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Dec 11, 2018

#Sangam18 Day Two: Experiences,Observations, Learnings and Photos

Sangam2018, the annual conference of All India Oracle Applications User Group (AIOUG) was held at Hotel Oterra, Electronic City, Bangalore on the 7th and 8th of December, 2018.

I attended  both the days. Here are my observations from Day Two of Sangam 2018.

This was the day 2 of Sangam. In the morning, as I got up, I was very flustered. I wanted to do everything very fast and reach Sangam Venue at 8.00 A.M. I woke up at 5.30 A.M, finished the initial work and rushed to the community hall to do the Soham Meditation and Varna Pranayama.

At the meditation room, my eyes opened as it were.

I realized that there was no need for me to rush and I had to cool down and take things slow. What would I achieve if I reach there at 8.00 instead of at 9.00 when the knowledge sessions were really starting? Other than getting the ‘early bird’ recognition, what else will I achieve?

I am wired to rush. If I have to be at some place at 8.00 A.M, I start worrying from the previous night, as I did in this case. I decided that I was going to calm down and do the meditation.

And I did awesome. I was really into Soham meditation and Varna pranayama. I felt very calm and happy after doing the meditation. After that I went to my Guruji's place and did the inversion therapy for my back pain. It was strenuous but very satisfactory.

After that  I went to Sangam. I reached there at 9.00 A.M.

These were the sessions that I attended on Day 2.

Power of EBS Mobile Application on Oracle Cloud: Nirmal Kumar Natarajan
This was a very good session with very good content. Natarajan is very knowledgeable and knows to

give the right example when responding to a question. The presentation was strong in content. However, like many Indian presentations, it was very monotonous and ordinary. With this content a presenter from US would have had the crowd 'Ooh'ing and 'Aah'ing and clapping vigorously. With his content creation skills, Natarajan, if he improves his presentation skills, can be a gem of a speaker.

Should I move to Cloud SAAS Applications?: Debra Lilley
This presentation from Debra Lilley was very well structured and she took the audience through the decision making process of moving from On premise to Cloud. The slide quality was poor though.

Business Transformation using Oracle Cloud Applications: Lalkrishna Rath
Excellent content again marred by poor slide quality and flat and monotonous delivery. Rath's knowledge was clearly visible in the presentation that he made. He took the audience through a case study of a Cloud Implementation and expressed the challenges and the best approach. He is from Tech Mahindra and spoke of an innovation from TM where they have integrated Alexa with EBS. This acts as an extended secretary to the CEO when he has to get the latest numbers during a conference call. That was impressive.

SRM GST Implementation Journey: A N Srinivasan
I was very keen on this session since I wanted to understand the GST adoption process better. But this

presentation was not great. There were too many interruptions and everyone in the audience wanted to talk about their pain points. After some time Srinivasan just gave up. The impression that I got was that GST had significantly impacted Oracle Customers and things are not stable even now. I remembered the GST Implementation that I had done in another application and how quickly it had stabilized. It was surprising to me that GST is yet to be stable in Oracle Apps even today. Customers are using custom reports and external applications to handle GST. This is what happens when major tax changes are introduced ham handedly and haphazardly.

Cold Chain Solution enabled by Oracle IoT and Blockchain: Kameswara Rao Kesavarapu
Here the presenter gave a case study of implementing IoT for a cold chain company. The adoption of IoT in an industry goes through four stages. Sensing, Communication, Analysis and Action. I asked a question as to how does IoT handle sensors having different standards. The answer was that in their implementation, they took the input into IoT from EBS data and not from the Sensors. I think that to that extent, IoT will not give many benefits. EBS does not capture many of the sensory data from Production.

Oracle Analytics on Cloud: Joseph Kuttikat
This was a very good session. Joseph is very knowledgeable and the Aanlytics product is very feature
rich. The features in the product are very impressive with inbuilt AI and Machine Learning embedded in the product. Like any analytics application, finding good consultants to implement it will be the challenge.

Introduction to Enterprise Blockchain with Hyper-Ledger Fabric: Ketan Parmar
This was a very good session. Though it was more technical in nature, Ketan Parmar, with his deep

knowledge in the concepts and passion for the subject made the session very interesting. As per him trust and centralized storage are the two challenges that block chain tries to resolve. There are two types of Block chains, public, like Bitcoin or Ethereum and private, which is a blockchain setup by a few business partners. I will have more to say after I review the slides.

The closure session was very interesting. There were awards galore. I got the award for the third highest number of tweets by a participant. They gave me a Canon Camera.

It was 7.30 PM when it ended. Like it started, it ended very professionally by thanking the hotel staff as well as the volunteers. These Volunteers? They did an amazing work. Hats off to them.

Like all good things, this also had to end. I enjoyed it, made new friends and learned a lot. What more can you ask for for a measly investment of 5500 rupees?

I came back at about 9.00 PM, having spent a memorable day at a memorable event.

Dec 10, 2018

#Sangam18 Day One: Experiences,Observations, Learnings and Photos

Sangam2018, the annual conference of All India Oracle Applications User Group (AIOUG) was held at Hotel Oterra, Electronic City, Bangalore on the 7th and 8th of December, 2018.

I attended  both the days. Here are my observations from Day One of Sangam 2018.

Today was day one of Sangam18, the Oracle conference organized by All India Oracle user Group (AIOUG). It was a very professional event very well organized. The leader of the event and the president of AIOUG is Sai Janakiram Penumuru. An amazing guy, Sai. Very energetic and dynamic.

With Sai, (wearing Specs), the dynamic organizer of Sangam 18
As I do when I attend these sessions, I had planned to tweet as much as possible. That will help me

Nov 11, 2018

How do you peel an onion in an ERP Implementation: Requirement Gathering

There are two similarities between peeling an onion and eliciting customer requirements during an ERP Implementation. One, the deeper you go, you reach the core, the most important customer requirements and two, unless you peel the outer layer, elicit and close the requirements mentioned in the outer layer, you will not have access to the core, the critical requirements.
As you peel each layer, the issues identified will become more complex and more relevant to the customer. The earlier in the ERP implementation you peel the outer layers, you close the peripheral requirements, the earlier you will come to know of the real requirements that will add value to the customer. And you will see that the level of people who give requirements go higher as you peel each layer. Let me illustrate with some examples.

Oct 15, 2018

So what does an ERP Consultant do?

I often get this question, 'So what do you do?'

'I work as an ERP Consultant Implementing ERP for customers', I reply.

'What is ERP?' is the invariable next question.

'ERP stands for Enterprise (wide) Resources Planning', I answer

What does ERP do?

Oct 8, 2018

Chapter 1: The beginning (1998-2000)

Note: I need to fit the story of my installing 11i in my computer lab and the excitement of  remotely logging on to the application from a remote location. It was a 'Graham Bell' moment.

My career took a major turn for the better on my 35th birthday. On that day I joined ICFAI Business School, Bangalore. 
After graduating in Mechanical Engineering in the fall of 1986, I joined Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) at their Steel Plant at Durgapur (DSP) as a Management Trainee. In those days, it  was a very prestigious job for an engineering graduate. The pay and perks were excellent. 
I worked in SAIL from the summer of '87 to the fall of '98. In between I took sabbatical from SAIL (without pay) for two year to pursue MBA at IISWBM (Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management) affiliated to Kolkata University.
After completing MBA I rejoined SAIL. In 1998, I was working as a Deputy Manager in the company, earning about 600,000 per year, a princely salary in those days. Company also provided free accommodation, water, electricity and medical benefits. 
It should have been a happy situation, by any standards.
But I was not happy. I felt stifled in a monotonous job, working in an alien environment and culture, with no scope for any improvement to my station in life. I felt that I was working significantly below my potential.
What Mr.SK Das, our training manger told us during induction training was still vivid in my memory after all these years. "A few of you will do exceptionally well and become Managing Directors of steel plants. Some of you will retire as Executive Directors and a few of you will retire as General Managers. Most of you will retire as DGMs or AGMs", he told.
There it was. Our future for the next 30 years clearly laid out in front of our eyes. Looking from where I was in 1998, it was clear that I was destined to be in the 'Most of you' group.
I did not like it one bit. 
So when I got a fig leaf of an opportunity to leave SAIL and move back to Bangalore, I took it.
I resigned from SAIL and landed in Bangalore on 28th November, 1998.
On 1st December 1998, my 35th birthday, I joined ICFAI Business School as a faculty associate at a flat salary of Rupees 120000 per year, a far cry from about 600000 plus perks that I was earning in SAIL. Once in a while I used to wonder if I  had made the right decision, but most of the time, I was basking in the opportunity to learn new things. 
And learn I did. Since I was a mechanical engineer with experience in manufacturing industry, I was made owner of the subject 'Operations Management'. The subject discusses the management of manufacturing operations in a company. I  handled that subject for two years and three batches.
Teaching Operations Management (Ops as it was called) put things in perspective for me. My vision of manufacturing industry was narrow and my learning haphazard. Handling the course helped my organize my assorted work experience and structure it into a conceptual framework. The two key takeaways from teaching Operations was that I learned the theoretical underpinnings of MRP (Materials Requirements Planning) and Capacity planning. These two concepts, more than anything else helped me add value to manufacturing customers in later years.
The best outcome for me from my two year stint at ICFAI Business School was that it gave me a foot hold into the world of IT and ERP. In 1998, Oracle was trying to build its ERP ecosystem in the country. As a part of this Oracle University (OU) had tied up with various institutions to impart training to students on Oracle Applications. ICFAI Business School was one of the Organizations that OU had tied up with for the above purpose. Probably because I was an engineer, I was made in charge of the computer lab in the Institute that I worked at. My role was to coordinate the training sessions, find knowledgeable faculty (the toughest task at that time) assigning training schedules, oversee training sessions for quality etc.
Till November 30th of 1998, I had hardly worked on computers. In those days, I was even scared of starting a computer. I was worried that if I entered the wrong password, the computer would explode and burst into flames. I watched too many SciFi movies I suppose. And here I was, assigned the charge of a computer lab. Talk of divine purpose !!
I am curious by nature and a quick learner. For me, this opportunity to learn ERP was manna from heaven. I took to it enthusiastically. I read all the huger user manuals, worked on the application, explored and experimented rigorously. I attended almost all the training sessions that I coordinated.
I had a big advantage. I had worked on manufacturing domain and was teaching operations management. For me, Oracle manufacturing was a natural fit. I also had an MBA in Finance and had worked my ass out to learn accounting. Hence I was able to quickly understand the Oracle Financials applications also.
I did not know it at that time, but I was laying the foundation of what could become my USP in my ERP Career - my ability to understand and configure end to end business process flows including costing and accounting flows (technically called 'Record to Report' process flow). I think I am one of the very few consultants in the world with that depth of understanding of the process flows and who can configure it in Oracle. 
At the same time, I was also becoming painfully aware of the gaps in my knowledge. I had not learned any new technology, lets make it 'ANY' technology, I was aware that without having exposure to technology my career was not going to progress further. Unless I did something different, I was destined to be stuck in my low paying job.
I started looking around for courses in technology that would be of interest and of use to me. All I could see were courses in programming languages - C, C++, and a new programming language called Java. Programming languages did not interest me since they would not offer me any value differentiation for my manufacturing domain knowledge. In the job market, I wold be competing with young, fresh out of college coders. I was not comfortable with that.
At that time, my brother was also trying to get into the world of technology. We both were mechanical engineers who graduated in the late '80s and had spent the first 10 years of our work life in manufacturing industry. He told me about a certification program from Oracle, called Oracle Certified Professional (OCP), that was offering certification on the entire Oracle Developer Track. Endowed with much more grit than me, he patiently followed and got certified as an OCP in 2000. Immediately afterwards he joined Oracle as a Database Administrator (DBA).
His success motivated me to look at OCP. Fortunately for me providence had much better plan for me. 
Since I was working on Oracle ERP at that time, the opportunity to learn Oracle Technology sounded good. I started looking around for courses near my office. Here providence intervened second time. It offered me a much better and futuristic course at a training centre very close to my office !!
Let me briefly explain to you the new technology. 
Till the late '90s, the network technology available was called 'Client Server' technology. Also known as 'Two Tier' technology, here the application would be installed in a server of high capacity and the users will access the application on their computers, known as clients. Clients were physically connected to the servers using long network cables. In a typical office of that time, there were cables everywhere. They were lying around like inert thin snakes, cluttering the place and spoiling the aesthetics of the office.
As you can see, the main limitation of this technology was the need for physical proximity between the clients and the server machines. This limited the potential expansion of applications across geographically separated offices. Network technology limited the potential for enterprises wide remote expansion of applications.
By the late '90s, applications vendors were developing 'Web Enabled' applications to overcome the limitations of Two Tier technology. The process was spurred by the availability of higher band width and cheaper internet and the evolution of new 'Platform Independent' language, Java. 
Coming back to my story, by 1999, Oracle had started marketing its 11i series of Web enabled applications, 'i' standing for 'Internet', of course. Oracle University had designed an expensive, comprehensive and long duration (6 months instead of the prevalent training duration of 15 days) curriculum and was helping a few selected education partners to offer this program.
One of the partners was a company called 'System Logic', which was offering this program. Their office was about two minutes drive from my office. The program was being offed at a cost of 40000 rupees !. Compare it with the cost of a normal training program which was about 4000 to 6000 rupees. The expensive program cost about 4 months of my monthly salary !!
I am indecisive and procrastinating by nature, but at critical points in my life I have taken some quick and tough decisions hoping that I will be proven right eventually. One such decision was to join this program by paying the entire fees upfront. 
As I had mentioned earlier, the syllabus was comprehensive and covered a swathe of new Oracle technologies including SQL, PL/SQL, Forms Reports, Designer 2000, Oracle Web Application Server and Java programming language.
It was 'Paisa Vasool' as they say in India.
By the time program started, my life fell into a routine. My house was in North Bangalore and my office in South Bangalore. Every morning I will leave home at about 7.30 AM, to beat the morning traffic, drive down about 22 kilometres to reach my office. I will leave office at about 6.00 PM and attend training classes till about 9.00 PM. I will have dinner at 'Hotel Home Meals' in Jayanagar and leave for home at 9.45 PM and reach home at about 10.30 PM. 
(In one of the earlier days, I missed my way and spent almost two hours on Bangalore outskirts. I  had almost lost hope of reaching home before day break !!)
There were many memorable incidents that happened during these two years.
The schedule was gruelling, but I enjoyed every minute of it.
At 36 years, I was one of the oldest participants in that group. At a time when other people were trying to 'settle down' with their family and kids, I was struggling to learn new technologies, without any ultimate career goal in sight other than the 'pleasure of learning'. 
It was tiring and exhilarating at the same time. The excitement of learning something new has to be experienced, it cannot be explained. While learning PL / SQL (a programming language) I found that I had a flair for coding. Breaking up a complex problem into logical sequential elements was my strength. The moment I see a problem, a flow chart with logical sequence of its elements immediately pops up in my mind. Writing code was the ambrosia for my logic hungry mind. 
Another memorable incident that happened towards the end of the program remains etched in my mind.
One of the attendees in this program was a guy named Prasad. He was about 3 years junior to me and was working in a company about 30 miles away from the class. Every day he used to take the office bus, travel about 30 miles to attend the program. 
Since he was also working in a manufacturing company and was also a mechanical engineer and finally very close to my age, we became close during this program.
Towards the end of our program, our coordinator asked us to prepare our CVs. All of us were focused on CV preparation and sending the same to companies. There was excitement in the air as most of our CVs were getting rejected and we were modifying our CVs and targeting different companies (or different people in the same company).
All through this I found Prasad aloof. He was not interested in preparing his CV and he was not trying at all.
I knew that he was not happy about his present situation. That was why he was attending the program in the first place. He wanted a change. He needed a change.
"Why are you not preparing your CV and applying for companies like the rest of us?" I asked him one day while we were sipping our tea.
He didn't answer. I pressed the question.
"Look Ram", he finally responded, "I think I am too old to learn anything new. I think at my age I cannot learn anything."
Was he kidding? I was three years older to him and was optimistically trying to get into new opportunities. And here he was, deciding that he was old, and closing out any new opportunities that could come his way.
I left it there. May be that was why I was different. 
Being 36 years old and looking for a job in a new industry and new technology was not easy. The HR Systems had not yet moved to a paradigm of 'Knowledge first'. While the industry was rapidly changing, knowledge was becoming premium and scarce by the day, HR was still talking of 'Relevant experience', 'Role Fitment' etc.
I remember going for an interview for the role of 'Training Manager' at Wipro. Since I did not 'Fit the profile' (an HR Speak for 'You are old'), I was put through four rounds of gruelling interview, the final one by the General Manager himself. The GM was very happy with me.
But he could not give me a job since I did not have any Technology Certifications.
That happened towards the end of August 2000. I committed to him that I will be Java Certified in two months. In turn I wrangled a commitment from him hat he will offer me a job in Wipro if I met my commitment in 2 months...
It was a gentleman's agreement.
I went back and put my heart and soul into learning Java. I purchased (and read) many books, referred many websites dedicated to Java Certification, and cleared many mock tests both online and on paper. By end of October, I was reasonably confident that I will clear the certification exam.
In parallel, I also applied for the job of 'Consultant' at an IT company. The job was for a manufacturing domain expert to work as an ERP Consultant. That opportunity was also progressing satisfactorily.
In the first half of October 26, 2000 I officially cleared the Java Certification with 86% marks. Since it was online exam, I got the results as soon as I completed the test. As soon as I reached home, I called the Wipro GM and informed him that I had cleared my certification on time as committed.
"I have met my side of the commitments sir, no I expect you to honour yours", I told him.
He remembered his side of the commitment. He asked me to send a copy of the certificate which I did. Within two hours, the HR representative of Wipro called me to fix up an HR Interview. The interview was fixed for October 28th.
One October 29th I got an offer letter from Sonata Software for the post of ERP Consultant. On October 30, I got an offer letter from Wipro for the post of Manager Training. The salary in both offers were almost the same.
After discussing with a few people, I opted for the offer from Sonata Software. I submitted my resignation at ICFAI Business School on 01-Nov-2000 for initiating the one month notice period.
On Friday, 01-December 2000, on my 37th birthday, I joined Sonata Software Limited Bangalore as ERP Consultant.
My journey as an ERP Professional had begun.

Sep 29, 2018

Lot Costing (2005)

"Subbu, what is the progress in Costing?", asked Mr.Natarajan, the GM of the company and the project sponsor. It was early winter in 2004. We were all attending a project steering committee meeting to discuss the project status. Subbu was the key user in charge of process costing.
"I don't know", Subbu responded sarcastically, "I have no idea how costing work in Oracle. Ram has not yet explained it to me. Please ask him.", Subbu replied.
"Probably he also do not know how costing works", Subbu added for good measure.
Everyone looked at me. I id not have anything to say. I looked out of the window.
It was a beautiful day.

Sep 26, 2018

ERP Detective: The baffling case of exploding inventory (2005)

Initially I was not involved in this issue since it did not concern my specific area. I was not aware of the issue when it started. By the time it was brought to my attention, it had become a crisis.

I was a member of a team implementing ERP application for a Jewellery manufacturing company. It was a very complex implementation and we had totally customized the manufacturing process to meet the complex process and stringent security requirements of the customer.

From the time raw materials were consumed to the time the finished product was sent to the depot for Order fulfilment, we customized the entire process flow. 

One element of the customization was a customized window to receive the finished product from the production process. The problem was that when the user was receiving the finished product, in certain cases, instead of the original receipt quantity, a different and significantly higher quantity was being received. The only pattern we observed was that the received quantity always ended up with 'zero',

Sep 23, 2018

ERP Detective: The Dhaka Chronicles.... (2003)

One of the advantages of being an ERP Consultant is that you get to travel to many new places, meet new people and learn about their culture. As a person who loves travelling, I look forward to these opportunities. They rejuvenate me. Customer takes care of you really well because you are the 'Consultant', you see.

A look at my passport show that I spent 10 days in Dhaka from 7th April 2003 to 17th April 2003. 

Memory takes me back....

Sometime in March of that year, my manager called me.

"Ram, you need to travel to Dhaka", he told me. "We implemented ERP application at a company called GAFCO, headquartered in Dhaka. They are facing serious issues after go live"

"What is the issue?", I asked

Sep 19, 2018

The curious tale of Ragiguda stock exchange...(2006)

On my latest visit to Ragiguda, I found Sandeep Pandey looking gloomy, morose and melancholic.

In those days, I used to visit Ragiguda regularly in my role as the financial consultant implementing ERP solutions for XYZ Corporation. Sandeep was a member of my implementation team as a key user in charge of payables process. On every visit, I used to find Sandeep very happy, cheerful and pleasant. A slap on the back, a cheerful 'Good Morning' or a bright smile - Sandeep had them all. In fact I used to feel that Sandeep was becoming happier on every next visit of mine. I attributed this to his approval of the way our team was implementing the ERP solution in his organization.

That was why I was surprised - and concerned - when I found Sandeep Pandey gloomy, morose and melancholic. My immediate thought was that something has gone wrong with the implementation.

Sep 14, 2018

ERP Detective: The mysterious affair of seesawing stocks (2001)

"We have a major problem in XYZ" informed my project manager.

It was in the year 2001

In the early 2000's, I was working as an ERP Consultant, implementing an ERP product called ABC. This was a Swedish Product and my employer was the only ABC Partner in India. This product was widely sought after by European companies who had set up shop in India

My company did a lot of ABC Business.

I had joined my employer in December 2000 and after about a month of training, was assigned to implement ABC in XYZ India Limited, a manufacturing company based out of Hosur in Tamil Nadu.