Friday, 26 August 2016

Part II - Building A Cloud Professional Services Practice – The Sir Alex Ferguson Way

In Part I we looked at Sir Alex Ferguson’s model for Manchester United’s first team squad during his tenure. In Part II we now lift the lid on Certus operations as Richard Atkins, EVP Oracle Cloud Services and myself explain how we have copied Ferguson’s blueprint to build longevity and a delivery capability as the company scales.

As Sir Alex says “From the moment I got to Manchester United, I thought of only one thing: building a football club. I wanted to build right from the bottom. That was in order to create fluency and a continuity of supply to the first team. With this approach, the players all grow up together, producing a bond that, in turn, creates a spirit”.

Well at Certus we didn’t want to build just a single delivery team, we wanted to build a great company. To do that we needed to build and implement a system that would not only develop talent and create opportunities and experiences for our people but build long term value for both the company and for our customers. This is very different from the days of Oracle E-Business Consultancy models with on-premise implementations and a room full of contractors.

The Certus Model – You Learn, You Lead, You Teach
When I first floated the Manchester United blueprint for success with the Senior members of Certus they first all laughed. Then I “told” them (not something I do very often) to think laterally and how it could be applied to a professional services company such as ourselves. In-fact what this story demonstrates is true collaboration because in no more than a few days Richard had created our own version of the model. Richard’s job is fundamentally to deliver our underlying delivery capability by ensuring we have not only recruited the right people but they always have the right skills and knowledge to look after our customers. As a consequence he needs an operating model that continuously looks to develop and challenge our people.

When Mark first pitched the idea all he wanted to do was talk about Manchester United and Ferguson’s model. As none of us really follow football, and don’t really care for United we had a good laugh. But he gave me the context and from that I could see after only a few hours how this could be applied to Certus. Within 48 hours we had pitched the concept to the entire company at the quarterly company meeting looking for feedback which was positive. People could see for the first time how their own careers would now develop over time and how we were going to build the company – and this was what got people excited”. Richard Atkins, EVP of Oracle Cloud Services, Certus Solutions

Just like Ferguson, who would recruit per cohort within the squad (see Part I) to provide positional coverage in depth, something the American’s refer to in professional sport as the “Depth Chart”, we do exactly the same. Our model consists of three cohorts:
  • You Learn – the Certus Academy (100% employees 0% Associates)
  • You Lead – Primary Delivery Capability (80% employees 20% Associates)
  • You Teach - the Masters (100% employees 0% Associates) 

So how do we go about Recruitment – The Rules of Our Game?
The model has to be fed and we are no different from any other company in trying to source the right candidates – personnel referral (always has the edge at Certus); direct applicants; and recruitment agencies. But more importantly, just like in football, we scout and target people we would like to invite to join the company – we are very big on this. However all our recruitment has to match against the three cohorts; positions required and coverage (depth chart).

Do We Ever Break The Rules?
Rarely, but we do it. If someone we view has the potential we are looking for comes available we will naturally enquire regardless if a given cohort is fully staffed. People do not join Certus just because of the salary we offer it is about being given the opportunity to be part of something that we are building and be given the opportunity to truly innovate and deliver positive change to our clients business operations with the latest leading edge Oracle Cloud technology. As we only do Oracle Cloud, this alongside our reputation, makes us an attractive proposition. In fact it differentiates us from our competition.

The model, however, keeps us true. If you had eleven Cristiano Ronaldo’s on your football team you would lose the game. A team might be made up of individuals with different skills, but to become an effective delivery unit they need an ability to trust each other, leave their ego at the door, and focus on the task in hand. Team’s win games not individuals; and equally in our business teams win and deliver Oracle Cloud solutions enabling positive change to our customers. All of which requires leadership at every level of the organisation.

The Shortfall - Use of Interim Labour – Our Associates
Let’s put this into context with another quote from the maestro “The first thought of 99% of newly appointed managers is to make sure they win — to survive. So they bring experienced players in. That’s simply because we’re in a results-driven industry. Winning a game is only a short-term gain—you can lose the next game. Building a club brings stability and consistency”.

Well a Professional Services company is in the same game and needs exactly the same outcomes "stability and consistency". You cannot achieve this by just using teams of contractors. We are in a results-driven industry and if truly you want to maintain the industry reputation of the like Certus has "of being the best" we have to ensure we have no failed implementations and we have happy customers. So at times we need to bring in experienced players to supplement our delivery teams. However the key element here is that the associates we use MUST share our values and represent us as a company. They have to put the company first and not themselves. This is the key thing we are constantly watching.

An individual’s performance, associate or employee alike, reflects not only on them as a professional but also ourselves as a company. Certus is all about building long term value for all those involved so we look after our staff, employees and associates alike, as they will look after our customers. But our standards are high 
and if we do use a associate you have to have the right skills and the right attitude.

Drawing a parallel again to Ferguson and the use of loan players – notably Henrik Larsson, a prolific striker filled in for 13 games (and 3 goals) during 2007-2008 season for injury cover in the top tier (“You Teach”). After 3 months Larsson departed having made his mark with club and fans alike. (we loved him!) – However the point here is that Larsson was a known proven quantity, possessing skills in abundance and when called upon he delivered.

The agencies will all say - "we get it!". But do they? Really? - The number of individuals who have credible consultancy and Oracle ERP and HCM Cloud skills around that puts them in the "Henrik Larsson" category is a very very small number. Just because someone has 15 years+ Oracle E-Business Suite experience doesn’t mean they can just transition to Cloud. Equally just because you have just done 2-3 Cloud implementations doesn't make you an expert. The reality is from our experience very few can in-fact make the jump. Oracle Cloud requires Consultants with a new set of skills, of which they have to be continually updated as the product is constantly moving on every 6 months. This is no longer a technical job of the likes of old. Contractors have to stay current in the Cloud, otherwise their value diminishes quickly.

Interim labor allows us short term resource elasticity in the middle cohort, it is not a base that allows company growth and expansion.

New Blood Needs a New Model
New blood needs a new model, hence why we feel Ferguson’s blueprint works for all of us involved in the company. True cloud consultancies have to operate differently, the delivery model is different, the cost base is lower, massive flexibility is required and customer expectations are also different. The next generation has to come through an academy like structure and that is what the model facilitates in a controlled environment. Cloud appeals to the next generation so the model naturally allows for opportunities for apprentices, graduates and 2nd jobbers alike.

Lets Not Forget The Working Part Time Mum's
Certus was initially built using part time working mothers (see -, the new model still supports this and they remain an important part of our workforce and equally slot into the cohorts the same as a full time employee.

So we can’t finish a piece like this without a quote from Sir Alex himself - “Football, bloody hell” – What’s that got to do with Oracle and Certus? – well we just told you! This post just became mandatory reading for those who want to come and be part of our story.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Building A Cloud Professional Services Practice – The Sir Alex Ferguson Way - Part I

At Openworld 2016 Oracle will be highlighting its success and exponential growth in the Cloud market as it strives to become the Number 1 Cloud provider in the market. Thanks to the recent Netsuite acquisition this goal has probably now been achieved (depending of course on how you wish to measure it) which is fantastic news for all those involved at Oracle and those in the Oracle eco-system as someone has to implement all of this and deliver on the promise made. Those Consultancy practices that made the leap into Oracle Cloud early have the challenge of now scaling their business to meet demand, whilst those who have sat on the side are still trying to work out how to enter and play the game and to be honest will now struggle with the challenge of building capability quickly, addressing the issue of reference-ability and learning to adapt as winning business in the Cloud is vastly different from the traditional on-premise deals of the last two decades.

Certus being a 5 year veteran in the business of Oracle Cloud we thought we would lift the cover on our organisation and share how we are rising to the challenge and scaling our business to cope with the increase demand for our services. In providing this we hope we can give you some real insight as to how we are building our professional services delivery capability and more importantly how we maintain its integrity as we grow.

So before we lift the lid and let you all into our family this post will be in two parts and is a collaborative effort between Richard Atkins, Certus Solutions EVP Oracle Cloud Applications Practice, myself with the blueprint for success” provided kindly by Sir Alex Ferguson - and if you think this is something we have just dreamed up - well your wrong so please read on with interest…

The Blueprint for Success
All my life I have followed and supported Manchester United. I remember when Liverpool and Arsenal were the dominant teams of the 1970’s and 80’s and United came up short year after year then Sir Alex Ferguson arrived in 1986 and after a slow start the rest is now of football legend.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United managerial career spanned 27 years where he won 13 Premier League Titles; 5 FA Cups; 4 League Cups; 10 Charity Shields; 2 UEFA Champions League Titles; 1 UEFA Cup Winners Cup; 1 UEFA Super Cup; 1 Intercontinental Cup; and 1 FIFA Cup World Cup – and in all of that was the famous treble of 1998-1999 with the Class of ’92 (Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, Butt, and the Neville brothers), a feat that will probably never ever be repeated.

Not only recognised as the greatest club football manager of all time, but a true leader, master tactician, and the ultimate “portfolio manager of talent”. On his retirement in 2013 Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably himself now a Real Madrid legend, whose early career he shaped and developed simply said “Thanks for everything, boss”.

So when Sir Alex Ferguson published his book “Leading” last year, I was first in the queue to buy it and to also go and listen to the man himself. My own career and experience has taught me that you need a vast array of different skills as a company grows. Running a £10m turnover global company is a lot different from £5m and from the days when it was £1m and only based in the UK. Everybody in the digital economy constantly talks about growth but you simply cannot grow a business unless it is stable and similarly United’s success under Ferguson came after 4 hard years of the club’s foundations being ripped up in the late 1980’s and completely reset with no immediate visible success on the football pitch.

So when devising how we at Certus were going to create a sustainable business ready for managing exponential growth and the demand for our services which we knew was coming I referred back to the teachings of the maestro himself and in doing so found we could apply the same setup Sir Alex used at Manchester United to Certus. Now trust me this is not as far-fetched as it may sound and something today we now swear by to the extent we are embedding it into the company.

Blueprint For Success - The United Model - Positional Coverage & Depth Chart
Whilst the overall United blueprint for success was much wider than the first eleven and looked at every aspect of the management of the club our focus is on the structure of the first team squad. (for more of this please see the Harvard Business Review article -

Ferguson’s model was born out of the situation he inherited, where the academy structure and the entrance point for new talent into the club had been completely dismantled and he had inherited an aging squad of players that he knew could not achieve the immediate goal of the club - to win what today we now call the Premiership title.

Ferguson’s squad itself was circa around 35-40 players in total, including around 25 full internationals, and separated by age groups with each cohort comprising “depth” across each position on the Football field. United’s enduring ability to develop young players and bring them through and play with the older members of the team, has been one of their foundation stones of success since the Busby Babes of the 1950’s.

Cohort 1: 17-22 year olds
The entrance and transition from the Academy structure into the first team and also the entrance point for those recruited through the world-wide scouting system that was put in place to identify the best and potential talent from around the world. Here you would not only learn your trade from a technical perspective, but also learn to bond with your fellow team members. In effect this became United’s “Centre of Excellence” for talent development.

Cohort 2: 23-29 year olds
Players would be at their prime of their career. Natural footballing intelligence and technical capability would be honed, leaders forged and the core engine of the team formed to deliver constant success on the pitch.

Cohort 3: 30-36 year olds (unless your Ryan Giggs!)
This group would be the “masters”, the leaders in the dressing room and on the pitch, often referred to as the “Old Guard”. The ones who would not only give advice and guidance to the younger players, but the ones using all their experience could always be counted on when the going gets tough and will pull the team through in moments of difficulty. The ultimate standard for any aspiring Manchester United player.

Management of the Squad
Now this is the clever part. If a player did not make or maintain the standards United set; or got injured; was traded; or retired then the opening in the squad would be sourced and replaced “like for like”, thereby ensuring the squads equilibrium was always maintained. Naturally if the right player could not be sourced, then the position would be left open until it could be filled. Even for Manchester United a bad hire would be disruptive. What would not happen would be a squad member being prematurely promoted as this would equally upset the equilibrium.

Benefits of the Blueprint
The benefits of the approach and squad structure are obvious and include:
  • Balance of squad by age, creating longevity for the years to come, with a focus on maintaining consistency
  • Builds a natural path for career progression from the academy through to first team, allowing players to grow up together with the view of delivering consistent success
  • Protects the club against injury of a key player or if a player departs prematurely
  • Creates a succession plan from the outset as younger players develop, and older players eventually retire
  • Skills gap minimised through coverage and depth chart across the three cohorts
  • Fosters greater teamwork, whilst maintaining healthy competition for places and ensuring standards are maintained, stretched and exceeded
  • Ability to rotate the first 11, keeping his players fresh over a long season
Now think about the above for a moment, and think about scaling a professional services practice where your greatest asset on the true balance sheet is your people’s capability and delivery experience.

As we were asked by Oracle only last week "Can Certus scale?", we explained Ferguson's philosophy and their response was "Well it didn’t do Man United any harm, looks like you have it sorted". So in Part II, we will explain just how we applied this to Certus and established our modus operandi…

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Part II - Positive Disruption - Want to be Really Successful in the Oracle Cloud? The Secret Is Simple…

Things have been so busy at Certus I simply haven’t had time to finish and post Part II. Wow – where has the time gone this year? So before reading this you might want a quick refresh and read Part I -
So continuing the second part of the two part special (from April 2016!) and the underlying theme of having “the ability to Execute and Deliver is Absolutely Everything”, here are the last 4 points!

7. Build a Great Team Around You – Involve your people, its everyone’s company not just yours - Be selective in recruitment and as you grow become even more selective!
Returning to my original point from Part I. Surround yourself with people that not only have different skills to you but are or have the potential to be even better than you! Be selective! I have posted previously that one of the best comments I ever received about Certus was from a partner of a tier 1 management consultancy who said “The nicest thing about Certus is that it works like an exclusive members club, to work there you have to be invited to join. Many want to join but very few are accepted”.   

For every new hire focus on the 2+2 = 7 scenario, aim to double the value of your delivery capability through finding the right hires and integrating them into your existing lineup. (Going to try and find the time to explore and share this in more detail as to how we achieve this in a future blog). For Cloud the emphasis is on business knowledge, you need people that can have quality conversations on the underlying subject matter.

In this day and age, finding the right talent is extremely difficult, but if you have a great company and happy people then it helps. The way to maintain the culture as you grow is to get your people involved in the recruitment process; after all who better to judge an individual if they are going to “fit” than those already on the front line

8. Develop a go-to-market strategy that involves doing everything completely opposite to everyone else – leverage social media, create positive noise and build your company profile and brand
From day one we wanted to build a “brand” as we could see the Oracle Cloud was going to be the next thing and from our experience saw that the traditional players (“our future competitors”) wouldn’t move fast enough or invest early enough in the product set. But there are a number of factors that make a brand, and we wanted to focus on putting our employees at the centre of it, as we knew if we could achieve high levels of employee engagement and satisfaction we would achieve similar levels of customer satisfaction, as our employees would look after our customers. We felt in doing so we would create the space as a small nimble start-up could easily fill, and by establishing a brand prospects, our customers and the industry itself would remember us and people would want to come and work for us.

 9. Execute and remember that your only good as your last project, and that you need to constantly achieve high levels of customer satisfaction
The larger operations can afford to have projects fail and there are numerous case studies out there relating to this. However when your operating on a smaller scale you cannot afford to have any project go wrong - ever! No matter what you have achieved previously this is the only thing everyone is going to remember– in-fact with the larger organisations it is almost expected that they will have a high fail rate, and you will constantly ask why? that despite this they always seem to pick up the next large contract. All I can say is “That’s Life”. So knowing the odds are stacked against you and you can’t necessarily always load the deck in your favour – the one variable you can control is your delivery. So make sure you not just deliver but deliver in the right way and achieve high customer satisfaction. This is critical with Cloud as you are looking at a long term relationship.

10. Finally, but really most importantly - focus on Customer Success and have happy Customers
I have personally become absolutely besotted by customer satisfaction, and every Friday I go through all of our customer engagements with my Exec team and ask not just that our engagements are on track but are our customers happy with our service delivery. If not, why not? and what are we doing about correcting this the following week. Without Customers you don't have a business period. Customers will do a more for you and from my experience help you grow, but only if they are happy!

So It's Simple?
Ok to be honest it’s really not so simple as maybe I might make out to be. You need a high appetite for taking calculated risk; a lot of passion; a “can do” attitude matched with a determination that you can achieve absolutely anything; an expert delivery team that will literally follow you over a cliff at times, plus keeping one eye constantly on the Cash - “Cash is always King

You also need however to be highly critical of your performance, and when you don’t deliver be forensic in your examination. So be prepared to admit you screw up, learn from it and move on quickly and naturally don’t do it again. If you can’t do this, you will fail.

No one owes you or gives you anything, you fight and take every inch of ground you can when building a business, and sometimes it really is a case of "last man standing" – just make sure your that man! Finally life is short so enjoy the experience and the ride, and remember it is supposed to be fun.
Oracle Cloud brings innovation, that used correctly can really transform businesses - I have seen this happen, and the endless possibilities is what makes it really exciting for your customers and your company. So go innovate and enjoy!

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Five Years of Oracle Cloud and What I have truly learned about Business

Five Years ago this summer, I was in London in a City wine bar off of Fenchurch Street mulling over the future direction of Certus. “Fusion”, as it was known then, was really the only topic of discussion as I could see it was going to be a true differentiator and change the market for years to come. To say a healthy degree of scepticism didn’t exist would be a lie but Oracle’s product line, despite its many acquisitions, in my opinion was like Apple’s in the 1990s – confused, ugly, outdated with no real viable roadmap and frankly completely unexciting. To be blunt Oracle was in danger of becoming irrelevant.

Come 2016 and looking back if Oracle hadn’t embraced, what we refer to today, as the Cloud it would be fast on its way to becoming a dinosaur regardless of its cash position and healthy bank balance. Instead of posting monster revenue growth quarters, it would be losing money. Oracle needed to change, the customers it served were crying out for innovation as their industries and businesses were changing and Cloud was to be the Game Changer. Oracle needed to become “relevant” again.

Now I have written about this extensively in my previously blogs of how Certus as a business was born in the Cloud and the digital era of disruptive technology as well as the challenges we have faced and I am pleased to say successfully overcome. However the most fascinating insight I have gained is the difference between those organisations that are going to be successful and those that are not in this new era.

My Insight

The great thing about digital technology, and the Cloud in particular, it has enabled a multitude of businesses to access technology of the likes of Oracle that would have been previously out of reach. Used correctly Cloud technology will transform your business, from engaging your employees, managing your talent, through to the adoption of best practice across finance and procurement as well as giving you access to real time management information. As a consequence over the past five years we have got involved in a wide range of new and exciting industry sectors and businesses from Gaming, Technology, Mining (Gold Mining - Yes Really!), Charities, Sporting Organisations and Hospitality as well as still servicing the traditional areas of Financial Services, Telco's and Government (more about that for another day!).

I honestly believe, as I enter my 29th year in IT (I still call it that!), we are truly living in the most exciting time of all. I have absolutely never enjoyed myself so much and love seeing the status quo in markets being constantly challenged and seeing companies like Uber and Airbnb disrupt en-masse. Innovation and disruption are now the only constants in a world of chaos.

Now this might sound harsh but for those organisations who didn’t decide to go Oracle Cloud or any other Cloud or even worse the ones that decided to do absolutely nothing at all after a protracted irrelevant procurement exercise (and there have been many) I say face the greatest challenge of all – Survival!

Cutting to the chase some people get all of this “stuff” and can see how their industries are transforming and the many new business opportunities that are available and some just don't. Unfortunately they are on the road to failure and extinction.

I always say on projects the only mistake you can really ever make “is not to make a decision at all” as the impact of indecisiveness costs time, money and business opportunity. Organisations that I have come across over the last few years that are indecisive I honestly believe will not be around in 3-5 year’s time. The reason being that the Executives seem completely “trapped” by their own culture to such an extent that if they cannot make a decision to go Cloud, especially given the body of evidence regarding the benefits and the very fact that their competition is using this technology that  sometimes allows a multitude of new players with new ideas to enter the arena then frankly it is only a matter of time before their own business disappears. 

You can hear it now the famous words of the Nokia CEO being repeated we didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost”. Well sorry you did do something wrong – “You stood still and didn’t bloody do anything!– Game Over.

It’s truly fascinating stuff that case studies should be written about, albeit granted it’s only the kind of case study that ever gets written after the event and not during it. Most of all when trying to pin point why companies fail, I think it really comes down to culture and a complete lack of ability to adapt fast enough to a changing world. You simply become irrelevant.

Digital Darwinism

Only 22% of FTSE100 companies from 1984 are still in business today (with Lloyds Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland only being saved by HM Government bail outs in the 2008 crash). Technology and digitalisation in its most extreme form has changed the rules of business. We are now in an era of pure Digital Darwinism, how many of the remaining 22% will be there in 5 years time?

““the evolution of consumer behaviour when society and technology evolve faster than our ability to adapt.” ( )

The successful companies - the ones that survive are the ones that adopt and adapt. Those that stand still join the dinosaurs. For those that do survive, they have the constant challenge of staying relevant to an intelligent demanding consumer base. To do that you need to constantly innovate and that ultimately requires investment in people and we come full circle back to the "war on talent".

The Cloud Moves Fast!

Without doubt, the Cloud is the most extreme fast moving business environment I have ever experienced. Oracle was late to the Cloud but it has and continues to change its entire business model, it will not only survive it will get stronger as it has the financial resources to back its plays. Does it get everything right? far from it and it still has a long way to go (sorry Larry, Mark, Safra). We learn by our mistakes and if you are smart you adapt accordingly. Even Certus constantly has to disrupt itself not just to stay competitive but to stay relevant to an ever changing environment and to our own customer’s needs.

The Cloud story is still in its infancy and we have many more exciting times ahead. So strap yourself in and get ready as Roald Dahl writes in Matilda “Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable.

So what I have learned - those that survive and excel are decisive, they know they have to adapt, are calculated risk takers, and most importantly know they must constantly innovate to stay relevant to their consumer base.

There are many more chapters in this book to come and as I have said before we all write our own story so go be brave and go write the next chapter.

Monday, 11 April 2016

The Urban Myths of Oracle Cloud Implementations – The Epilogue

The articles I wrote a couple of months ago in relation to the many urban myths around Oracle Cloud have generated so much interest that I have been approached online, at conferences and even in the street! – Famous or what he laughs! Anyway such has been the interest and the intrinsic value of a shared conversation I thought I would post part III, an epilogue of sorts to address the two questions that I have been constantly asked since publication. So for those who are interested please find my views on these subjects and in the spirit and words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th Century American Lecturer and Poet “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”.

#011 – Is Coexistence Real? Can You Integrate with On-Premise Systems
Oracle can support coexistence and you can integrate and exchange data between on-premise systems and the Cloud. Some basic examples do exist but for the more complex scenarios nothing does exist directly out of the box except the standard tools and you have to design and build the integration required yourself. Getting data into the cloud is straight forward so if your integration is one way going into the Cloud then it’s easier, however if you want two-way real time integration then it’s much more difficult.

CHALLENGE: So yes it can be done, anything can be done for a price. However please be warned it could be expensive in-fact from our experience it may be more expensive than just going for a full Cloud implementation. The Implementation Partner needs a number of skills so find one who has done it before and knows what they are doing as they need to know the source system; the Oracle Cloud; the tools provided by the Cloud (e.g. HCM Data Loader / HCM extract); and know how to design and deliver integrations supporting business processes. Also keep in view integrations need to be maintained and the Cloud is changing currently twice yearly therefore there is going be the ongoing cost of ownership to consider as well. Remember one of the reasons for adopting the Cloud is low cost of ownership.

So the lesson here is simple, try and do it on the cheap or find an inexperienced partner then get ready to write a hefty cheque.

Personally unless it is absolutely necessary we always advise to consider going full cloud, we always have. However in saying that we do recognise that this may not always be possible.

#012 – Business Change is Minimal
We need to be clear and differentiate between business change and training. Implementation of Cloud is transformational. The system is so intuitive that end users need little to no training especially if they are millennials. The older demographic can be served by using short contextual “youtube” help style videos and using standard functionality to embed these into the system at appropriate points. As for Professional Users we have taken a millennial intern (age 17) given them 2 hours teaching and training and then had them flying around the system doing payroll testing! I am not saying it’s always that easy but it really is not that difficult in terms of system user-ability. (equally I am not saying here we created a payroll expert in 2 hours!)
But we need to be clear the business change effort does need to be undertaken you can’t just “wing it”. If the business is not engaged, then the implementation will fail from an adoption perspective.

CHALLENGE: Cloud is transformational and therefore you change for good. You need to understand the long term impact that Cloud brings on your business, so find a partner that can articulate the future "service" offering in such a way to win "hearts and minds".  To do that you need someone that understands the business operation and the underlying subject matter.

The ongoing challenge is the constant stream of Oracle innovation means that some organisations struggle with the amount of change coming at them. Hence moving to a place mentally where the system is constantly changing and ensuring that employees are comfortable is key. Maintaining constant awareness, engagement and adoption are the watchwords here.

From our experience the most common challenges we see organisations face in turning to the Cloud include, but no means limited to:
  • Industry best practice, means streamlined processes and automation of transactions – The impact being is that your Central HR and Finance departments may need different personnel with a different skill mix as their role becomes "value add" especially as the embedded management information means the focus is on insight and informed decision making – this  means organisational change; especially where HR and Finance are involved together
  • The rate of change of innovation and the capacity of the organisation to consume change alongside business as usual – this means you need a mechanism for dealing with sustainable business change
  • Determining effective mechanism’s for driving and sustaining user adoption The “What’s in it for me?” question needs a compelling answer
The bottom line is don’t under estimate the effort involved if you want to be successful. Remember you only get to transform once.

Regardless of implementation partner a client chooses we want all implementations to be successful. So writing this article isn’t just too merely demonstrate Certus knowledge and experience with the Oracle ERP & HCM Cloud it’s to provide enlightenment and insight to prospects and clients alike in the hope that this series of articles will, and continue to, steer them down the path to success. As Benjamin Franklin said “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn” – so join the conversation and share your experiences…

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Positive Disruption - Want to be Really Successful in the Oracle Cloud? The Secret Is Simple…

So two weeks ago we signed our first ever office lease – something we have put off for as long as possible, but due to our growth this has now become an absolute necessity. Building for growth and scaling is one thing, building a sustainable business is a completely different matter entirely and not a day goes by when you remember that “cash is always king”. In my opinion you build a sustainable business first and then build out. You can’t grow if you have no foundation. So as another milestone is hit and the company faces the challenge of further exponential growth it seems like a good time to share how we achieved our success to date but also remind ourselves that we keep our feet firmly on the ground albeit whilst I’ll heads are always in the Clouds.

So here’s another 2 part special, but fundamentally “the ability to Execute and Deliver is Absolutely Everything”. If you cannot deliver or you get a reputation for poor quality and non-delivery frankly you're dead! As Warren Buffett said “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently”.

I am often asked as to how we built a modern day consultancy cloud practice and as many of you will know Certus today is an award winning Oracle Specialised Platinum Partner, with a business model dedicated to Oracle ERP and HCM Cloud. So if you want to know the secret to our success then please read on…and hey don’t be to surprised if a lot of what now follows appears to be lifted from the likes of Sir Richard Branson, Sir Allan Sugar, James Caan amongst others! It unashamedly has…but let me try and put the Oracle Cloud practice positioning on this…

The Principals of Certus' industry reputations were always based upon the maxim “they get the job done, in the right way and they always deliver”. We were and still are the people you come to when you have an ERP project in distress. The problem with reputations is as the jobs get bigger so does the risk profile, and the knowledge that regardless of what you have achieved in the past you only need to screw up once and that is what everyone remembers!” – So for Certus to be successful it had to be seen as an extension of our own reputations and based upon a strong sense of delivering value to the customer. To achieve that you first need your own strong value set. Employees need to buy into that value set for the company to grow, and the easiest way to do that is to build a “brand”, and that is what we did and from that gained the reputation for “being a safe pair of hands”.

The Equation of Digital Disruption
Even in the era of “Digital Disruption” which without doubt is very real and tangible it’s still all about People! It’s a two sided equation, it’s about the people we employ and it’s about the people we deliver to. If you cannot deliver sustainable success for your customers then regardless of what you sell them you won’t survive long in the Cloud game. Whilst investors are chasing Unicorns (“Emperor’s New Clothes” is the term that comes to mind. Someone please explain to me why you would invest large amounts of money in continuous loss making businesses in the hope that they are supposedly going to one day generate a fortune?), the fundamentals in any service based industry remain; without customers you are nothing, and in the Professional Services industry you need to find, develop and protect your talent as they will look after your customers.

 “The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers” - Sir Richard Branson

I still would para phrase Digital Disruption quite simply as  “better, cheaper, faster” – albeit a quote if any readers have ever heard me speak I always pay homage to Colin Fisher, IT Director of Lloyds Bank in the 1980’s and trusted lieutenant to Sir Brian Pitman when asked by an 18 year old who at the time was under strict instructions from his line management to keep his mouth shut asked “How do you deliver shareholder value mean?” and his answer was “better, cheaper, faster” (I’ll leave you all to guess who that was!). Today, 30 years on the principles are exactly the same, but what we did and continue to do with Certus I like to see as “Positive Disruption” to the Oracle Partner landscape.

1. “Build a Brand”
From day one we didn’t just want to build a great company we wanted to build a “brand”. We could see where the Oracle Cloud was going (even before Oracle!) and we also leveraged our experience and knowledge as to what the traditional market players (our “future competitors”) would do, betting and knowing they wouldn’t move fast enough to invest in the product set. This would create the space that a small nimble start-up could fill and by establishing a brand early on, our prospects, customers and the industry itself would remember us! Quite simply we wanted to be a new breed of Oracle partner.

Extend the brand, not only is Certus a brand name today in its own right – its engage® services – engage® Implementation Services, engage® Business Support Services and now (launching this month) engage®.gov is intrinsically linked to Certus. We also protect this with the Intellectual Patent Office! – So Imitators Beware. 

2. Be First and Become The Leaders in the field – the Recognised Experts in the Product
Timing in business is everything, from seeing the opportunity through to day-to-day cashflow. We sort introductions and networked into Oracle Development and then invested heavily in training gaining product knowledge and experience. We continue to do so today and feel we play a significant role by feeding back to Oracle our ideas and findings of implementing the product set. We want to be seen as an extension to the development team. For many years we have been known as the partner that trains other partners, but at the start Oracle asked us to train early adopter customers and the larger tier 1 transformational partners - this in effect became paid pre-sales as we were front and centre demonstrating our knowledge of the product set. The bi-product of this was it created implementation and consultancy opportunities for ourselves. Remember when starting out you need to get highly creative to generate cash to reinvest. This laid the bedrock of the business and we still do it today. Being first is great, you make a lot of noise and it gets you noticed but then you have to stay there! and that's harder. For many Certus came out of nowhere! 

3. Be different!
Oracle Cloud was a new market trying to establish itself in 2011, early 2012. In our opinion the Oracle Partner Landscape was “tired” we couldn’t see any new innovation and there was a high degree of status quo in the UK. That in itself was opportunity and Cloud was just the enabler. As James Cann often says he builds great businesses “Observe the masses and do the opposite”. That’s exactly what we did. We worked out how to implement Cloud differently and then we started to market ourselves; instead of UKOUG and Oracle (not saying that these channels aren’t effective), but we went directly and set up stand at the CIPD – The biggest HR Event in the UK – back then there wasn’t a Cloud insight!, especially an Oracle one. 

4. But…You don’t have to Redefine The Wheel
And here is the contradiction.…do look at the past, learn and reapply from those that have been truly successful. Edenbrook was (in my opinion) the last great Oracle Consultancy Practice in the UK before it was acquired - that was of course until Certus came along (smile). I went and met Mark Robinson, Serial Entrepreneur who now runs one of the fastest growing tech companies in the UK – Kimble. I talked through our ideas, the challenges and listened to the journey he went on with Edenbrook, and its predecessor Fulcrum. No point falling into the same bear traps if someone has kindly done it for you already, albeit in another era, but he has and always is been willing to share his experience with me. As for me I just shut-up, listen and learn. 

5. Buy into the Market, this is the risky part – in-effect we had to find (difficult), convince the first customer we could deliver the project (very difficult) and subsequently turn the customer overtime into an advocate (very very difficult with the early versions)
Finding the first project, buying into the market and putting your money where your mouth is demonstrates to a prospect your level of confidence in delivery. It took us the whole of 2012 to find the first customer, and we have many hilarious stories (especially the one about the Gold Mining Company in Africa! – catch us in the bar sometime and I will tell you) that today we still look back and laugh at. This however is very much the risk part. Yes it was completely loss making and for a SME it kills your cashflow and you have to be highly creative in resolving that, but from our “investment” and successful delivery we got reference-ability and customer advocacy

6.  “Walk the Talk” - Establish Credibility through Reference-ability
Reference-ability is everything when dealing with new technology, new implementation approaches and new markets. The Cloud takes you to new and different markets, but the rule is the same. If you don’t have happy satisfied customers, then you don’t get the reference-ability. Those that follow you will find it harder to establish themselves as well as gain reference-ability. To get reference-ability you have to earn the right to ask your customers and you only get that through successful delivery. So whatever you commit to make sure you deliver it!  

 Part II to follow soon…

Monday, 7 March 2016

The Horse Whisper - Lessons For Business

When you cannot walk Let me help you to run. When you are afraid Let me teach you to trust. When you feel weak. Let me build your strength. When you can’t find your voice. Let us speak without words. When you cannot reach. Let me raise you above the world. When you want to give up. Let me show you how far you can go. In riding a horse, we borrow freedom!!” ~ Author Unknown

Even though I am the first to admit I am not a “horsey” person I have always quietly admired those who can ride and their relationship and natural ability to have an intrinsic understanding between human and animal. “Eventing” (Dressage, Cross-Country and Show Jumping) to me is the ultimate challenge, requiring the highest levels of skill, discipline and ability, let alone hours and hours of practice alongside care that goes into putting on the perfect performance is something I find completely admirable and also extremely brave. Controlling an animal the size of a horse and projecting confidence and control in dressage; undertaking a challenging cross country course; and then jumping in a tight arena against the clock is by no means can be considered easy, and all with the risk of serious injury to both parties. Equestrian riders are far from ordinary people, but then again a horse is not an ordinary animal.

So why am I writing about this? and what parallels (if any) are there to business? Well good question but for me I am always looking to put completely different aspects together. Looking for similarities (if any) or lessons that can be learned and transplanted. I am forcing my mind to look at things differently as it leads to innovation. This doesn’t come naturally to me it’s a learnt behaviour.
For me riding and business come together on a number of levels. To be successful in anything you need to have passion; dedication to practice; commitment to the challenge and high levels of trust. The aspect of fascination to me is the underlying psychology and behaviour in play and it is this aspect that I would like to explore. You find these characteristics in both.

That brings me to “The Horse Whisperer”, if you have never read the book – then find time to do so. I love the film, not just because there is a great love story and it also stars two of my all-time favourite actors and actresses in Robert Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas, but primarily it describes the struggle of the journey of an injured girl and an injured horse against all odds to come to heal each other after a tragic car accident. Triumph over adversity is right down my street.

However the controversial element in the film is that around horse psychology and behaviour, and that the instincts of horses can be used to human advantage to create a bond between human and horse. In layman terms horses can be controlled through training and repetition.

’A good trainer can hear his horse speak to him. A great trainer can hear him whisper’’ – Monty Roberts. Reflect this into a business context my personal interpretation would be “A good leader listens to his followers. A great leader listens to what is not said!

Ok – so good so far? Let’s take it a step further.

The Psychology of Horse and Rider
Sigmund Freud’s theories gave us the useful metaphor of the “horse and rider” – with the conscious “ego” being the rider varying in skill and energy as they try to control a beast that is mysterious, much larger and more powerful. I apply this to the role of the Project Manager and the Project he or she is tasked with delivering.

All good Project Managers (“the rider”) have a degree of ego, it is the natural element found in their DNA that drives them to succeed and rise to the challenge of achievement. Project Management can be a very lonely job, especially when your pulling both client and suppliers (the “heard”) in the same direction to achieve what should be a common goal, so it the strength of personality and ego often carries Project Managers through the dark moments. If you don’t believe you can deliver the project, then your not going to convince the project’s sponsors let alone your own project delivery team.

Again just like any good rider, the good Project Manager must excel across a number of disciplines and skills. Including, but not limited to technical delivery skills; great business knowledge and context; the ability to be able to lead and communicate direction of travel clearly; and the ability to work with various stakeholders and possess at times the diplomacy of a NATO peace keeping force!

The Psychology of the Project
The vast majority of organisations, especially those that are SME’s are not overly disciplined in delivering business projects (especially IT enabled) in a controlled manner. Delivery takes place, but often in a hap hazard way, with projects always costing more than usually first envisaged.

Anything that disrupts business operations (digital or not) needs a degree of management and control. In a nod to Certus activities Oracle Cloud implementations are no different to any other project.

Project Management and delivery of business change / transformation projects is not about PRINCE2, MSP and the latest trend for agile (yawn! Any seasoned project management professional will tell you that, so nothing new here). True Project Managers know that projects are always fundamentally about people, and the skill is simply in getting people who don’t want to do things for you to get them to do things for you. Ok that’s project management theory dealt with. However you should see the link here between horse and rider – delivery is a learnt behaviour. Behaviour changes can be taught and adopted. It does however as any psychologist will tell you take time.

Remember the “P” in PM is much about People Management as it is about Project Management” (Cornelius Fichtner).

The underlying skills of project management that really matter are those linked to emotional intelligence and people skills, ranging from displays of empathy and understanding, onto the rare occasions when it is ok and acceptable to lose your temper. The point being here it is a display of assertiveness in acknowledging you are proactively soliciting a pre-determined response. In other words - ‘’If a horse says no you either asked the wrong question or asked the question wrong’’ – Pat Parelli. Equally in Project Management if your project delivery team doesn’t respond to you in the way you expect, then quite possibly you are reading the situation wrong or similarly you have “asked the wrong question or asked the question wrong’’.

Food for thought and possible insight into the behaviour of project managers and project teams. As for me, I’ll keep my relationship between horses and myself to the racetrack and the bookies!