Further info and resources from my website

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cor(e)nerstone HR right around the corner

About to join the full HCM club?
One of the advantages of being an independent consultant is the great diversity of clients, industries, projects I get involved with. One of the drawbacks, especially in the HR technology space, is that when it comes to moving antiquated HR systems (on-premise SAP, Oracle, Meta4, HR Access et al.) to the cloud, supply is pretty much on the thin side. If I am asked  one more time to work on an RFP where the vendors under evaluation are SAP (SuccessFactors), Oracle (Fusion) and Workday, I'll slit my throat (I can almost hear the sound of glee coming from some vendor quarters at such a prospect).

It is therefore with increasing trepidation that I am keeping my ears pricked for the news from Santa Monica, CA. Why Santa Monica? Well, let me take a step back.

Although the cloud has been around for a a few years now, the investment needed to build a core HR module to support a full-fledged global HR system (or HCM) is such that, since Workday created the first cloud system, only two other vendors have entered the fray: Oracle built theirs from scratch, (well kinda, the first Fusion draft was an on-premise system that was tweaked to be able to be hosted); SAP bought one of the talent software leaders, SuccessFactors, which had already started building a core HR module (Employee Central) and  kept on pumping in funds to see it come to fruition.

And ...that's it! Shocking as it may appear, no other vendor has come up with a solid, global cloud or SaaS-based HR system. Some talent vendors have tried to follow in SuccessFactors' steps: Canadian-based Technomedia is promising "something" and French-based Talentsoft  has developed a light HR admin offering for a couple of its customers.

What about Santa Monica-based Cornerstone? After  all, they are the largest independent, organically built talent software vendor. If smaller vendors can start down the core HR road why can't Cornerstone?  Workday is treading on Cornerstone's toes by beefing up its talent footprint and planning on building its own learning system. Once that is done, the partnership with Cornerstone will have come to its logical conclusion (Workday is also using Cornerstone as a customer, by the way.) So, why wait any longer? Getting cold feet, Adam?

Or still testing the waters?

Actually, although there is no official communication from the vendor, Cornerstone is working on a core HR offering. It would be insane not to. I have been prodding them for a couple of years now to do exactly that. Sure, it's a lot of hard work, look at SuccessFactors whose Employee Central is far from being as robust as one might wish. Building HR admin functionality that can be used in Argentina, Austria, Algeria and Australia requires good understanding of local requirements (read here my "Five pillars of HR localization" - or glocalization as I prefer to call it). That means getting the right product management team in place (no more junior managers, Adam, you need people with experience) who can make some hard choices regarding the best data model to accommodate multinational companies. Strong thought leadership is required to avoid pitfalls that even the leader, Workday, has encountered. Think about payroll. Once you go down the HR path payroll is right around the corner, so to speak. Think about how your technology can adapt to and build a global payroll engine. And absence management. Both are complex, both are linked. The more you think ahead, the higher the rewards.

Can't wait for my next HRIS RFP where I can advise my client to include in the vendor shortlist  the name of Cornerstone (another advice, Adam, drop that OnDemand from the name, just too unwieldy and redundant  -  all cloud systems are now on demand, anyway). The question is, shall I take a vacation through the end of the year and come back in 2016 to a brand-new HR system debuting on the market? Or will that happen sooner? No longer a question of if, but when.

Exciting times ahead!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

System integrators for the cloud: boutique, majors and other firms

Rushing to the cloud
As we move from traditional on-premise ERP projects to cloud-based environments the role of system integrators is changing radically. Gone are the days when Accenture or IBM could command hefty fees for unlimited mandays and run projects unchallenged by awestruck (and often ignorant) customers.

First, customers are now savvier about technology and no longer accept any proposal that comes their way lock, stock and barrel. Second, the SaaS model has put an end to the unfortunate tendency of integrators (henceforward referred to as SIs) to customize the business software out of recognition, indulging every customer's whim some of which were even encouraged by unscrupulous SIs. Now that customization as we've known it is dead, traditional SIs have had to reinvent a good part of their business - or risk becoming irrelevant in the long term. We all remember how, when SaaS first erupted on our radars,  all the large SIs ignored it, refusing to countenance the possibility that an HR project which required (so they had us believe) 18 months then could now be done in less than 12 months. But reality has this ugly habit of sticking around and the SI landscape has been affected irreversibly.

One evolution has been the birth of cloud-specific SIs. Workday, to mention the leading SaaS HR system, has spawned a growing ecosystem of boutique integrators such as DayNine in the United States or Kainos and Kloud in the UK to which one can add the smaller everBe partner in France or Appirio. These small outfits have several strengths: nimbler, more focused, less expensive. However, you also have to be aware that their smaller size means they may have limited bandwidth (for instance, if you need an expert on Absence Mangement they may have them but for Compensation you'll have to reach out to another company) and they tend  to be rather thin on the change management/ transformation/process reengineering side of things (without which your new HR project is unlikely to become a smashing success).

This is when, with a deep sigh, you may consider one of the bigger SIs of which there are two categories: the Indian powerhouses and the US majors.

The Indian SIs such as Wipro (my employer in 2013), Infosys and TCS have all created cloud practices, often as an adjunct to the current integration one they already had (SuccessFactors will, for instance, be part of the SAP practice for some.)  They tend to offshore most of the work which results in a lower budget.  However, distance can become an issue when the iterative design process involves countless meetings across time zones with different accents and cultures to contend with. Misunderstandings can easily arise and quality can differ markedly from firm to firm and across projects. To use an easy pun, testing your new system with an Indian-based outfit can become quite testing. Most of the Indian implementation partners are really just body shops and would still struggle with the the higher value tasks of process design and change management.

These tasks, on the other hand, are the forte of the three majors, all US-based: Accenture, Deloitte, IBM. (When PwC becomes a more significant player, I will add them in an update). Let's look at them in alphabetical order.

Accenture's strength lies in Fusion reflecting the strong relationship with Oracle. Accenture has more consultants trained on Fusion than any other SI and has carried out more projects. The quality of Accenture's HR consultants is also quite high evincing strong HR process expertise in all domains. Note that Accenture also leads when it comes to SuccessFactors.

Deloitte's HR credentials are as strong as Accenture's, but its focus is more on Workday. This reflects its strong HR system experience which dates back to its PeopleSoft alliance. I find them also quite good at local expertise.

IBM comes in third, and not only alphabetically, when it comes to cloud HR experience reflecting the dinosaur's reluctance to embrace the brave new world of SaaS. I found them to be quite unwieldy and at times a bureaucratic nightmare. I would recommend IBM only for the largest multinationals with a long experience of handling them. Otherwise it's no longer your project, but IBM's. Remember that these global brands have high overhead and  an oversupply of processes whose costs you the customer will have to bear. If you're looking for innovation (often the rationale behind your decision to go SaaS) you are unlikely to find it here. The pure-play SIs are a safer route.

Do as we say, not as we do

Interestingly, neither of the three major SIs has replaced its legacy SAP-based HR system of record with a cloud one. However, they are all implementing one of the three main cloud HR systems in some subsidiaries or regions of their own organizations. A big shift will take place when the three majors decide to throw in their lot with either Workday, Fusion or SuccessFactors. So far partner politics is proving stronger than cloud appeal.

One last thought. As you embark on an HR transformation project the bigger SIs will lobby you to provide help with the system-selection process, prior to bidding for the (far juicier) implementation work. They will swear on all the  saints of the Catholic calendar that they have in place a Chinese wall between their advisory and implementation practices. If you believe that you will probably believe that Diana and Elvis are living happily on Easter Island surrounded by their children. A fundamental principle of project governance is to avoid the advisor having a stake in the chosen system. Ignore this  tenet at your own peril.

(The blogger is currently helping a fast-growing, Nasdaq-listed, Paris-based multinational move from SAP to a cloud-based HR system) 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Rio at age 450: Ten things I love and hate about the Marvelous City

From the blogger's apartment in Copacabana,
a view of the Sugar Loaf mountain near
where Rio de Janeiro was founded 450 years ago 
This week saw the city I have been calling my second home for several years now celebrate its 450th anniversary. St Sebastian of the River of January (to give it its full name)  was indeed founded on March 1, 1565, by Portuguese officer Estácio de Sá. Fresh on the heels of Carnaval, Cariocas (as Rio's residents are known) used the pretext to carry on partying, and indeed fun was had in different parts of this amazing city: concert in the Quinta da Boa Vista park (where the imperial family used to live), another one off the Guanabara Bay on reclaimed Aterro do Flamengo park, and a 450-m cake was shared by whomever showed up in old Rio. It was fun watching Carioca kids engaging in cake fights, a local version of  snowball fights.

For me, a foreign transplant during several months a year,  it is time to reflect on what I love about the city...and what I hate.

1. LOVE: My favorite streets: Paissandu and Constante Ramos

Actually there are more, but I will stick to these two. Paissandu Street starts from Flamengo Beach in the neighborhood of the same name and links it to another neighborhood, Laranjeiras, at the foot of Corcovado mountain. Lined on both sides by imperial palm-trees and graced by beautiful mansions that hark back to a time when it was the city's most desirable location (the street was built as a grand entrance to Princess Isabel's palace at the Laranjeiras end), Rua Paissandu was home to the  (fictional) couple in the novel A Sucessora (which according to some was plagiarized by Daphne du Maurier in her famous novel, Rebecca, - I read both and have to admit the similarities are just too many.)

Guanabara Palace built in the mid-19th century by
the Emperor Pedro II for his daughter, Princess Isabel.
It is now the home of the governor of Rio (2013)

Rua Constante Ramos is right at the corner of the street across from my building in Copacabana. When I come back back from
The best coffee in Rio (2010)
my daily dip in the water (weather permitting) I have no greater pleasure than admiring on my right the Capricciosa building, a stunning Art Deco mansion (now turned into serviced apartments) that looks as if it had been transplanted straight from Miami Beach. And, then, in front of me, the dramatic plunging view of the huge grass-covered and favela-free mountain that towers over the nearby buildings. Quite a sight. Just before I cross the Avenida de Copacabana into my building, is one of my favorite cafés in Rio: Cafeina, which serves  the best coffee in town and delicious pastries (brigadeiro is my favorite.)

2. HATE: Leaving items at supermarket checkout

An irritating feature of Brazilian shoppers, at least in Rio, is the tendency to fill their shopping cart with every item that catches their fancy as they stroll from aisle to aisle. And when they arrive at checkout that's when they start making decisions about what to buy and what to discard. This means that not only the checkout line (already long by nature) takes even longer to clear, but you also find yourself struggling with the bottles, fruit, cans and assorted item left on the belt. Particularly worrying are frozen/refrigerated food which is left to defrost or go warm for hours with nobody from the store (certainly not the lady at the cash register)  seeming to mind.

3. HATE: Random violence

The day in 2009  the blogger was shot at.
The bus I was riding  in received a stray bullet which went
straight through my window seat. The bus driver didn't stop
as "nobody was hurt" he said
The culture of violence and neglect in Brazil means that, without being paranoid, you have to be aware that you can become a victim of violence through no fault of yours, actually without even anybody's intention. Exploding manholes, falling buildings, preventable fires, predictable mudslides can happen at any moment. One of the saddest and scariest are stray bullets which a housewife busy hanging her laundry on her balcony can receive and fall mortally wounded. I myself was once in a bus when two cars drove by exchanging gunshots (sometimes it's gangsters engaging in shootouts, sometimes its cops in hot pursuit of them). One of the bullets went through my window (see picture left), passing a couple of inches from my nose. I couldn't find the bullet, but I still keep fragments of the window. By the way, stray bullets are a tradition in Rio: Estácio de Sá was killed by a stray arrow!

4. LOVE: Easily found, good home-made food

Sure, there are Burger Kings, McDonald's and KFC "restaurants" (the French in me just cannot accept to grant such places the noble accolade of "restaurant") as well as local clones such as Bob's, but they are outnumbered by a true Brazilian institution: the per-weight self-service restaurant. Due to the dreadful state of Brazilian logistics and transportation, it is is difficult to move (and keep) frozen food, so everything you see at these places is home made. And it is succulent. With particularly fertile soil, Brazil boasts great produce (fruit, vegetable, meat) which in turn makes for tasty food, something hard to come by in the United States or Europe.

5. LOVE: The irrepressible chatter of Brazilians

I lived five months in Zurich, Switzerland, last year. I never got to meet a single of my neighbors. The rare times I'd see them on the stairs or coming out of the elevator, they'd run away before I got to utter, "Gute Morgen." In Rio, people would talk to you anywhere: in a store, on the street, on the elevator, on a bus. Anytime somebody is next to you and they feel like sharing something with you, they will. Sure, sometimes the verbal diarrhea is a bit of an imposition, but the warmth and  the spirited conversation often make up for it.

6. HATE: Erratic urban planning and eyesores

The Ypriranga building popularly known as the
Mae West, as an obvious reference to the buxom
1920s movie star.  This Art Deco  masterpiece was
the first building  I visited  when I started  apartment
hunting in Rio. Renowned architect
Oscar Niemeyer had his office on the top floor
Rio is famed for its beauty, but it is of course its natural beauty we are talking about. Man-made works tend to scar the landscape rather than enhance it. Almost any street will have buildings built at odd angles, asymmetrical, with an unequal number of stories. One of my "favorite" eyesore is the Othon Palace Hotel, the tallest building on Copacabana Beach. How on earth was this 20-story allowed to go up when according to regulations no building higher than 13 is allowed? That's Brazil for you. A couple of blocks down, there used to be a lovely Art Deco mansion housing the Austrian Embassy.  It was one of the last single dwellings on the beach. I used to love to sit next to it and in one swoop glance take in the Sugar Loaf and the Pink House as it was familiarly known. Not any longer. Despite being listed (and therefore protected) it was sold, torn down and some tall hotel will replace it.

Where once stood the lovely Casa Rosada... (2012)

...Destruction and suspense as to what will replace it (2013)
An even more (in)famous case was that of the Palácio Monroe, in Downtown Rio. Before the giant Christ the Redeemer statue was built, the Palácio Monroe was a symbol of the city until it was inexplicably torn down to make way for a...parking lot! (Fortunately, the city also boasts great buildings from its colonial past, many well preserved, and in the Cinelândia and Copacabana neighborhoods, gorgeous Art Deco buildings are a testimony that some efforts to mirror the city's natural beauty were not in vain.)

A successful architectural mix of old and new at the MAR,
Rio's most recent museum, the week it opened (March 2013)

7. LOVE: Natural and human beauty
From Christ the Redeemer facing south:
Ipanema and the Lake (2007)
The breathtaking natural beauty of the city (which mixes beaches, tropical forests, mountains, hills, ocean and bay) has its counterpart in the Carioca. Largely the result of what Brazilians refer to as miscegenação, or mixed races, and a beach lifestyle, the physical beauty of Cariocas is legendary. Just stroll down a street or just sitting at a botequim (as traditional bars are called) and eye candy will brighten up your days in the form of naturally beautiful women and handsome men, often scantily clad. Of course, some of these perfect bodies have been helped by science, but that doesn't detract from the fact that no other city on earth has such a high concentration of gorgeous bodies, perfect faces and sensual people as the Marvelous City.

From Christ the Redeemer facing west:
the Bay of Guanabara, the Sugar Loaf, Boatafogo and its
horseshoe-shaped cove (2007)

8. HATE: Brazilian red tape

For somebody used to the honors system so prevalent in the United States and in many parts of Europe, you will be shocked at the realization that the Brazilian government basically assumes that all its citizens are dishonest. As a consequence of this, any transaction you want to carry out (invest in real estate, start a business, become a resident, open a bank account...) requires you to produce an inordinately long list of documents, many of which requires each the production of another long list of documents. Most have to be obtained from quasi-government agencies known as cartórios, are not all inexpensive and take for ever to be produced. Woe betide you if one character is missing from one document, or your name is misspelled; you will have to start all over again. Patience is a virtue which, if you don't have it when you arrive in Brazil, you will learn to develop. (President Dilma Rousseff has appointed a cabinet member in charge of desburocratização or "unredtaping" similar to French President Hollande's efforts at simplification administrative - I wouldn't hold my breath at the success of any of these transatlantic endeavors)

9. LOVE/HATE: The informality/Lack of punctuality of the Carioca

The relaxed atmopshere of Rio de Janeiro means that you are not expected to dress up for most occasions. A T-shirt, bermuda shorts and flip-flops are perfectly acceptable in most cases. In the beach districts you can walk around, enter some restaurants, bars and grocery stores barefoot and with nothing on you but your tiny swimsuit (whose diminutive female version is referred to as "dental floss".) So refreshing that you feel in a permanent state of vacation.

The downside is that punctuality is a concept completely alien to Brazilians, especially Cariocas. Even in business settings. Set up a meeting for the next day at 10 am, and if people accept you will thing it's a done deal. You may be in for a big disappointment: nobody might show up at 10. When a Carioca agrees to a meeting, they are merely conveying that they are interested in seeing you again, whether on that allotted time or some other time, or simply that that they don't want to be rude and tell you they won't show up. For an American or a European this can be maddeningly frustrating.

10. LOVE: Incredible variety of cultural and sports offering

One can be easily awe-struck by the beauty of the Rio landscape as mentioned earlier.Less well-known is the sheer variety of museums, plays, shows, bookstores, art exhibits, concerts, cinemas available on any given day. When the federal government left for newly built Brasilia, Rio found itself with countless grand government buildings it didn't know what to do with. Many were turned into museums, and some often put on great shows. One that opened this week, part of the 450 years celebration, is at the old Post Office HQ in the old town, and it presents a great assortment of the amazing engravings and painting by French artist Debret who called Rio home for a decade in the early 19th century when the city went from sleepy colonial backwater to imperial capital and then capital of an independent country. Debret left us incredible detailed testimonies of every day life in Rio de Janeiro, along with historical events such as the only coronation of a European king in the Americas. Live music can be heard from basically everywhere, especially on weekends, from the Copacabana oceanfront to the bohemian district of Lapa. During Carnaval the energetic samba rhythms are hard to tune out. Sebos, as second-hand bookshops are known,  are a treasure trove of titles you will not find in the large retail chain stores such as Travessa or Saraiva. Theatre-wise, I prefer the West End and Broadway, but the quality of Rio's theatre offering is not to be scoffed at. An excellent production still playing is the musical Cazuza about a famous Brazilian singers from the 80s.

On the sports side, beach volley is  a great favorite on the beach across from my apartment (it will be the venue for that particular Olympic game). Frescobol can be seen the whole day. A few minutes down the beach towards the Copacabana Fort stand up paddle has become quite popular these last few years, as has slack lining where you balance on a rope tied between two palm trees. Hang-gliding for thrill seekers allows you to take in the stunning beauty of the city, and do I need to mention soccer which is a religion here (despite the calamity at last year's World Cup)?  Cariocas are way more sports oriented than culturally minded, but still there are newspaper stands at every street corner and the press offering is quite diversified and of surprisingly good quality (I couldn't live without O Globo here.)

Of course, I could go on for much longer. there are a few more things I positively abhor (such as the absurd prices, see my earlier post), and countless more that draw me to the country. My sincerest hope is that in the next few years the list of the latter lengthens, while the former are reduced significantly.

(The blogger has a second home in Rio de Janeiro where he spends part of the year. All the pictures were taken by him between 2007 and the publication of this post. When the blogger is not in residence, his penthouse can be rented. Check out the Airbnb listing, also available on TripAdvisor/Flipkey and Homeaway. You can also rent it straight from the blogger)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

An open letter to Workday's Bhusri and Duffield: Time to fix Europe


Dear Dave and Aneel,
Drip-feeding country extensions
is NOT the right strategy

A great admirer of Workday's since its beginnings, for various reasons you will find summarized in several of my blog posts, the global and European person I am was more than gratified to see that you have decided to open an office in Germany. However, this cannot hide the fact that  before you open a new market, you should make sure the previous ones are up and running.

The Frenchman in me cannot therefore understand why you are expanding in Germany when you have yet to make France work. It was exactly three years ago  that you opened the French office and in that period of time you have only signed up two French customers: Lafarge and Sanofi. Even Oracle has managed to sign up more Fusion customers in France, which is the ultimate insult. With France being PeopleSoft's most successful market outside the United States, it should have been a piece of cake to convert many of these customers to Workday. Adding insult to injury, Danone, of all customers switched from PeopleSoft to... SuccessFactors when it should have been yours. A crime!

What has gone wrong?

The most serious mistake you have made is one typical of American multinaltionals: starting a presence in the UK and thinking that with that "Europe is solved." The UK, as many British people may have told you, is not in Europe, but off Europe. In a couple of years, they may no longer even be in the European Union. Opening an office in London is no more meaningful than opening one in Chicago. With most EMEA executives being UK-based (and British) you have made your EMEA organization EMEA in name only. As is natural they would focus on what they know best: the UK market, which explains your success in the UK, and then the "low-hanging fruit" of the Netherlands and Scandinavia. But the rest is as far away from them as planet Mars. The appointment of Chano Fernandez, a Spanish national, was a step in the right direction, but I have a feeling you didn't hire him because he hails from Spain, a country close to my heart (read my blog post "My 20-Year Affair with Spain") but because he was at SAP. And, anyway, since he was appointed, a year ago, I have yet to see a single Spanish company select Workday. Or an Italian company. Or a German one.

You have clearly made some casting mistakes, hiring the wrong people for the wrong roles in the wrong geography. Worse, many of the people you have hired in key positions have no prior experience in HR systems, your flagship product. Don't get me wrong: it may make sense sometimes to hire people from a  wider field, but when your product is first and foremost about HR, it boggles the mind to see so many people in key Workday EMEA roles who have no experience of talking to HR leaders, have no sense of the local HR ecosystem or a deep understanding of the competition.

As you know, every HR market is quite parochial. Sending to France a high-flying VP from HQ who speaks no French, cannot spell the name of some of the competitors, is not on a first-name basis with many opinion leaders and system integrators is a waste of your resources. And are you surprised at the results? Are you surprised that some of your better people,especially from sales, have left and are joining your competition?

Another key dimension of the local nature of HR is localization or what I  call "glocalization". I am
Marketing 101 mistake: English-language product screens
on  Workday's French website (As of  09-02-15 )
flabbergasted that it is taking you so long to develop the various country payroll localizations needed to be successful in the European market. You have waited for your 11th year in business to finally come up with your first European localization: the UK (well, not yet available, just announced for this year.) And France won't be available before next year. Wouldn't it make sense, from a product strategy perspective, to have swapped the countries and delivered France first?  That UK-centricity I mentioned earlier is again at work. Do you remember the number of European localizations (including Payroll) we released in PeopleSoft 8 between 2000 and 2001? EIGHT! Why this suspenseful drip-feeding of localizations at Workday? (And don't get me started on other regions of the world such as Asia or Brazil where I spend part of the year, and which are unlikely to get anything from you before eons - unless there is a clear change in product direction.)
Used to be one of the blogger's favorite 
Workday features. 
Now gone

You got so many things right from the beginning, and are still performing so brilliantly in many areas, that it pains me to see how you lost sight of the ball in Europe, and are making mistakes which, based on your previous PeopleSoft experience, you shouldn't have made. I guess you wouldn't be human if you didn't repeat some of your past mistakes.

Another thing. Please tone down the paranoid streak in your Partner and Alliance organization. So many positive things are already being written/said about you, you don't need to overdo it by becoming a marketing control freak who tries to prevent any constructive criticism to be published. All of your admirers, whose numbers include me, do not want you to turn into another evil company of which there are far too many in our industry.

I hope that my advice will help Workday grow into a better, more focused and successful SaaS company.

Oh, one last thing: Please bring back the Wheel. I miss it a lot.

Ahmed Limam

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Terror in Paris, on my doorstep - literally


            Mayhem right on the blogger's doorstep.
The ambulance pictured on the left blocks the
way to the blogger's home. On the right-hand side is the
street where took place the worst massacre France
has  know in over 50 years,
The day started quite oddly with so much mist and haze that Notre-Dame Cathedral was hidden behind an unusual wall of pea soup. Little did I suspect that the day would end with the famous cathedral tolling its bell.

Alone the whole day and working from home (one of the perks of being a freelancer  -except when you're on the road), I was so busy dealing with several things that I when I heard the loud bangs around 11:30 am I didn't pay much attention to them. After all central Paris, like all large metropolises, is so full of different types of noises that they barely register with you. I just thought, "Oh, I'm late, I should have gone out quickly to get some lunch."

It was over lunch (which I had at home, too busy to go out) that I heard the dreadful news. A terror attack had resulted in 12 deaths at a well-known French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, famous for the caricatures that drew the ire of radical Islamists. I knew vaguely that the magazine had its offices 10 minutes' walk from my place, although subconsciously, I also remembered that after being threatened they had moved somewhere else.
The entrance to the blogger's building. On the right you can see
where one of the shots fired by the killers went

The blogger taking a picture of the bullet
that went into a window right by the entrance
to his building a few minutes before he was due out.
Behind the blogger, heavy police presence guarding
Charlie Hebdo's offices
After an early afternoon conference call with a client, I went out to run some errands quickly before coming back for another meeting when, upon coming out of my building, I felt as if I had just stumbled upon a film set. Ambulances, TV crews, cops: pandemonium everywhere.  A neighbor mumbled something about "suspects" and I thought, "Oh, one of the killers must have tried to hide in the vicinity." I felt the cops were being a bit paranoid, though, since I had to show my ID to leave the cordoned off area and come back.  I asked one of the cops what the matter was, and his reply was a curt, "Just watch BFM" (a popular French TV station).

As soon as I came back home I turned the TV on to get more info and see what was the link between the massacre and my street. I flipped through several channels, and suddenly I felt something was not right. There was something weird about some of the pictures. They looked eerily familiar. I immediately hit the internet where I checked some pictures. And, then, my neurons connected. And I was shocked by the realization that...

...the murders had taken place on my doorstep! Literally.  I then remembered that about a year ago the street right across the entrance to my building had started getting the presence of a police car. I had asked around why, whether some VIP had moved in, but nobody I talked to knew. And every time I walk by, which is basically every day I'm in Paris, I see the police car and always make a mental note to find out who they are protecting.

Now I know. This is where Charlie Hebdo had moved. And without any publicity since there was no sign indicating their presence. That didn't prevent the killers from not only finding the location of the new office, but also picking the one day in the month  where all the main reporters gather around the editor.

The killers shot their assault rifles inside and outside the Charlie
office. On the streets they hit the blogger's building

Another thought hit me. 11:30 was the time when I had planned to go out but I was busy on a call that I had decided to go out later. I can only imagine what could have happened if I had crossed paths with the murderers. So easy to die of a stray bullet; I survived one in Rio de Janeiro, a couple of years ago (it flew two inches from my face), so I am probably down to only five lives now.

I immediately headed back downstairs just on time to see the French president with several of his Cabinet members walk by to pay their respects to the victims. To enter my building I had to walk around the large ambulance parked right in front of the entrance door: it had been used to ferry the dead and the injured.
Car parked right by the entrance door to my building which was
hit by the killers' car as they escaped - or came in. Some details
are still unclear. But the police forensics spent several hours
analyzing it in detail and scooping up all the evidence around

That's when I heard that among the dead were Wolinski and Cabu. Wolinski has been famous since my teen years for his comic strips, and Cabu was a talented cartoonist whom we hired at PeopleSoft in 2000 for the launch of Release 8.0. He entertained us through his quick-witted drawings during Craig Conway's presentation. The then CEO of PeopleSoft couldn't understand why throughout his presentation there were moments of undiluted audience hilarity until he'd turn around and look at the screen and catch, between his slides, a funny Cabu cartoon making a spot-on comment on the wonderful world of business software.

The day after at noon: one minute silence in front of the
Charlie Hebdo office. The blogger's building stands
behind the mourners
The rest of the day was of course lost to work as the neighborhood, family and friends, and the whole nation gathered to mourn the massacre France has thought will never happen.
Notre Dame Cathedral, here seen from the blogger's home,
 at midnight, as it begins to toll its bell for the day's victims.

A day to remember. And wonder if worse is to come. And some serious thinking about the implications of the event will have to made by political leaders.

(All pictures taken by the blogger. Free use allowed)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy 75th Anniversary, "Gone With The Wind"

This rare 1938 one-volume French translation
was the 269th edition by publisher Gallimard
barely two years after  the book was published
in the U.S. It became the blogger's property
when he inherited it from his grandmother
who had bought it in Paris in the late 1940s
In my early teen years I tried a couple of time to read GWTW since I had heard so much about it. Every time I failed to go through the first chapters as I quickly lost interest. Then, I must have been 13 or 14, I caught a bad cold and had to stay in bed for several days. I ransacked my parents' library for reading material, and again came across the 1,400-page, two-volume set of the French-language version of Margaret Mitchell's  Autant en emporte le vent. Third time lucky! The first 100 pages were a bit tough, full of descriptions and moving slowly but, suddenly, I was hooked. Scarlett and her beaux. The Cause. Rakish Rhett. Aunt Pittypat and her smelling salts. Mummy and Prissy. Tara surviving through war. Atlanta in flames. Damn Yankees and Carpetbaggers. No sooner had I finished the first volume than I rushed to pick up the second one and stayed glued to it until I finished it. Do I need to add I was drenched in tears when I reached the end? At that very moment my mother entered my room to check on me and seeing my tears she thought my condition had worsened and would have called the doctor if I hadn't told her there was no need, pointing at the book. "Oh, you've been reading GWTW!" she exclaimed.

Then I realized the movie was even more famous than the book and couldn't wait to see it re-released at a nearby theatre. When I first saw it, I was even more transported and fell under its Technicolor charm and the beauty and talent of Vivien Leigh. How many times had I watched it in movie theatres, on video, DVD, streamlined, pirated? Lost count, but must have been more than twenty. My whole family are big fans, even the bathroom in my mother's family home in Romania had a huge poster of Leigh and Gable's famous embrace splashed on the wall under the title, Per aripile vîntului.

The blogger in the lobby of the Fox Theatre, affectionately
known to Atlantans as the Fabulous Fox, on Dec. 15, 1989
exactly 50 years after the movie's premiere in the same city
I was particularly gratified to find myself studying towards my master's at the University of Georgia in December 1989 as the movie's 50th anniversary celebrations were being held nearby in the city where the premiere took place half a century ago. Now (then) in my twenties I found myself  equally impressed by watching GWTW again at the Fabulous Fox  in Atlanta. And gawking at the cast members still alive, getting autographs and taking pictures galore.

I always laugh when I read in the press, or hear the younger generation boast, that Titanic or Star Wars or Avatar are the top box-office hits of all time. If I remember correctly, the highest-grossing of these movies has not brought in more $1.5 bn when GWTW, in inflation-adjusted dollars, has brought in more than $6.5 bn. And  remember that in the late 30s the movie market was really limited to the wealthy parts of the world, that is North America and Western Europe. and the world's population was much smaller. Actually it took more than a decade for GWTW to come to France, because of the war, something unthinkable these days when blockbusters often open on the same day around the globe. GWTW's popular success is therefore quite stunning. I think that at one point in time half of the whole US public had seen the movie which, as far as I know, is unequaled.
The blogger's' autographed copy of the
book by Herb Bridges, the world's
leading auhority on  GWTW

Among the surviving cast members at the Atlanta "re-premiere",
Butterfly McQueen is fondly remembered for her "I don't know
nothin' 'bout birthin' babies" scene. And, yes, she's
wearing the very dress from the famous scene which she
reprised on the stage for us. 

An interesting piece of trivia  is that of the four main stars, only one is, as of today, still alive. Olivia de Havilland's longevity is a nice echo of the movie's enduring appeal and how it has stood the test of time. Ironically, she is the only one of the four main characters to die in the movie.

As a more mature adult now, and being able to compare it with other great movies I had seen since, what do I make of GWTW? Would I consider it as one of the top 10 movies of all time? As a tribute  to the great picture, which celebrated last week its 75th anniversary, I decided this week, after many years without watching it, to sit again through  its four hours.

Verdict? Still terrific, especially the first part. That wide-shot of the railroad tracks with the thousands of wounded ending with a torn Confederate battle flag flapping  pitifully remains as powerful as ever. I found Vivien Leigh's performance as the feisty Southern Belle as impressive as before. Present in almost every scene of the movie, the British actress is its heart and soul. I still feel, though, that the book is clearly superior, as so often happens with literary adaptations to to the silver screen. One major flaw is, toward the end, when Bonnie Blue and Melanie die in such quick succession giving the movie a soapish air. Always found that too melodramatic. And, sure, it romanticizes the Deep South too much, although I am not one of those who criticize the movie for its depiction of slavery. After all, it was written from the perspective of the plantation owners, and at that time slavery was the norm. Can't judge a story set in the 1860s with late 20th century eyes.

The blogger's admission ticket to the event. 

But the sets are great, some of the great lines made it into the movie, I can still hum Max Steiner' s score, most of the characters (to the notable exception of Leslie Howard's Ashley Wilkes) were exactly as I had imagined them when I read the book (Vivien Leigh, of course, but also Clark Gable and Hattie McDaniel). The cinematography is still brilliant in that gorgeous Technicolor, and it is impossible to believe that three different directors worked on the movie as it seems to be the work of just one single mind. Which it is, but not a director's. GWTW would, of course, not have existed without the single-minded obsession of David O.Selznick.

GWTW was not the only film masterpiece to be released in 1939, which may have marked the beginning of a dark chapter in human history, but is probably the best cinematic year ever. Audiences were regaled with an astonishing number of superb films: The Wizard of Oz (by one of the GWTW co-directors, Victor Fleming), Stagecoach, Lubitsch's Ninotchka ("Garbo Laughs" said the tagline), Wuthering Heights, Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game. Actually, there have been FULL decades where fewer quality movies were produced than in that single vintage year.

(2014 also saw two of my favorite movies celebrating a major anniversary. Both My Fair Lady -incidentally by George Cukor, one of the GWTW co-directors- and Mary Poppins turned 50. The former is undoubtedly the wittiest musical every produced, although Audrey Hepburn was miscast; the latter, the first movie appearance by Julie Andrews who had been bypassed for the My Fair Lady role which she had created onstage, is still my favorite Disney movie, and the first film to blend live animation with real movie characters. I keep watching both again and again, and never get tired or bored.)

NOTE: All the pictures were taken by the blogger except, obviously, the one he appears in (but taken with his Kodak camera). All rights reserved. No use of the photos can be made without express written agreement by the copyright holder.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Of Switzerland, the country, its HR practices and technology landscape

Lake Zurich became the blogger's temporary home last August,
and many a weekend were spent crisscrossing
this eminently bikable town
(Picture by the blogger)
I have been visiting the Alpine country for a good decade and a half now, with a strong focus on the French-speaking area around Geneva and Lausanne. In the late 1990s I was a frequent rider on the Paris-Lausanne train visiting a client, La Suisse Assurances, to help them move to a package HR system (that ancient insurance company is no longer, its parent company, Swiss Life, having decided to fold it several years ago.) I still remember vividly my favorite restaurant, le Vieux-Lausanne, at the foot of the cathedral, for its delicious food. Then, in the early 2000s, I would become a frequent traveler to Geneva, where Oracle's European headquarters is located, for internal meetings and customer presentations, especially at UN agencies; I dedicated a full chapter to Geneva in my book, High-Tech Planet.

The German-speaking part, though,was largely unknown territory to me until last August when I set up camp in Zurich to help Credit Suisse, the country's second largest bank,  on their new HR system. This more intense exposure to the country has given me further insight on what is one of the most original countries on earth.

Politics: Swiss exceptionalism
For someone used to the continental size of the US or Brazil where, despite the huge landmass and population, a single language prevails, diminutive Switzerland with its three main languages (German, French and, in one state, Italian)* can be puzzling. And yet, despite ethnic, religious and linguistic differences, Switzerland is a haven of peace, prosperity and serenity (and also, let's face it, at times stultifying dullness) unequaled anywhere else on earth. A lot of it has to do with its unique system of (semi-)direct democracy, which those of us who suffer from renewed gridlock in the US or stagnation in France under the most incompetent and despised president in history can only envy. In Switzerland, no topic is too important not to ask citizens to vote on it. This month, the question is whether the country's central bank should increase its share of assets held in gold from 8% to 20%. In any of the mock-democracies of Europe and North America, the decision would have been taken by a politician or an obscure committee behind closed doors. Not in the Helvetian Confederation where the people are asked to vote on what may sound as too an arcane topic to most. I always wondered why I never see political protests and demonstrations in Switzerland. Now I know why. Who are you going to protest against? Yourself? Your neighbors? Most decisions are made by citizens directly, you can't blame anybody but yourself if you aren't happy with the results. (I have always been a keen advocate of direct democracy, those interested can read my post,"Technology-enabled Democracy 2.0.")

Global business: punching above its weight
Except for the Netherlands, which has twice its population, no other small country in the world boats such a roster of successful global companies: Roche and Novartis (pharmaceutical), Nestlé (food), UBS and Credit Suisse (banking), Adecco (staffing), Swiss (airlines) are world class champions. This success lays to rest the cliché about the Swiss excelling only at clocks and chocolate, although some of the challenges facing the banking industry with the looming end of banking secrecy will have a not insignificant impact on the overall economy.

Rules-based engine
Another key feature of the Swiss national psyche is the strong, almost obsessive, adherence to rules. Peter Ustinov, the great actor/director/writer, who lived many years in Switzerland, once said, and quite accurately so, "In Switzerland, everything is either mandatory or forbidden; nothing is optional."  Woe betide you if you dare cross the street with the red light still on, even if there is no incoming traffic for as far as you can see. I mischievously jaywalk from time to time just to see how many Swiss will get a stroke at the heinous crime I am committing. And don't you even consider being late at a meeting; I know of an employee who was fired for his tardiness. For the Swiss punctuality is up there with cleanliness, motherhood and apple pie. It also helps that their public transportation system is amazingly efficient and in this town trams, buses and trains run on time. I have yet to witness a tram that didn't pull into its stop at the exact time advertised on the monitor. In comparison with another country I know well, Brazil, Switzerland is the anti-Brazil in every respect. Whereas a Swiss takes their job very seriously (the worst insult you can throw at a  Swiss is, "You are not professional!"), telling the same thing to the average Brazilian will elicit nothing more than a hearty laugh and a shrug.

Small wonder then that managing Swiss companies requires quite complex HR rules made even more so by the decentralized nature of the country where every state (or canton as they are known here) is quasi-independent and sets its own rules.

Small country but specific requirements
Of all Swiss statistics, one figure stands out: the traditionally low unemployment rate which, in 2014,  is around 3%.  Labor-market tensions are not going to improve with the greying workforce since more workers are retiring than are being replaced by young arrivals. This explains the high proportion of foreign workers in Swiss companies, and not only in border areas, but all over the country. Another reason for the strong reliance on foreign workers is the presence of many multinational companies (along with international governmental organizations such as the UN in the Geneva area) and the fact that Swiss mid-sized companies tend to be  strong exporters.

  • As part of an HR system multi-assignment/contract is a key requirement: somebody can be working in a canton hospital, teach at university and  oversee a small business. All these jobs will have to be tracked and, when fed into a payroll system, the latter will have to split the relevant taxes.
  • The French-speaking area tends to have more of a focus on competency management than the German area where companies tend to spent HR and HRIT investments on regulatory aspects of HR.
  • Make sure that your HR system covers work permit extensions by date along with alerts and reminders. Local state offices are as efficient in granting work permits as they are stern when it comes to non-compliance with reporting requirements.
  • The Swiss take their data privacy very seriously, even more so than other Europeans, and certainly more than the US.  Any foreign company doing business in Switzerland will need to take into account this Swiss variant on work-life balance.
  • If you are expanding to Switzerland and need to manage your Swiss workforce as part of your global HR system, check that your vendor is Swissdec certified. It'll ensure that HR and payroll data are stored and sent to government agencies in the required format and scope.
  • Several reports are key such as the Beschäftigungsstatistik.
  • Support for SEPA bank format has become a recent requirement as well, although Switzerland is not part of the euro area.You may be puzzled by the fact that you can easily wire funds into a euro-denominated account abroad but not not the other way round. 

It is worth specifying that although Switzerland is not part of the EU, most of its trade is with the EU, many of its workforce comes from EU countries, as mentioned earlier, especially neighboring Germany, Austria and France.  As part of an agreement with the EU, there is a free movement of labor between Switzerland and the EU (it remains to be seen how a recently held referendum will jeopardize this arrangement).

HR vendor landscape
Although Zurich hosts a prestigious technology university (ETH) and  is a research hub for several technology firms such as Google, Switzerland has not sprouted strong local software firms. Actually über-technology firm Amazon is not even present in Switzerland since its small size, difficult terrain (all those mountains are a transportation nightmare) and prosperous citizens do not justify the investment. As can be expected, neighboring Germany's SAP,  reigns supreme, especially in the German-speaking majority area. The only Swiss software firm of note is talent-management vendor Haufe (based in St-Gallen, home of another prestigious university) whose Umantis offering is one of the few, if not the only one, in Europe to have been developed organically.

The Google campus in Zurich, on my way
to/from the Credit Suisse office
(Picture by the blogger)

This most conservative of countries is moving its HR systems to the cloud at a glacial pace as legacy vendors are finding out. Oracle's Fusion implementation at banking giant UBS has been beset with product-quality issues that have delayed the go-live date several times. Workday, on the other hand, a virtual unknown this side of the Alps, without even a local presence, has managed to  sign up a couple of local companies including well-known travel firm Kuoni.

As we move into the second half of the decade it will be interesting to see how Swiss on-premise customers migrate to the cloud and, in doing so, which system they select. So far, no single unchallenged winner has emerged, so the market is still up for grabs.

*Actually, there is even a fourth national language, Romansh, spoken by a small minority. Speaking of languages, it is interesting to note that whereas Swiss French is quasi-identical to the one spoken in France, Swiss German is a dialect that differs markedly from standard German (Hochdeutsch). Adding to the complexity, Swiss German (Switzerdeutsch) is only spoken whereas standard German is the one used in writing giving a sense of Swiss schizophrenia

NOTE: It goes without saying that the opinions expressed in this post are the blogger's only, and do not reflect the position or  policies of Credit Suisse or any other Swiss company I have been/am associated with.

Monday, July 21, 2014

No SaaS please, we're bankers!

As traditional, on-premise corporate computing moves relentlessly to the cloud, especially its more sophisticated version, SaaS (software as a service)*, one business sector seems impervious to the march of History: the banking industry. Since banks spend more on IT than any other business, it is worth discussing what is holding up bankers (no pun intended) and wondering whether it is a question of time before the industry moves with the times, or will it remain as a quaint on-premise island in a sea of SaaS-based systems. In this post I'll focus on HR systems, since that is the corporate IT sector I have more experience in.

The changing landscape of international banking and how it will affect HR
Following the financial meltdown that started in 2007, banks are facing some unique challenges:

- More stringent regulations in all developed countries, though so far the bark has been worse than the bite. European banks have been faster at adopting so-called Basel 3 rules, thus giving them, counter-intuitively, an edge on US banks because, once the latter are hit, they will find their European counterparts better prepared. 

- Some of the new rules, especially in Europe,  have to do with bankers' compensation. Senior managers will have to learn to focus on profits (see below comment). One of the challenges of HR leaders will be how to enforce a new culture where greed is no longer good, and where other aspects of performance are taken into account, rather than the obsessive focus on revenue.

- One such regulation has to do with block leave (or garden leave) which mandates that during a certain period of time employees have no access to email/systems/phone in order to restraint heir ability to engage in fraudulent activities. (Of course, I still receive email messages from some senior executives who are on such block leave - and I'm talking here about their their bank email!)

-  Increased use of technology, such as complex trading algorithms, which means that many jobs formerly done by humans  are now done by machines which do not threaten to leave you for the competition nor demand exorbitant compensation.

- The days of unlimited profits are gone, and that will have an impact on IT budgets. This would be a driver to move to the cloud since costs can be reduced substantially when your HR system of record is migrated from on-premise to SaaS.

- Most of the global investment banks are retreating from their global operations and closing businesses. This deglobalization will affect all players, with global powerhouses shrinking their global operations, and the size of their workforce, and a larger number of regional/domestic banks will become even more local in nature. The challenge for all banks will be to trim fat without cutting muscle.

- In emerging markets, such as Brazil, Turkey, China and South Africa, local banks will matter even more than the global one, a trend not really new as I witnessed myself when I started spending part of the year in Brazil and was shocked to see that  the local HSBC subsidiary had little in common with the European parent company. It was quite surprising, and humbling, to see that Premier status, despite HSBC's marketing slogans, meant nothing there. In that market, as in India (think ICICI) local talent prevails and is giving the global banks a run for their money, if that is the phrase. If global banks want to survive, they will have to learn to fly the right talent on the right opportunity, say from London or New York, to São Paulo or Singapore, close the deal and then back home. The type of skills necessary will be markedly different from what we currently see.

Better be safe than sorry
There are various reasons why bankers are reluctant to move to a SaaS HR system of record (note that for other HR functions, such as recruiting or learning, the move to SaaS started a while ago.)

First, HR systems of record, along with  core banking tools, tend to be particularly sticky here. This most conservative of industries tends to favor status quo systems, stressing their advantages ("We've been using them for so long") while drawing attention to some problems associated with  the cloud. The financial crisis, which revealed banks' boldness, has put the brakes on many innovative ideas. The cloud suddenly became particularly risky, and it is a brave HRIS leader that will push for it. Rarely does a banking head of HR even bother about it, feeling s/he has more urgent battles to fight.

The banking industry also has a long history of home-made systems, in use next to packaged software, the latter often customized beyond recognition, thus adding another strong incentive to stick to legacy systems longer than other industries. And yet the complexity of their  legacy systems will eventually force the banks to move forward and start considering SaaS more seriously.

Security, for obvious reasons a predominant concern with banks, has them look at SaaS with particularly watchful eyes. And NSA snooping has not helped the SaaS movement, especially in Europe, where banks are not particularly keen on having the integrity of their core HR data  compromised along with privacy concerns. It is safe to say that SaaS vendors are losing 10% of their potential revenue in Europe because of this issue.

As everywhere else, moving to SaaS entails cultural change that banks are not finding easy to make. A bank 's IT department with an army of PeopleTools or ABAP consultants will be reluctant to consider that it has a problem, and that it may not need these skills anymore. Often, HR does not have enough clout to stand its ground and insist on having its own technology.

Leading by example...where there is no clear example
HR departments in the banking industry tend to display pack mentality. There is a lot of hand-wringing, indecision and wait-and-see among HR/IT leaders, with everybody watching their counterparts in other banks to see who will take the plunge first. (Interestingly, their brethren in the insurance industry didn't have such qualms and have moved to the cloud much faster.) As the following graph shows, there have already been a couple of banks that have made the move to SaaS HR (adopting mainly Workday) but they tend to be tier-2 banks. None of the global behemoths have pulled the plug on their legacy HR (usually PeopleSoft), although several are looking at the SaaS model seriously.

Whatever the geography, on-premise HR rules the roost

Action items for a successful transition
Any successful move from legacy HR to cloud HR in the banking industry will need the following:

  • Display bold HR vision from determined HR leaders. When considering the challenges facing the banking industry, this is a golden opportunity for HR leaders to lead change and transformation and try to show their value. The move to SaaS is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to do so.
  • Ensure that new rules are adhered to. The example I gave above of block leave is a good one. So far none of the heavyweight software vendors can cover that functionality satisfactorily which explains why many banks are not in compliance.  (Even Workday covers this requirement only partially)
  • Identify what needs to be available for a successful cloud implementation: Is the SaaS model good for us? Can the vendors' service level agreements meet our needs? Will they understand our way of doing business? If we, a European bank, select Workday, how confident are we that they will protect our data? I heard Workday's Aneel Bhusri the other day reiterate that HR data is safe because the customer can decide to have it stored in any of the regional data centers outside the US. That is simply not true. Even outside the US,Workday is still an American company, subject to US law and jurisdiction. If a US court orders it to provide the data stored in its data center in Ireland, will Workday refuse to comply? And if it complies,  what guarantees will a European bank (or any customer, for that matter) have that the data will not be subject to NSA abuse? No American vendor can provide any such guarantee.
  • Find the budget for the new investment. Considering the vast amounts banks have traditionally spent on IT, you might think that that should not be a problem. But with profit growth going south HR leaders need to beef up their ROI and make a more compelling case than in the past, something which, as mentioned earlier, they should be able to articulate cogently...if they know how to do it!
  • Realize that the move to a SaaS model requires a mental recalibration of people and organizations, along with revisited processes. That spaghetti environment that HR systems in banks have become over the decades should be disentangled and streamlined. What better opportunity than a move to a new next-generation system?

Banks should remember the unique characteristic of an HR system: it is the only IT system in a company where every employee is a user. Provide them with a rich interface and a modern user experience, and you are suddenly increasing your current and future employee engagement. Just as an earlier generation moved en masse from mainframe computing to a cloud-server environment, what are you waiting for, bankers, to move to SaaS?

No SaaS? You must be bonkers!

*For those who are confused about the terms "SaaS" and  "cloud", mainly because some  less-than-wholesome vendors use the two interchangeably, let me clarify some key differences. When a company's IT system no longer runs on its own data centers but is hosted by a third-party vendor, it is said to be "in the cloud" whether that IT system refers only to the hardware (network, for instance), the technology (database, OS) or the application (say, HR system.) When your application runs in the cloud, and the hardware and infrastructure are also managed by the same vendor, then we are talking about SaaS, the most advanced cloud offering. For software purists, as your humble servant is, you then have true SaaS (such as Salesforce, Workday, SAP's SuccessFactors) or faux-SaaS, a term I coined to refer to those products (such as Oracle's Fusion and the numerous legacy systems masquerading as SaaS) that were developed as an on-premise offering and then ported to the cloud, often in a single-tenant environment. True SaaS, on the other hand, is always multi-tenant, with a single line of code, is not available in an on-premise deployment, and only requires a browser to access the application.  In other words, a true SaaS product is always in the cloud; the reverse, however, is not true.

(Although the blogger, in his capacity as advisor-cum-consultant, has been involved with two banks on their legacy-HR-to-SaaS projects, the ideas defended in this post are his only, and do not reflect neither the banks' opinions nor their particular situation)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Curse of Spanish Monarchs: Never to die on the throne


It was from this rebellious and republican city that, two weeks ago, I heard the momentous news. I had just landed at Barcelona's splendid airport (the only one I know that boasts an outdoor section in the transit area, thus allowing you to breathe fresh air and bask in the  sun) and hailed a taxi to take me to my hotel. I had barely sat in the back seat when the taxi driver asked me, "¿Qué le parece?" (What do you think?)

"¿Qué me parece qué?" (What do I think about what?) I asked.
"La abdicación." (The abdication) was the curt answer.
"La abdicación, ¿de quién?" (Whose abdication?)
"Pues, ¡del Rey!" (Well, the King’s) the taxi driver replied before turning on the radio.

I was stunned. As I explained in my blog post "My 20-year affair with Spain" I have known only one Spanish monarch, Juan Carlos, and have always been a great admirer of what he had achieved for his country (Note: I am NOT a royalist, read my April 2011 blog post "Abolish the monarchy or reinvent it"). Sure, the last few years have been quite difficult, in no small part due to the economic crisis which had triggered a popularity loss for all political institutions in the Western world (never high in the first place, anyway) and it wasn't so inconceivable that the great man would bow out. But still, once it happened, it was quite a shock, even in independence-minded Catalonia.

As fate would have it, I find myself back in the same city just a few days before the coronation of Felipe VI. A lot has been written in the press and commented on TV and in the blog sphere, in Spanish and English, about the meaning and consequences of the abdication, but I haven't seen any historical perspective on the topic, namely that unlike British or even former French monarchs, Spanish ones have a long tradition of losing their crowns.

The first Bourbon king, Philip V*, who came to the throne in the early 18th century, abdicated in favor of his son only to climb back to the throne a month later when the new king died unexpectedly. If you want to go back even further, the first king of a united Spain, the legendary Emperor Charles V, the most powerful monarch in his time, ruling over most of the Americas and a good third of Europe, voluntarily renounced his throne in the mid 1500s and finished his days in a remote monastery in western Spain.

But let's just go back two centuries. The early 18th century saw Charles IV** deposed by Napoleon who, ever the family man, put his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne. With Napoleon himself deposed in 1815, brother Joe (known to Spaniards as Pepe Botella*** for being too partial to alcohol) was removed and the Bourbon dynasty was restored with Charles's son, Ferdinand VII, on the throne. Ferdinand lost his job twice but managed to die with his crown on. His daughter and successor, Isabella II, didn't fare any better. After 30 years on the throne she was overthrown; and so disgusted was the country with the Bourbon dynasty that they plucked an Italian prince to come over and become their new sovereign. 

Barely three years into his reign, Amadeo was forced to abdicate and pave the way for the First Spanish Republic which didn't last more than a couple of a years (interestingly, the first  two presidents were both Catalan) and in 1875 the monarchy was restored not with Isabella, who remained in exile, but with her son, Alfonso XII. Young Alfonso was to be the only Spanish king in both the 19th and 20th centuries not to abdicate or be deposed. However, his succession was far from assured since it was one of those rare cases where, upon his death, it was impossible to announce, "The King is Dead! Long Live the King!" The reason? Alfonso had no children; but his wife, Maria Christina, was pregnant. So Spain had to wait until she was delivered of a baby to know whether they had a posthumous king or queen; it was a son, who became on his birth King Alfonso XIII. 

Alfonso 's reign was an utter disaster: it started with the American-Spanish War of 1898 when Spain lost all its remaining colonial possessions. In 1931, Alfonso XIII (current King Juan Carlos' grandfather) lost the rest of his kingdom when he fled the country and  the Second Spanish Republic was established . Worse was to come with an early version of the Syrian conflict, the Spanish Civil War (another similarity with the Syrian situation was that many foreign fighters rushed to Spain to fight for the Republic). 

Alfonso died in exile, just like his grandmother Isabella, and his son Juan (who carried the title of Count of this city where  a major avenue bears his name) never ruled because dictator Franco wouldn't relinquish power in his favor. For reasons only known to the Generalisimo (or Caudillo as he was also called), he decided that upon his death Juan Carlos, Juan's son,  would succeed him, thus restoring the monarchy in 1975.

With King Juan Carlos following in the family tradition of regnum interruptum, if I may coin the phrase, it is a fair question to wonder whether his son's won't be an even shorter reign, maybe the last one of a long line of monarchs. He is already off to bad start, through no fault of his, though: with Spain, the ruling world soccer champions, having lost humiliatingly their first World Cup game to Holland 5-1 two days ago, many Spaniards are equating Felipe VI= V-I and wondering if worse disasters are yet to come. But Spanish kings have an uncanny knack for survival: after all the  civil wars, rebellions, foreign invasions, forced abdications and other  upheavals, they have managed to transfer the crown from grandparent/parent to child/grandchild for 1,000 years within one single family line. **** 

*Apart from the current monarchs, I am using for the historical ones the English names under which they are know, thus "Charles" for "Carlos" and "Philip" for "Felipe". 

**No mistake in the numbering. Although belonging to the same dynasty, the Hapsburgs (known in Spain as the "Austrias"), Charles IV did come after Charles V. The reason? Charles V was also Holy Roman (that is, German) Emperor and the number  "V" was his number as Emperor. As Spanish king, he was Charles I; but even in Spain he is widely referred to as Charles V, as evidenced by the roundabout in Madrid known as Glorieta del Emperador Carlos V.

***Pepe is Spanish for Joe and botella for bottle. No relation to Madrid's current mayor, Ana Botella.

****Even when the dynasty name changes, because of a female marrying outside the dynasty, it is still the same family. Thus, the first Bourbon king (Philip V)was also the grandson of the last Hapsburg king (Charles II) through his daughter Maria Teresa who had married the famous French King Louis XIV. The three houses of Trastamara, Aragon and Habsburg, who ruled in succession in the late Middle Ages/early Renaissance, were actually a grandmother (Isabella the Catholic), daughter (Joanna the Mad) and grandson (the aforementioned Emperor Charles V.)