During RECONNECT 20, Cameron McClurg, Managing Director with SpearMC’s Seattle office, and Gary Dranikoski, Director of SpearMC in Pittsburgh, presented best practices for the PeopleSoft services they employ at SpearMC – including application support, hosting, and Testing as a Service.
SpearMC has been in the PeopleSoft space since the company’s birth in 2004-2005. A few years ago, when Oracle partners in the PeopleSoft sphere determined to go all-in in other areas, the decision-makers at SpearMC doubled down on PeopleSoft. They refocused their efforts for a variety of reasons. They liked where Oracle was headed with respect to Applications Unlimited, supporting PeopleSoft, and enhancing PeopleSoft. They continue to feel that moving PeopleSoft to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure can extend the life in a model that adds value to the organization, where organizations can license the software and keep ongoing costs low, but also leverage the best parts of Cloud Infrastructure.
SpearMC offers hosting services, helps customers make the move to the Cloud, and supports the on-premise organizations not yet ready to make the shift. The company is certified and specialized in PeopleSoft, with offices located all over the country.
Below is a brief list of the services offered by SpearMC Consulting:
- PeopleSoft Hosting on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure
- PeopleSoft FSCM, HCM, SCM, Grants Healthcare Research
- PeopleSoft and Tools Training
- PUM Update and Testing Service
- PeopleSoft Reseller since 2008
- PTF and Test Automation
- Oracle Hyperion and Cloud EPM
- Oracle Business Intelligence
- PeopleSoft Managed Services
The presentation by McClurg and Dranikoski included best practices for application design, infrastructure, automated testing, and case studies.
PeopleSoft Managed Services Best Practices
Best Practices in Application Design
Instead of considering how to answer support needs better, first focus on minimizing support needs. To do this, apply intuitive design, provide self-service help, and leverage emerging tech.
For intuitive design, minimize the complexity, eliminating special requirements to create streamlined processes. Second, leverage features that will tailor the application to your organization without customizing. You don’t have to completely get rid of everything, but you can modify the user experience with tools such as Page and Field Configurator, and still be update safe. It can be done in a way that will not create technical debt for you in the future. Lastly, bring your offline forms and processes into PeopleSoft. Offline processes create an outside of PeopleSoft infrastructure, requiring additional people and training for use. This is a legacy way of looking at things, and it does not provide self-service for customers.
Specific to Page and Field Configurator, you can make fields required, assign default values, and rename fields without customizing the page. Traditionally this would be a customization. In the new world, it is configuration and completely update safe. You can also clean up and remove fields that are not necessary for use.
In considering the offline process, the form below was built for tuition reimbursement. This is one example of building forms in PeopleSoft. As you build it, the process comes onto one platform for the user’s self-service. There is also the ability for data validation. The department can be pre-validated. The user will not be able to submit something until it is pre-validated. The data must be valid, and the transaction must be approved. This is a significant improvement over any current processes where all of that validation has to happen in AP. Validation takes time. Time equals money with respect to labor costs. Leverage technology to bring offline processes into PeopleSoft using Forms and Approval to decrease labor costs.
In terms of self-help, there is an inverse relationship between the help that you provide to people in an automated fashion and the support costs. If you do less self-help support, your support costs will go up. One thing that SpearMC does is provide self-help so that the user can answer their own questions. The bottom line is you can lower those needs.
The concept of related content is under-utilized. It is delivered and can be enhanced. The button for related content brings up more information related to the transaction. Related actions are available, as are Help options. By embedding contextual help information into the related actions, you provide support and minimize needs.
SpearMC enjoys using Captivate for Self Help. Captivate allows them to capture training elements and videos. The Learning tile takes you into a pre-built Navigation collection with self-help. Pop-ups explain exactly how to do the work. This information can be contextualized and tailored to your organization. The concept is to provide automated self-help.
PeopleSoft and Oracle are providing tons in terms of emerging technology. Chatbots automate the ability to answer questions for end users. Within PeopleSoft, users repetitively ask questions such as:
- What is my vacation balance?
- Where is my requisition?
- When is that shipment going to arrive?
- Who reports to who in terms of HR?
Chatbots can answer these questions as preset functions currently delivered to you by Oracle. If you think about these as a way to minimize support requests and the internal need for a person to answer these questions, you can leverage technology to minimize support needs.
You are looking to get the most out of your service desk. The first step to achieving this is to centralize your platform for issue management. Find a technology that captures the information, allows search, and pulls updates and reports. Secondly, focus on your communications protocol and schedule. Think through how to get information out to your users, and how users might find the status of a ticket. Thirdly, determine your process for prioritizing work. Finally, recognize that your knowledge base demands attention. A lot of information is in your service desk software. How do you get that information out? Make sure everyone in your organization has access to it.
When you are selecting a service desk software, you’ll want to look at five main areas of interest.
- Cost-Effectiveness: Where are the licensing fees? Can customers access it without paying a fee?
- Ease of Set-Up and Use: What is the effort to get this up and running? Is it customizable, simple, and intuitive?
- Scalability: Can you spin up additional projects with similar configurations? Can you re-use workflows?
- Time Tracking: Is there a way to tie hours to a person, ticket, or activity?
- Integration with Other Products: Can you share information with customers, developers, and the service desk? Are APIs available?
SpearMC found Jira Service Desk to be the winning service desk software for their organization’s specific needs. It took a few weeks to set it up.
A workflow for tickets is displayed below. Delivered workflows simplify or use standard terminology. The terminology in the diagram, such as “pending migration,” was selected because of the specific needs of SpearMC.
Tracking time per ticket is available, as shown below.
Jira Service Desk provides a real-time support metrics dashboard. You need the ability to report on what is happening in your system. Data such as open issues and tickets is important. Even more usable, however, is the breakdown of that data. You can build custom visualizations with Kibana on the dashboard.
Best Practices for Infrastructure
What does infrastructure have to do with best practices with support? PeopleSoft Cloud Manager automates and makes efficient your lifecycle management. SpearMC’s Cloudshift includes:
- Needs Analysis, Planning, Sizing, Pricing
- Lift and Shift (or Move and Improve)
- Cloud Manager Configuration
- Full Lifecycle Management
- DR, Scaling Storage/Performance, and Security
The real secret sauce is PeopleSoft Cloud Manager, which automates the lifecycle and helps manage instances, replicating and creating new environments, and managing cost. With respect to managing your PeopleSoft instances, any server in your PeopleSoft stack can both be scaled up (increasing RAM, CPU, etc.) and out (more instances). That vertical scaling increases the performance of online transactions for your users, which will reduce support needs. Horizontal scaling can add extra servers such as web servers, application servers, and process scheduler. Load balancing occurs, and you’ll no longer have to buy an F5 such as with on-premise.
By managing your lifecycle through OCI, you can be more responsive to needs, even incrementally scaling up or down to effectively manage costs.
Another cost-saving approach stands in contrast to the “Smart” redundancy that several on-premise customers tend to want built into their system. However, with respect to disaster recovery, an always-online isn’t always necessary. If your PeopleSoft is used for back-office, usually it is not a live or revenue-generating system and does not necessitate 24/7 backup.
By creating a DR stack and keeping it in standby, you can reduce costs. Keep it offline with synchronization technology. It can be brought back up at a moment’s notice. This is not necessarily high availability, but you can invoke high availability by keeping the stack online at all times. SpearMC finds that most customers do not want high availability. They simply desire a backup in case they ever need it. Oracle Cloud allows you to do that in a way that reduces your support costs.
PeopleSoft Cloud Manager also allows you to turn a test stack on and off. You will want to create scripting that manages turning the secondary stack on and off. By scripting, you can take your test stack from 24 hours per day to 8-10 hours per day, resulting in up to 60 percent reduction of costs of this individual infrastructure stack. This feature is currently available.
Best Practices for Automated Testing
PeopleSoft Test Framework is the means for replacing manual testing with automation to execute unit testing, migration testing, regression testing with less effort. This service is offered through SpearMC and straight from PeopleSoft. Use test automation for PeopleSoft ERP to:
- Cost-effectively implement selective adoption and regulatory patches
- Enable more frequent PUM applications (adding to your business value)
- Standardize testing and results across all environments and releases
- Reduce cost and time for testing production releases
To implement PTF, you’ll follow the cycle below:
At SpearMC, test libraries are already available for testing as a service. You can build upon them as new PUMs become available.
Parkview Health hired SpearMC about one year ago. The Parkview Health team was looking for:
- PeopleSoft experience + a track record supporting other Healthcare organizations
- Cost-effective contract with flexibility
- A fresh approach to support— more than technical break fixes
- Tools, processes, and other services including
- Integrated processes
- Extensive knowledge transfer
- Modern helpdesk software
Initially, SpearMC set out to take over applications support. They looked to reduce support costs per hour. They began by understanding the Parkview Health process. Through the work that SpearMC put in, they were able to reduce support costs by 15 percent.
Secondly, SpearMC aimed to leverage the data collected to address hotspots. From the data collected and the Kibana visuals used for analysis, it was evident that Parkview Health needed to go through a PeopleTools update. SpearMC also created a roadmap to eliminate recurring issues. Through these actions, there was a 20 percent reduction in new and recurring issues.
First Financial Northwest Bank
First Financial Northwest Bank is another SpearMC customer. Previously, they were not running PeopleSoft. Instead, they were on a Cloud financial accounting system (SAAS) that gave them zero access to data, timing, and overall control. Northwest Bank hoped to replace it with:
- PeopleSoft Licensing
- Managed Services
- Rapid Implementation
- Turnkey Vendor
The organization was upfront that they had no interest in getting into the ERP business. They did not want on-premise servers. First Financial Northwest Bank simply wanted to be users of a stay-current system. SpearMC implemented this for them, including a hosting model from which SpearMC actually manages PeopleSoft on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure for them. The customer is able to leverage the scalability, performance, and security of cloud infrastructure to achieve the following benefits:
- Secure pipeline
- Robust disaster recovery
First Financial Northwest Bank is able to enjoy the benefits of Software as a Service (SaaS), meaning there are no on-premise servers or significant IT personnel needs, while also getting to control when and how they take on new features.
Apply these best practices to your application design, automated testing, and infrastructure, or seek help from SpearMC in this process. SpearMC offers 24/7 support, tactical services, functional support writing new features, and more for their customers. This presentation was primarily about how they manage services and how you can manage services as well through PeopleSoft.
McClurg emphasized confusion over competing consulting companies that urge their customers not to update. The idea of not taking advantage of the latest and greatest offerings, which you are already paying for, does not compute. SpearMC takes an opposite approach, and your best practice is to do the same.