful of committed and vocal E-Business Suite users can have a profound effect on our product development directions.
The important thing, as a customer, is to make your voice heard via enhancement requests, customer advisory boards, direct emails, customer visits to Oracle HQ, personal conversations with us at conferences, and even blog comments.
We take all of these things into account when prioritizing new features or changes to existing technology stack functionality.
Being a “techno-functional” consultant I wish that we [Oracle applications users] had a better communication about the functionality, not just technology of the applications.
Now that Oracle has officially given the green light for blogs, our functional product teams have an opportunity to open up their own dialogues with their customers. I hope that others will follow in my footsteps.
There are a large number of “pure” Oracle technology blogs out there now, and my colleagues in the Server Technologies Division are passionate about getting the word out. I hope to see more Applications bloggers join the bandwagon eventually.
As for enhancements, it is very difficult to get excited about requesting enhancements to functionality you needed 6 months ago that only might be available two years from nowâ€¦
I agree. Enhancement requests have as long a development cycle as internally-generated new feature requests, sometimes longer. What helps accelerate the process is hearing from a large number of customers who urgently need a particular feature or configuration. Hence the importance of logging Metalink Service Requests or getting your feedback to us somehow.
Here’s an illustrative example: We originally released Oracle E-Business Suite Release 11i without turnkey instructions for setting up Demilitarized Zones or reverse-proxies.
Our Oracle field staff – our Sales Consultants and [Delivery] Consultants – started implementing Release 11i for customers. It quickly became clear that firewall, DMZ, and reverse-proxy support was an urgent architectural requirement for our enterprise customers.
So, we moved that to the top of the priority list, which triggered development on AutoConfig, new profile options, new server-based hierarchies, and so on. This cloud of interrelated dependencies coalesced into what we now have documented officially in Note 287176.1 (Metalink Login Required).
Although it took a while to get there as a certified, supported solution, we were pleased to get this configuration out at last. So, the [customer] feedback does make a difference… eventually.
The development cycle is not just Oracle’s problem. It is a challenge for any proprietary software vendor. At least, it is now easier for Oracle Applications users to submit their enhancement requests at the OAUG web site. But I wonder how many passionate hands-on users actually know about it and have access to it. Judging from a number of currently submitted Fusion requests, not many.
Weâ€™re eager to get as much customer feedback as we can on existing and new functionality. It would be wonderful if we could get the user community excited about participating in these discussions.
What I find curious is the relatively small number of end-user websites on the E-Business Suite. There are a few blogs, including yours, but they’re hard to find and few and far between.
I absolutely agree that feedback from customers and users is critical. The ways to provide it are not always obvious though. I also feel for customers who are early adapters of new solutions. They have to spend a lot of their own time and resources to first figure out what is even wrong and then work with Oracle to get it fixed.
Our Early Adopter Programs are extremely valuable for getting customer feedback.
The last Early Adopter Program I ran was for the integration of Oracle Application Server 10g with the E-Business Suite. This was a two-year program with over 260 customer participants. Their feedback dramatically reshaped the end solution that we eventually made Generally Available.
I’d love to see more of our Applications product teams running Early Adopter Programs, too. They’re very expensive to run but the benefits can be extraordinary.
OK, letâ€™s talk about blogs. I see them as another way to communicate. You have already touched on some of the reasons why you blog. Why do you blog?
I get the opportunity to speak with a lot of customers and partners on a regular basis. I can’t help but come away with the nagging sense that we can do a better job of getting high-quality information into your hands. This information can range from announcements about new features, sneak previews of things in the pipeline, and technical tips for Apps DBAs.
There’s a lot of information on Metalink and various discussion groups, but it’s scattered. Worse yet, Metalink is behind Oracleâ€™s firewall, so all of that priceless content is invisible to search engines like Google.
In a perfect world, blogs would be unnecessary. My hope is that my new blog will provide another way of getting information out to our customers, and getting feedback on our directions in return.
And, there’s another selfish reason. I get a huge volume of email daily. A lot of this email addresses the same general questions. I also maintain an extremely popular E-Business Suite Technology Stack FAQ: Note 186981.1. I’ve found that investment in the FAQ reduces my email volumes. I’m now finding that investment in the blog has the same effect with the added benefit that I have a useful repository of information for my own reference purposes, too.
And one other thing: There’s a certain degree of professional reserve that limits how we can communicate via “official” channels like Installation Guides, Metalink Notes, and so on. That’s a byproduct of the need to produce formal documentation. The blogging medium allows for a more informal, freewheeling style, which is much more personal.
That’s the beauty of blogs. It is good to see that after the blogging hype of 2005, blogs are being used more and more for productive purposes… Taking a quick glance at Oracle Blogs, there are over 100 technology blogs, two applications blogs (excluding yours) and no application blog by an Oracle employee.
In fact, besides mine, there exists one Applications blog today: Martin Millmoreâ€™s iRecruitment Blog. I hope that others will be joining us soon.
Sorry, my mistake. What I am getting at is a general perception that the applications have always been a secondary product line to Oracle (to increase the database sales). Fusion has brought a lot of attention to the applications. John Wookey talked about “the need to change the mindset of the company to act more like an application vendor, not technology one”. Do you see a change in the company’s culture/mindset?
I don’t think I’m able to assess the company’s mindset effectively. We’ve certainly seen changes in the Applications Technology Group following our acquisitions. These changes have a lot of potential to improve the scope and feature-richness of our products. I’m very optimistic about our upcoming releases.
Do you have any favorite blogs?
I currently use Bloglines to track a massive number of blogs and website feeds, so it’s gotten to the point where I don’t really distinguish between blogs and “official” news sources any more. This certainly supports the recent Supreme Court ruling on Apple vs. bloggers – the notion that there are no viable means of differentiating between credentialed journalists for conventional print media and bloggers.
The few E-Business Suite-related blogs that exist are on my blogroll, including yours, Richard Byrom’s, Eddie Awad’s, and the OAUG Customizations Special Interest Group. But actual E-Business Suite-related posts are relatively scarce, even on those.
For general technology topics and just pure fun, I also read sites like Slashdot, Engadget, Gizmodo, Digg, Wired, CNET, and many others.
I better be careful what I blog about. Somebody actually reads it! I wish I had more time and energy to write about everything I want to.
How is Larry doing these days? Do you ever see him in person?
Like many Development staff, I get to see Larry primarily at conferences and via internal and external webcasts. From what I can see, he’s doing very well…
Our conversation wouldnâ€™t be complete without my asking about Web 2.0. How do you see new web tools like wikis, blogs, mashups, online communities, etc changing the enterprise? Can you imagine the OAUG web site being an “online space” for Oracle Applications users, or Metalink Knowledge Base being updatable through wikis?
The “Web 2.0″ name is useful shorthand for new web technologies, but I have had reservations about the implication that there’s an overall web architect overseeing “versions” of the net.
That said I’m extremely encouraged by interactive features that make the web more like dynamic conversations and information-pooling spaces. For all the controversy around Wikipedia, it represents the ideal of a collectively-managed, ever-growing pool of information. The collective anarchy of MySpace (whose nova-like popularity is starting to fade, even now), and sites like Slashdot and Digg show the power of the net to highlight interesting topics and drive collaborative action. Witness the recent case where the blogosphere revealed the shady New York online camera scams.
On the other hand, the hysterical scrum that followed the O’Reilly “Web 2.0″ service mark incident illustrates that there certainly is room for improvement. That’s just a result of the relative youth of this technology; like all communities, the conventions, mores, and formal and informal rules will evolve in time to reflect the purer journalistic standards.
As for [Oracle] technology, I hope that Metalink and OAUG will continue to evolve to take advantage of the latest mashup, AJAX, dynamic and collaborative technologies. They should exist in parallel, with vigorous participation of our user communities in both spaces.
I agree. Conferences and personal relationships are still important but they should be supplemented by new web tools. I love one quote from a Business Week article: “The divide between the publishers and the public is collapsing. This turns mass media upside down and creates media of the massesâ€¦â€ There is always room for good content and information on the internet.
Quite true. This is starting to emerge even in inchoate form in my own small part of the blogosphere. For example, one of the recent comments posted by a blog reader pointed out the implication of HP’s Tru64 de-support for E-Business Suite system architects considering Release 12. This is the purest form of collaborative customer-corporate discussions that end up providing really useful information to people struggling with real-life practical decisions.
Marian, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for your support, and I look forward to our continued dialogues online.
I really appreciate your time and opinions, Steven. I really enjoyed it. We have to do it again sometimes. Talk to you later. Take care.
If you would like to join the dialogue with Steven, submit your questions as comments in this post, or at Steven’s blog. Find this and related items in Conversations.