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HR Technology Column

Oracle Fusion Comes into Focus

After five years of stony silence before finally announcing and showing Fusion HCM, Oracle has a market perception problem that will dissipate as it sells more customers (as it is doing), and their experiences get out into the world. But the cage match with Workday is already well underway.

Monday, August 22, 2011
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Oracle has -- at least -- a market perception problem with its next generation Fusion HCM: It kept everything about it so secret for so long (five years) that now many are suspicious even when the company is telling the truth!

I fell prey to that, too, during my vendor-briefing tour of Silicon Valley during the last week of July.

I've known VP Gretchen Alarcon, head of Fusion HCM, since she was a child HR director (OK, she was 26) at famous dot.bomb flameout Icarian in 1998. And in the 13 years since, I believe she's only misled me once -- while being a good soldier falling on her sword for PeopleSoft five or six years later -- by delivering an upbeat briefing about eRecuiting version 8.0 or 8.3, a product disaster she had inherited.

Her boss at both companies, Doug Merritt, famous as a pathological truth-teller, just like Jim Carrey in the movie Liar, Liar, confirmed for me outside at the coffee urn after her preso that "eRecruiting just doesn't work."

So it was just that one time in 13 years -- nevertheless, even after she told me Fusion had all the traditional HRMS modules except for recruiting, learning and time & attendance, and even after seeing the Fusion price sheet (!) publicly available on the Oracle website, I still asked for a demo of core HR -- HR, Benefits and Payroll -- just to make sure they exist.

They do, but the fact that I felt the need to see them is a challenge for Oracle.

Plus, the company has been trotting around its first live Fusion customer, Principal Financial Group, for so many months that it seemed to be the only one it had after all those years of consulting with clients and trying to sign up early adapters. And Principal is live only on compensation, to boot.

Well, it turns out it's not the only customer: Fusion HCM has about a dozen signed and in the pipeline.

Group VP Chris Leone, head of all Fusion development and Gretchen's boss, stopped by the briefing to say the Fusion early-adopter program has 55 customers in all the software applications plus those dozen in HCM, with some beginning implementation.

Understand, these days all major vendors have similar programs which used to be called "beta" -- SAP terms it "ramp up," ADP calls it "pilots" and others "limited availability" -- when they handpick the first customers for new software based on their greatest chance of being successful. No crime in that.

Leone names the early adopters privately, but will only describe them for public consumption. One, an Oracle EBS customer, with 5,500 employees in 35 countries, bought Fusion performance management, compensation and goals as SaaS applications, with the possibility of bringing them on-premise.

That's a delivery alternative only Oracle is offering for its next gen product, not SAP, which will debut its Career OnDemand SaaS talent management applications at the HR Technology® Conference.

One PeopleSoft Enterprise 9.0 customer (that's the next to the current release) is planning to rip out its entire installed system for its 5,000 employees and take all of Fusion, he says, because of SaaS and the new user experience.

Leone says other Oracle EBS customers include a semiconductor company, on board with its 5,700 employees, and one of Australia's leading mortgage brokers, with 5,000 employees.

Alarcon says existing HCM customers are most interested in Fusion performance management and comp.

Breaking the 5,000-to-5,700-employee sweet spot, Leone proudly points to a takeaway from SuccessFactors, at a major North American commodity company.

The politeness of the old days in vendor briefings is long gone. Just about every vendor now eagerly talks about its replacement stories or competitive wins in detail (often privately naming names), and this company is certainly four or five times larger than the other early adopters.

What nobody talks about publicly is Oracle's effort to derail Workday's late-stage sales efforts to Oracle clients. Again, business as usual: It's called capitalism. Apparently, it may have contributed to Workday's not signing Charles Schwab, but Oracle's efforts failed at Thomson Reuters, which was recently announced as a Workday customer.

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That's the cage match to watch going forward -- with Workday currently having the advantage of older battle-tested software, being able to pursue larger customers and 230 of them already signed. But given Oracle's much larger size, resources and installed base, those Workday advantages will shrink over time.

Fusion became generally available on June 1, Leone says, and now anyone can buy it, though still with careful qualification.

Leone confirms that Oracle is looking to HCM as its best source for larger company Fusion sales.

There is no better proof of that than Oracle's SVP Application Development Steve Miranda, who heads the 6,000-person organization responsible for all Oracle applications, leaving Oracle's own user conference in San Francisco on Oct. 3 to hold a Vendor Expert Discussion at HR Technology® in Las Vegas.

There in a small group (well, it may be bigger), he'll answer questions from all Oracle, PeopleSoft and JD Edwards HCM users attending plus many interested experts, I'm sure.

But now, at least, there are two questions he won't have to answer: Does Fusion HCM fully exist and have other customers?

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chairman of the 14th Annual HR Technology® Conference & Exposition, October 3-5, 2011 in Las Vegas. All registration discounts expire completely in less than four weeks on September 19. You can comment on this column at the Conference LinkedIn Group , which does not require prior or future conference attendance to join. He is also host of The Bill Kutik Radio Show®. He can be reached at bkutik@earthlink.net .  

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