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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Terror strikes my hometown and neighborhood - AGAIN

My second city's tribute to my
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, for a global city to be hit by a terror attack once a year can be considered a misfortune; to be hit twice smacks of gross negligence. Add to that that my neighborhood is the only one with the dubious honor of having been targeted twice makes me wonder if time hasn't come for me to move permanently to my second home, Rio de Janeiro. Now, that would be the mother of all ironies: seeking refuge from terror in a city well-known for random violence.

But we live in troubled times where what made sense for so long suddenly doesn't. Here is a short summary of the last 48 hours.

As (bad) luck would have it, as in the dreadful events last January (which I recounted in this post ) I was at home on Friday evening, relaxing from a long week of SAP-to-Workday workshops at French pharma giant Sanofi, when I heard the ear-splitting sound of sirens. At the beginning I didn't pay much attention, but after a while it suddenly hit me that the blaring sirens had been going at it for a good fifteen minutes. A quick look at the city skyline didn't reveal any Neronian fire. An accident, maybe? Then the ominous alternative crept into my mind: another attack?

I grabbed the TV remote control and tuned into one of the 24-hour French channels. My hunch was confirmed: another series of terror attacks have hit my hometown with my neighborhood once again targeted.(Dear Mr. Terrorist, I don't mind your being bloodthirsty. But do you also have to be unfair? Would you mind spreading the victim share among all Paris districts? Next time, could you try Montorgueuil?  Or the 16th arrondissement? Why not cross the Seine and have fun in the Left Bank?)

Since the action was taking place just a few blocks away from my place, I grabbed my coat and ran out. It was around 11 pm. By then I had already received some text/Whatsapp messages from friends and family who, when apprised of my intention to go to the Bataclan concert hall, tried to dissuade me. But there was no way I was going to experience the events vicariously on a small screen when I could witness them live.

The next few hours will probably never be erased from my memory. In the cold fall night I stood and watched as the elite security squads forced their way in using their guns in deafening noise, soon to be followed by explosions as the terrorists blew themselves up. Then the sad sight of bodies being retrieved. My phone battery died but I managed to shoot (no pun intended) a couple of videos and take some pictures. I'll never forget the distraught young man whose two brothers were inside the Bataclan (where I had been many times for some popular parties) and who tried to go in but was restrained by the cops (I later heard they had both died).


Few people managed to sleep that night in the neighborhood, or in the city. The next morning I woke up early and went back to see the remains of the carnage: the sad pair of shoes of a concert goer who never suspected that his Friday fun would put an end to his life. Still-fresh blood on the pavement was a reminder of the horror that took place just a few hours ago.
Apologies for the gory details but sometimes you need to
face reality head-on

People were too shocked to engage in meaningful and rational discourse. But some questions were being asked and the government's official version challenged:

- Some claimed that many who died didn't die at the hands of the attackers but as side effect of the police action - collateral damage, they'd call it in the US (but the supine press won't tell you about it.)
- Also, how come that for the second time in a year, and even more spectacularly, terrorists were allowed to operate freely in France?
-Was this timed for the the looming key regional election where the incompetent government headed by the Clown-in-Chief; François Hollande, is expected to suffer a big defeat? (I watched him on TV and his incompetence was eerily reminiscent of Gerge W. Bush as captured in Fahrenheit 9/11: both "leaders" showing they were not up to the task)
- Should France continue to target IS (Islamic State - not Information Systems) in Syria, if IS can retaliate so easily and spectacularly in France?

A victim's scattered sad belongings:
A testimony to the horror  that took place a couple of hours ago

The media vultures were all over the place and I was flabbergasted to see their reporters interviewing basically anybody who walked up to them and served them any cock-and-bull story. A Spanish anchorwoman basically bought lock, stock and barrel what was clearly the rants of an old woman who kept on referring to the Second World War. Other reporters fed their audience the asinine comments that all of us will later lap up while watching TV. A wise neighbor told me, "The only group who knows less than reporters is the government: and the little they know, they are not telling us." Couldn't disagree with him, since the entire French political class has lost the last shreds of respect from the citizenry. They can't fix the environment, but spend billions organizing a useless COP21 jamboree whose only function is to serve as a political marketing ploy for the government (regional elections were undemocratically pushed back to help the moron masquerading as French president win a few votes with the event's reflected glory). They can't fix the economy, nor unemployment now at record levels, and even less immigration. At least we thought they could keep us safe but, as this year's events are proving, the political class is also proving to be an abject failure at security. So, why are we putting up with them much longer? Shouldn't such low performers have been discarded long ago? Beats me.  

In moments like these, scared people give the impression of rallying behind the "leader" who has no idea in what direction to lead us. But deep down inside of them, most know it is hopeless.


Last night, I took the metro around 10 pm and was deeply shocked to find it empty. I was born here and have never seen an empty metro on a Saturday night. The streets were equally empty, reminding me of that Friday in the early 90s when I was living in New York City and we were told at noon to go home because of the fear the Rodney King riots from Los Angeles would spill over in Manhattan. Last night in Paris I was eerily reminded of that distant Friday when I walked from the UN building towards Grand Central Station and the greatest city on earth was deserted in anticipation of possible mayhem. But in ghost-town Paris disaster had already struck. And will strike again. No solution is in sight.

Poor Paris.

Poor France.

(Except for the Christ the Redeemer picture, all photos and videos by the blogger)

Friday, October 9, 2015

Burying the bad, sad joke of Safe Harbor and what it means for cloud users and vendors


Apart from famous Mozart and infamous Hitler, Austria is not known for its oversupply of men who will leave their mark on mankind. Since this week we must add to the list Max Schrems who, with admirable boldness, stamina and single-mindedness, has convinced the European Court of Justice to pull the plug on the charade that the so-called EU-US Safe Harbor agreement was.

For those of you who hear about Safe Harbor for the first time, suffice it to say that it was a cosy arrangement whereby (mainly US) technology firms pretended to ensure their customer data were safe (especially from an increasingly nosy US government) and European governments and companies pretended to believe them.

Enter the young Austrian and things will never be the same again. Although an early and enthusiastic advocate of the cloud, I have repeatedly warned my Europe-based clients that going with a US cloud vendor now entails significant data-privacy risks. This does not mean you should stop considering Salesforce or Workday, but you should be aware of the risks posed by your employee and customer  data being siphoned off to the US and finding their way to a competitor – or worse. One of the largest European manufacturers, whose only competitor is based in the US, is about to move from SAP HR to a cloud solution (NDA commitments prevent me from mentioning the client's name). It has the option of either sticking with its well-known vendor and adopting SuccessFactors, or picking HR's favorite, Workday (with Cornerstone for LMS.) The option is therefore between a comforting European vendor and two US vendors which could pose a significant risk since this client's business is basically a duopoly between them and the American competitor.

European hero
Let’s not be naïve. Industrial espionage is a reality and just like European governments try and help their companies win new markets so does Uncle Sam. Except that the US government  has at its disposal cutting –edge technology and an arsenal of acts of  Congress that gives it unparalleled  power to do basically what it wants. If the US government had the moral stature of the Dalai Lama we probably wouldn’t worry. Unfortunately, trust in the US government (never very high to start with - remember Nixon, the Criminal-in-Chief of the 1970s?) has been steadily eroded by the Bush and Obama administrations’ continual assaults on public freedoms and individual rights.

In Europe, whose contribution to civilization includes the two most powerful totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, we take data privacy way more seriously than across the Pond. Hence the Safe Harbor agreement we insisted on for lack of a better alternative. Except that the agreement soon turned out not to be worth the paper on which it was written, as we realized that technology firms’ self-certification didn’t amount to much.

With Safe Harbor now in tatters, we have a unique opportunity to fix this issue in a more credible way. One key demand of Europe which must be met is to put an end to America’s extra-territorial laws. Just as European laws cannot apply in the US, the arm of American law cannot extend beyond its shores. Facebook/Google/Apple/Amazon/Workday/Salesforce/Microsoft must NOT be forced by US courts to hand over data stored offshore. (Hats off to Microsoft for steadfastly refusing to comply with orders to hand over European customer data) User organizations must insist on their data being stored in their own region with full guarantees that no access from the US would be allowed.  Of course, this is easier asked for than complied with. If a vendor’s California-based support technician accesses a   European customer’s system to fix an issue,  the data may well find itself replicated on a US server where it would fall under US jurisdiction. (And careful about that spreadsheet of employee bonuses being emailed from a European office to a manager in the US - that may no longer be legal).

At Cornerstone's Convergence event in London this week, I asked their founder and CEO, Adam Miller about it. He promised they would never transfer European customers' data to the US.
"What if a  US court requests you to hand over the data? Will you refuse to comply?"
"We will not  hand the data over, because it is not  ours. It is our customers'," Adam replied categorically.

I always find it very entertaining to see some SaaS vendors insist that, during implementation, all customer data to be migrated can only be  sent via a secured, encrypted STP server, never by email or a thumb drive in order to ensure system integrator (SI) consultants never have  a copy of your data. Well.... Many screens or reports can easily be exported in Excel or PDF format on a desktop or laptop. No SI checks at the end of the day that their consultants’ laptops are clean. Nor do they prevent external hard drives being hooked up to their computers.

My advice to my clients: be vigilant. Model clauses are a way to go, but may not be enough.  Know what is at risk, what you can live with and what you can’t. And challenge your cloud vendor. Tell them that being compliant with their home government is fine, and even mandatory in many cases, as long as it doesn’t adversely affect you. But one thing's for sure: with this landmark ruling , data privacy in Europe will no longer be the bed of roses it has been for American vendors. Their cost of doing business has clearly gone up one notch.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The pipe dream of Catalan independence

The ugly face of intimidation
Many a balcony in Catalonia are adorned with
the would-be-independent state flag.
Strangely enough, you rarely see the Spanish flag
A frequent visitor to this vibrant Mediterranean city for two decades, it is high time I gave my two cents on the madness of Catalonia's independence project. Reading the headlines-obsessed and shallow international press I realize few people understand what is really going on.

The independence movement is led (and  fed) mainly by Artur Mas, the president (equivalent to a US governor) of Catalonia, who in countless press and TV interviews whines about the innumerable alleged sufferings Catalans have had to suffer at the hand of "Spaniards" and the profound unfairness of Scotland being allowed a referendum and not his "country" (he conveniently forgets that Scotland voted against independence, anyway.)

Well, let me set the record straight and explain in layman's terms why Catalonia's breakaway project is sheer madness, unjustified by historical,linguistic, economic, legal and political facts. 

First of all, Scotland was for centuries an independent country, recognized as such by all of Europe. Were Scotland to become independent it would just go back to what it once was; actually, throughout its long history, Scotland spent more time as an independent country than as part of the UK. Catalonia, on  the other hand, was never an independent country. At one point in time there was a small territory headed by the counts of Barcelona (hence the nickname Ciudad Condal) but it was soon part of the larger kingdom of Aragon which merged with Castile in the late 15th century to give birth  to Spain as we know it. 

Artur Mas and his antiquated  Nationalists, who feel nothing about inventing a mythical Catalan kingdom, then proceed to rewrite history by portraying the siege of Barcelona (which took place exactly 300 years ago - Europeans have long memories) as another manifestation of the Spanish state oppressing poor Catalans. That day is now celebrated as a "national" day in Catalonia to remind Catalans of how long "Spain" has been oppressing them. Pure hogwash. Barcelona was attacked not because it was a center of Catalan culture which had to be destroyed as the official propaganda would lead you to believe, but because it took sides in the conflict between the two claimants to the Spanish throne  in what became known as The War of Spanish Succession. Any other Spanish city opposing the new king would have suffered the same fate, so it had nothing to do with being Catalan. But Catalan nationalists would stop at nothing to paint themselves as victims and create fanciful grievances. Such victimization, in which a couple of generations of Catalans have been indoctrinated through the nationalist parties' control of education, fears no ridicule: Catalonia is Spain's richest region. How can they claim with a straight face that they are oppressed by the rest of Spain? Where on God's good earth have you ever seen the poor oppressing the rich? Only in Catalonia!

Then, we have the language question. A big argument for the independence movement is that Catalonia is different from the rest of Spain because it has its own language. As arguments go this one doesn't fly very high. Switzerland has four languages (read my blog post on Switzerland ), is way smaller than Spain and yet never thought of splitting up in four countries. In addition, and this is something few people inside and outside of Spain know, a majority of Catalans (55%) have Spanish as ...their native language! Catalan is spoken as a native language by only 33% of Catalonia residents. In other terms, the Catalan language is a minority language in its own "country". If it were to break away from Spain, Catalonia would be one of the few countries on earth where the national language is a minority language. Actually, talking about alleged oppression, if anybody is being oppressed in Catalonia it is the majority Spanish speakers who are forced to live with public signs in Catalan only. Walk around Barcelona and you will see everything written in Catalan. Prick up your ears and all you will hear is Spanish. Why not bilingual signs? What's wrong?

Catalan schizophrenia:
A rare sight in Catalonia: a bilingual sign.
Usually, public notices, billboards and street
signs are in Catalan, but in Barcelona and many
other places all you hear is...Spanish!

 Finally, let's go back to the Scots example Artur Mas is so fond of, except that the Scottish referendum was agreed upon with the British government; it was in full compliance with British laws. For me who lived a year in Scotland exactly three decades ago, I can't see anything wrong about it. But Catalonia's independence would fly in the face of the Spanish Constitution which clearly prevents secession. At last week's regional election, Mas & Co promised that should they win they would launch an independence process. Another proof of how these dishonest politicians are misleading their people is that they do not have the legal power to declare independence. This is as if I would wake up one morning and go to the office declaring I would raise everybody's salary by 10%. A laudable idea, no doubt, but for which I have no powers since I am neither head of HR or CFO. Any regional government in Spain can make decisions on transportation, education, language policies etc because these fall within their remit; however, the Catalan parliament and government cannot declare independence because that decision is reserved to the whole nation of Spain. It is a mark of the Catalan nationalist parties' that they are promising the people something they cannot lawfully deliver. They may not like the fact that they are in Spain, but they are. And as long as they are they have to comply with the law of the land. That's called democracy and the rule of law.

I don't want to sound too legalistic, but if Artur Mas and his bunch of loonies just stopped and  thought for a second they'd see that their independent Catalonia would suffer from the sins of its birth. If,  when it was part of Spain, Catalonia refused to follow its rules, why should its new citizens follow its own rules? They could say, "Oh well, I don't feel like sharing my taxes with the Catalan government, so I'll just  keep them to myself." What would prevent some parts of Catalonia (at last week's election, 52% of Catalans voted against pro-independence parties) to stay with Spain? Artur Mas & Co base their case on self-determination, but they wouldn't recognize that right for others.  

The reason we came to such a situation is because morally, politically and ideologically bankrupt Catalan nationalist leaders decided a while ago to whip up nationalist fervor to reach the ultimate goal of full power by becoming in charge of an independent country. After all, it is way sexier to be the head of an independent state, hobnobbing with the British queen and the French president, having a seat at the UN and considered an equal in the concert of nations than just a lowly regional premier. If achieving that aim means manipulating history, falsifying reality, indoctrinating citizens in an artificial sense of victimization, so be it, these power-hungry and unscrupulous Catalan nationalists are saying. 

Another comparison with Scotland doesn't paint the Catalan independence loonies in a favorable light. Whereas Scottish nationalists would make their case purely on why they felt Scotland would be better off as an independent state with no animosity towards the English or British governments (they even want to keep the Queen as head of state), Artur Mas & Co never miss an opportunity to hurl abuse at, and show their hatred of, the rest of Spain in what is clearly an insane fundamentalist campaign. Nationalism is indeed the last refuge of scoundrels.

Let me me very clear: as a multicultural person, fluent in five languages, a globe trotter and a great defender of individual  rights, I have no issue with an independent Catalonia or Barcelona or Ensanche (the latter is a lovely Art Nouveau neighborhood of Barcelona which goes by two names - the Catalan version is Eixample.) As long as the rule of law is obeyed, as it was in Scotland, one would have to accept it. And there is a legal solution. National elections will take place in a  couple of months. No political party is expected to gain a majority, meaning that a coalition will be in order. Let Catalan parties work with others to reach a consensus on changing the Spanish constitution to allow secession.  Then a referendum can be organized and, if won, then Catalonia can go its own way, in a democratic, legal, clean way. But of course power-hungry Artur Mas & Co want a messy  adventure, only then can they flourish. In an orderly, rational process people would see through them and vote against independence realizing quite rightly that there is more to lose than to gain from it.

Politically, especially geopolitically, the Catalan independence movement has an uphill battle before it. There are no cases of a successful breakaway territory without outside help. And that outside interference is not happening, as neither the EU nor the US have any interest in a  weakened Spain. The EU does not want to open the Pandora's box of disintegration of the European sovereign state system (part of the insane project would be to grant Catalan citizenship to all Catalan speakers in the neighboring Spanish regions of Valencia and Aragon, the Balearic Islands and even in southern France) and, since Catalonia cannot show any evidence of severe human rights violation or central-government oppression, there is no case for international involvement. European leaders, starting with Angela Merkel, have been very clear: Spain is a democracy and its laws must be obeyed by all. Should Catalonia leave Spain illegally and unilaterally it would find itself outside of the euro and the European Union. Would they be better off? I doubt it.  Felipe Gonzalez compared Catalan separatistas to Nazis and got a lot of flak for it. I understand perfectly well what he meant. Of course, Artur Mas & Co are not about to start roasting Spanish Unionists in ovens. But with their sense of superiority, that their problems are the result of others ("Spaniards" are their Jews), along with the linguistic cleansing they are conducting all over the region, Gonzalez sure has a point. 

Spain has got too many serious problems (the recovery from its worst economic crisis in decades is still fragile) that it doesn't need to compound them with false ones. Let's hope that a new coalition would come to power next December and settle this matter once and for all. But I'm afraid I can't be too optimistic: the Catalan issue will always lurk in a corner, ready to rear its ugly head whenever given the opportunity.

Great play at the Tivoli Theatre, right off the Plaza de Cataluña.
I use the Spanish version of the square, the way many
barceloneses  say "Consejo de Ciento" even though
the street sign says "Consell de Cent. "
(The blogger is spending a long weekend in the Barcelona province. An unusual weekend where the sun made itself scarce and rain was a daily occurrence with strong waves. Are the higher powers shedding tears on the current situation? I took the opportunity to go to the theater and see a terrific play, Escenas de la vida conyugal, with Ricardo Darin, Argentina's most famous actor, and his fellow countrywoman, Erica Rivas, who delivered an astounding performance in this adaptation of the Ingmar Bergman movie Scenes from a Marriage. The play was of course in Spanish, as befits this great Spanish-language city, home to the country's publishing business. Interestingly enough in today's El Pais there was an article by Mario Vargas Llosa on Carmen Balcells, Spain's most famous literary agent who died  recently: she was a Catalan and instrumental in popularizing Spanish fiction from Spain and Latin America.) 

(This is the latest in a series of country posts, of which several focus on Spain, a country close to my heart. One of my most popular posts is "1992-2012: My 20-Year Affair with Spain": As of today it has been viewed 7,577 times making it the third-most popular of my posts, and the first not business related)

(All pictures by the blogger. All rights reserved)

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cor(e)nerstone HR right around the corner (UPDATED)

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!

UPDATE OCT. 12, 2015: At last week’s Convergence event in London, Cornerstone took the wraps off their new core HR offering with an interesting positioning: called Link, this new product is not supposed to be a traditional Core HR (or HR Admin) product. According to the company’s CEO, Adam Miller, Core HR as we’ve known it, courtesy of SAP/Oracle/Peoplesoft/Workday et al., is simply outdated. 2/3 of  companies don’t need a global HRIS or Core HR  anymore, he claims, since the value of any HR system is in talent, so the user profile (which is being beefed up in Link to interface to/from third party systems) is way sufficient. Interestingly, one of their customers I chatted with (French banking giant BNP Paribas -who once upon a time ran PeopleSoft) agrees and have interfaced their various payroll systems and CSOD modules to a Link-like home-grown light core HR.

BNP Paribas seems to agree with Cornerstone's vision -
but without its product

This strategy is clearly targeting Workday (not to mention legacy vendors). Will it work? Will a significant market segment buy into it? I find the idea seductive, even conceptually alluring as I told Adam Miller and the other analysts/influencers at our get-together, but the market has been formatted for so long  into thinking a global HRIS is a key requirement that unless CSOD shows  compelling vision and strong thought leadership I don’t see this really taking off. And somewhere in the back of my mind there is this nagging doubt that this vision is self-serving and born more out of necessity than design. Could this strategy be the result of CSOD’s inability to build the deep/robust functionality that are part of Core HR, as well as  Payroll, Benefits, Time, all requiring strong process expertise which CSOD currentlly does not possess? (Check the Link datasheet - although there is no pricing yet.) 

On a side note, I was gratified to see that in his keynote address Adam Miller followed my advice and announced they were now dropping On Demand from the company name.   

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)