by Aaron Lazenby
Over the past year, Lyle Ekdahl, senior vice president and general manager of Oracle’s JD Edwards product family, has seen a big change among his customers.
“Digital transformation has become the key to our customers’ survival—and success,” he says. “They need to change how they view systems as well as the role of technology in their business, and then invest in products that fit with that view, their industry, and how they do business.”
To keep up with changing expectations, Oracle’s JD Edwards solutions have had to be increasingly able to integrate with new products—and accommodate new ways today’s employees want to get their work done. Here, Ekdahl talks to Profit about what’s new in Oracle’s JD Edwards EnterpriseOne 9.2 release, how the cloud has changed the game, and what it takes to keep his team motivated to create innovative solutions that meet customers’ increasing expectations.
Profit: What is new this year in Oracle’s JD Edwards products?
Ekdahl: Oracle is paying increasing attention to what its customers want—and what Oracle is hearing, of course, is they want that solid core, but they also need to be empowered to flex for their business. Right now, Oracle’s JD Edwards customers are upgrading to JD Edwards EnterpriseOne 9.2 at a very quick pace. With this version, Oracle created choices for its customers. This platform creates extensibility from the back-end operations to the glass. Oracle is delivering a modern platform and providing a foundation for personalization, coexistence, and integrations to the cloud. This explodes the number of ways customers can source, deploy, manage, configure, and use JD Edwards solutions. What customers are experiencing is a real benefit of the choices that Oracle offers.
Our customers also enjoy very specific capabilities depending on their industry. For example, Oracle added extended enablement for engineering and construction around advanced job forecasting and for distribution of outbound inventory management. This is key, because now our customers don’t have to go rogue to get these capabilities by using shadow solutions from third parties that then must be somehow incorporated into the whole.
Profit: What features are customers excited about?
Ekdahl: There are massive opportunities in embracing the transformational technologies within the JD Edwards platform. They are using mobility to facilitate “anytime, anywhere” enterprise resource planning [ERP] interactions. They are also rapidly investing in the Internet of Things [IoT]; they are adding sensors to anything that can be a component in systematic interaction. And as they increase their digital footprints, that enables them to use smarter agile business processes, allowing them to adjust and react in real time.
Oracle is researching cognitive technologies that can review unstructured data in the blink of an eye. Rather than programming a system to come up with a single answer, a cognitive system comes up with a best answer, and that answer improves over time through the consumption of additional data and feedback from the user. The key to success is the human-machine interaction, where the machine becomes an advisor.
Profit: What is the role of a central ERP system in this new world of microservices and cloud solutions?
Ekdahl: In the past, it was all just about best practices, and everybody had to run the same out-of-the-box ERP platform. But that was before Oracle came to town. We think there are some unifying core principles that need to be in an ERP platform, and we believe it needs to support the inclusion of microservices or cloud-based offerings through platform extensibility. That is the equation that maximizes the benefit and the value to Oracle’s customers.
Of course, you can go to an extreme, and you can start to unbundle the value of an ERP platform if you look at every business process and decide every small piece has to be in a system or be provided by a microservice. I believe you need a core-unifying piece, which is why Oracle started to position its JD Edwards EnterpriseOne platform as a fit-for-purpose ERP platform.
Profit: How do Oracle’s JD Edwards solutions fit with Oracle Cloud?
Ekdahl: Oracle made a strategic decision a couple years ago to make sure JD Edwards could embed, leverage, and coexist with every layer of the cloud that Oracle offers. We play at three levels: infrastructure as a service [IaaS], platform as a service [PaaS], and integration to software as a service [SaaS]. For example, in the IaaS layer, our customers can quickly provision a new instance of JD Edwards EnterpriseOne for their needs, as a quick proof of concept or as a conference room pilot.
Oracle is also leveraging its PaaS products, such as Oracle Mobile Cloud Service, to make sure there is seamless interaction between that product team and the JD Edwards product team. That way, Oracle’s customers can use their devices to access the analytics they need. And in the future, Oracle’s partners and customers will be able to create a new class of cloud-based applications based on these components. Just think of all the great use cases for integration: document cloud management, IoT cloud services within an ERP scenario, or a business intelligence cloud service.
Oracle made a strategic decision a couple years ago to make sure JD Edwards could embed, leverage, and coexist with every layer of the cloud that Oracle offers.”
And it’s great for Oracle’s JD Edwards customers to plug into pieces of Oracle Customer Experience Cloud—a SaaS application—such as marketing automation. I also see customers using the talent management cloud capability. So many of them are fighting for talented resources, especially in industrial spaces, where there is not a lot of new labor coming in with those skills and abilities. Finally, Oracle is seeing a lot of demand for the procurement cloud and has a big engineering and construction customer who just finished adding that functionality to its JD Edwards deployment.
Profit: Do younger workers have different expectations about how an ERP platform is supposed to behave, look, and work?
Ekdahl: What Oracle is asking is, how can we reshape the way that users interact with an ERP platform and then, more importantly, the way they run their business? The ubiquity of applications and apps on our mobile devices—and how users interact with those things—is driving some of the new expectations. And the new workforce certainly expects a seamless experience. So how is Oracle dealing with that?
First and foremost, I can’t say that Oracle’s JD Edwards team dreams up everything by itself. We’re leveraging incredible work and investment being done by Oracle’s dedicated user experience team. We apply many of their published templates, documents, and ideas. And then we also combine that with what our advanced research and development team is creating.
ERP platforms used to require very knowledgeable users—and these users still exist in Oracle’s JD Edwards community—but that is not the dominant paradigm anymore. Users today are interacting with Oracle’s systems differently: some of their data is coming in via mobile devices; some of it is from somebody sitting in an office; and increasingly, automation is playing a role, as more and more of the data is coming from sensors and machines. That’s Oracle’s view of the world.
Profit: Looking back at the past year, what are you most proud of?
Ekdahl: Probably my biggest “proud papa” moment was realizing that JD Edwards EnterpriseOne 9.2 was the highest-quality release we’ve ever brought to market. Outside of some big application-level changes, such as the new modules, we made huge strides—embraced transformative technologies, provided personalization, and enabled citizen developers to extend the solution. It was a huge accomplishment.
Plus, the team made an investment in automated testing and in its overall agile development process; we pulled testing into the process, right up front. We made that investment, and now it’s paying dividends for us, because it allows development to happen really quickly without impacting quality.
Profit: How do you keep your team motivated to keep trying new things?
Ekdahl: We knew we needed a bit of a cultural change. We recognized that the old ways of doing business were not going to get us where we wanted to go. So now we give the team time to explore and discover new things relative to the product. And we also do a weeklong “idea-thon” with self-managed teams. We have already highlighted at least a dozen advancements that will work their way into the product in the next 3, 6, 9, and 12 months.
It hasn’t been easy. Some of my developers have been on the team for 30 years, believe it or not. They’ve done things the same way for a long, long time, and now we’re telling them we’re going to try something different. But building new things is why all of us got into this business in the first place.
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