During the recent HR Technology® Conference, Oracle's Gretchen Alarcon previewed, in a Q&A, the company's long-awaited Fusion product.
Gretchen Alarcon has spent the past five years working on a project she couldn't tell anyone about, even her husband. The project is of great importance to a large number of HR professionals, not to mention her employer, Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle Corp.: Project Fusion.
Fusion will, the company has long promised, combine the very best features of all the software the company has acquired via its acquisitions over the years (including PeopleSoft and JD Edwards) into a state-of-the-art platform that it hopes will change the very nature of corporate processes, including HR.
At the HR Technology® Conference on Sept. 29 in Chicago this year, Alarcon -- Oracle's vice president for global human capital management strategy -- spoke with Conference Co-Chair Bill Kutik about Fusion HCM: What's in it, what it will do and who will be able to use it. What follows is an abridged version of their conversation.
Kutik: Imagine poor Gretchen: toiling every day with her team for five years, creating this gigantic next-generation HCM and not even being able to tell her husband about it. I mean, that's [like] working for the CIA.
So a lot of us have, frankly, been a little irked by that secrecy, certainly no more than Gretchen herself. And the head of North American Sales for HCM Fusion told me it came down to the most obvious and standard software-industry strategy, which is, you don't want to cannibalize current software sales by giving people too many details about the new thing that's coming soon, or next year, or the year after that. Gretchen will tell us when it's coming.
But the point is, a standard software industry strategy like that takes on a very different feeling when it's strung out over five years. I want to ask Gretchen a few of the most frequent questions that she's been forbidden to answer for all these years.
So the first question is the one that everyone asks: What's actually in Fusion? Is it just talent-management applications or is it a full, core system with HR benefits and payroll that could replace a full HRMS from, say, SAP, Ultimate Software, PeopleSoft, ADP, Oracle or anybody?
Alarcon: Actually, the first question we get before "What's in it?" is, "What is it?" So before I get into what's in it, let me tell you about what it is.
We spent a lot of time thinking about Fusion and, for those of you who remember when [Oracle acquired] PeopleSoft, Fusion was announced right after that. And a lot of the focus was on, what could we do with our existing products, how good were they, where could we go next?
We decided we really wanted to think about not just the key differentiators of those products, but also, how do we innovate, what's new and how do we really rethink the HR processes? We also took a step back and said, where do we think the world of HR is going?
So a lot has changed from when we first were releasing the ERP products over time and some of the things we really wanted to focus on were things like "user-centricity" -- not just being about the pretty screens, but really thinking about what it takes to build a good user experience. How do I help someone who is a more casual user versus someone who is a more specialized user? And especially, how do I think about it when I'm talking about a formal process versus an informal process?
We then got into things around information. How do you drive information and how do I present the right information at the right time to help you make a better decision? And that information could be information coming from the system or it could be reaching out and trying to collaborate with somebody else. How do I make sure that collaboration becomes part of the application, not an add-on to the application?
And we went far enough to build a specific solution around that. And then, finally, when all that got thought through we had to think about, well, once we build this wonderful thing, how are people going to take it?
So with all of that going on, let me tell you a little bit about what Fusion actually is: It is a complete suite. On the system-of-record side, we have global HR, global payroll and benefits, and we have some new products. One's called Workforce Predictions, and the other is Workforce Lifecycle Manager. And then there are some new products as well, including Talent Review.
Kutik: The other terribly important question is, when will Fusion applications be available to early adopters, current PeopleSoft Enterprise and Oracle EBS customers, and to brand new companies?
Alarcon: Fusion is actually available now for early adopters.
Kutik: What version of PeopleSoft Enterprise and Oracle EBS do I need to be on in order to use Fusion?
Alarcon: We're focused on making Fusion available for customers regardless of what release they're on. However, when we think about the integrations that we're delivering, we are looking at the later releases. So, customers around the 8.9 and further, 11.5.10 and further, would be the ones that we want to talk to first from a co-existing standpoint. But if there are customers on older releases who are interested, we could certainly talk about that as well.
Kutik: How about Fusion Middleware that we've heard so much about? Is that a required piece?
Alarcon: The Fusion HCM products are built on top of Fusion Middleware, which right now are on Release 11g. And our newer products, Talent Review, Workforce Lifecycle Manager, Workforce Predictions and Network at Work, all really leverage that Middleware as an enabler. So we're encouraging customers to think about getting to the latest release of their existing products and think about building a future-ready foundation with Middleware.
Kutik: And what about deployment options?
Alarcon: Fusion was designed up front to be very flexible in deployment options because we know that's how our customers want to think about it. We wanted to offer choice; we didn't want to lock customers into one specific delivery mechanism.
But, the first option is on-premise, as we have today. Many of our customers are already in an on-premise process. That way, the customer is responsible for software management and infrastructure management and they own the license. And that gives them the most flexibility and the most control over the process.
The second choice is hosting. And that's where the customer owns the license, but Oracle -- or a partner -- is responsible for software management and infrastructure management. The nice part about that is there's no investment in infrastructure; you can deploy it in a world-class data center and have good scalability.
The third option, which is new in HCM, is where we're offering SaaS. And in that option, Oracle is responsible for software management and infrastructure management; we retain ownership of the license and then you subscribe to the service. What you probably aren't familiar with is that Oracle CRM is actually the second-largest SaaS provider in the industry.
So, while this is new for HCM from Oracle, we're actually able to leverage the best practices to provide a really good solution for our customers. But then there's a hybrid option: You could choose to stay with your existing on-premise product, and then bring in a Fusion application in either a hosted or a SaaS model.
Kutik: And it's delivered the same way that SuccessFactors would deliver it? I'll have the same nightmarish integration issues as I would . . .
Alarcon: Actually, no, this is where we're a little bit different in that, because we are offering this co-existence, we felt it was really important for us to deliver the integration as well. Basically, we're pulling the content from your existing PeopleSoft or E-Business product and then putting that into the new Fusion product. You can run Fusion Talent tied back to existing PeopleSoft or E-Business Suite.
Kutik: So you guys have the performance core, obviously, of the talent-management suite, but not recruiting or learning management, which, to my mind, have always been the two big apps that bookmark the suite. What made you decide to leave them out of this first release?
Alarcon: This was a very difficult decision. We worked really hard to come up with what the right answers were. But we needed to get the core processes done first. We wanted to make sure the products we were delivering really were re-thought.
Kutik: What are your plans for the manner in which you're going to be upgrading Fusion applications, especially since they are available in the traditional on-premise installed version, where customers have come to expect upgrades every two to four years, as well as the SaaS version, where people are expecting upgrades every morning before coffee, practically?
Alarcon: Let's talk about a couple different answers on this. The first is upgrades. We've been working on the upgrade for a very long time. In addition, we think there's been a lot of change within Fusion. And we want customers to think about this as an opportunity to relook at some processes, if they choose to.
And, if they choose to, we have additional solutions to help them, whether we're talking about business-process maps or additional consulting opportunities to really get in and think through how to best leverage some of our new functionality.
We also know that, with the move to SaaS, customers are going to expect more frequent releases. And so our plan is that we're going to align the way that we deliver functionality with the way that we have done it on an ongoing basis for CRM, which is that we would have functionality on a six-month cycle and then technical releases in between. So we will be looking at some fairly frequent updates there, as well.
Kutik: While everyone talks about continuing to invest in Enterprise and EBS, they've also said there is no next-generation PeopleSoft. It's called Fusion. There is no next-generation EBS. It's called Fusion. So doesn't that, in some way, make EBS and Enterprise an evolutionary dead end? I mean, why continue to spend money on them?
Alarcon: Applications Unlimited is where we are focusing on the commitment to ongoing support of our applications. Whether we're talking PeopleSoft or JD Edwards or E-Business Suite, or now Fusion, that's how the support process works. And, as you noted, we've had a lot of investment in our existing products for a number of years.
With PeopleSoft, we had a lot of focus on succession planning and on goals. On the E-Business side, we introduced talent profiles and we expanded iRecruitment. Our latest releases have had a lot of effort around user experience and a lot of content on talent. And all of that is going to continue.