• Infrastructure is Dead, Long Live Infrastructure!

    If you have worked in the infrastructure and software installation business for Oracle EPM and BI over the last ten years, it may look like tough times ahead. With Oracle driving business to flood the market with Cloud solutions, the number of clients signing up for new installations of on-prem Hyperion products is also drying up. Oracle sales teams are highly incentivized to push for Cloud first sales. The opportunities are not gone but they are dwindling so competition for the same on-prem work is high. Oracle is working to turn off the spigot whether we like it or not.

    Many professional services companies will find it hard to justify keeping a large team of pure EPM infrastructure resources on the bench. With utilization and margins dropping, waiting for new business opportunities also doesn't make much sense. Margins aren't really made in consulting until the end of the week so if your utilization is consistently below 50% don't expect to stay put long unless you are also involved with business development or operations.

    Professional services firms that work with Oracle EPM are in the middle of a transition. Your practice leaders' hands are tied. They are forced to adapt and it is not just limited to infrastructure work. Oracle's own strategy and lack of interest in selling on-prem has made it so.

    All is Not Lost

    It is anyone's guess if (and when) on-prem infrastructure for EPM will actually (or mostly) die. It seems clear that Oracle is all in on Cloud. So what should you do if you have spent the last 5 or more years of your career installing, configuring and optimizing on-prem software?

    It feels like I get these questions more and more from infrastructure-focused peers and I have had time to reflect. If I were in your shoes, what would I do? Where would I go next? What follows are my opinions about the options that I might consider. I'm not going to bother prioritizing them because everyone's situation is different. Reflect on them for yourself. Hopefully these will help you crystallize your own path forward.

    Test the Self-Employed Waters

    Not everyone is cut out for the independent life. I get it. But with so many consulting companies moving to implement various SaaS / Cloud platforms they will begin to cut loose or re-educate their infrastructure resources to support new platforms. When this happens, those same companies will inevitably scramble to find resources when on-prem EPM infrastructure opportunities do come up. When this happens there will be sub-contracting opportunities.

    After all, who is going to take care of ALL of the existing on-prem customers when most of the consulting partners finally make the leap to Cloud solutions?

    If you can steel yourself, move to build up a stream of work for yourself. You may eventually find that you can live a great life as an independent consultant. Your overhead as a sole-proprietor will be much less than that of a larger consulting firm. If the rates are right you may even find that 3-6 months of full-time work every year is sustainable.

    Your best bet if you want to stay in EPM infrastructure as an independent consultant would be to set yourself up with (five or more) sub-contract relationships to other consulting firms. Those with EPM practices who are Oracle Gold or Platinum partners are a good bet.

    Retainers or direct projects with past clients who still use on-prem EPM software and need infrastructure services are also great to keep on your short list. As an independent consultant you need to consistently mine your contacts and stay in touch with your friends and former clients.

    If you have a good reputation to build upon and contacts spread around at many companies, then use your network. The work will eventually come your way. But it isn't going to happen all at once. You have to make your presence and availability known. Be bold. Ask around. Be smart about your billable rates. Once you have a stream of revenue coming in you will have a lot more runway than you think to get from one project to the next.

    If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them

    On-prem infrastructure is slowly drying up but this is a little more like a water bed than rain falling in the desert. Oracle just laid the 800-pound gorilla on your side of the bed. The EPM infrastructure work is still there but its has been relocated to the other side. Oracle is focused on selling cloud solutions. Those servers, installations, configurations, and applications are still out there but now they are in Oracle's data centers. (Keep an eye out for job opportunities at Oracle.)

    It might be a long shot but if you get connected with someone inside Oracle, you may find opportunities on the tangible infrastructure side of the cloud. You have years of practical experience configuring enterprise-grade software. Use this to your advantage. I haven't spent time looking for jobs at Oracle but this just makes sense. If Oracle is taking on responsibility for a growing number of customers and applications then they will eventually need to beef up their own infrastructure and operations teams.

    Look for Work With Industry Focused Partners

    Some industries and clients are less inclined to jump into the cloud. Look for consulting companies that do work in those highly regulated industries or with the companies that have a large volume of data and massive application stacks to maintain. You may find that these consulting firms are more likely to need infrastructure resources because they deal with the customers that Oracle can't steer into the cloud just now.

    Believe it or not, some of Oracle's EPM solutions are still on-prem only (for a little while anyways) and you should find infrastructure work where those projects are happening. Financial Services is a good example of this. One product of the Oracle Financial Services Analytic Applications (OFSAA) stack is called Balance Sheet Planning (or just BSP.) BSP is built on the Oracle EPM stack and it is integrated with some of Oracle's older OFSAA code. With a minimal amount of training / understanding of how BSP needs to be configured you can transition to installing and configuring EPM at banks, for example, to support BSP.

    This is also a specialized platform so infrastructure resources that understand the differences in how BSP works vs. traditional Oracle EPM architecture (and how to layout and install the products); those folks will be desirable. OFSAA itself is huge. While you are installing BSP you should take some time to learn about OFSAA deployments. Do so and you will keep yourself busy there for a long time. You should look for consulting companies that implement EPM solutions with the Financial Services Organizations that are north of 5-10 billion in size.

    I've seen banks with assets under five billion running their IT department with two guys and a truck. Anything smaller and this option will probably be a dead end for you since they just are not big enough to justify a system as complex as OFSAA or BSP.

    Shift to Other Cloud Hosting Partners

    Instead of professional services, you might consider working with companies that focus on 3rd party hosting of software and infrastructure. These partners make their living off of infrastructure services so your skills will be applicable. Customers that Oracle cannot flip to the Cloud but whom are still looking to reduce their internal IT footprint will be in the market for such hosting services.

    If you are used to (or just prefer) the consulting life then this may not be a slam dunk for you. This business model usually comes with a flavor of managed services that means IT support and service level agreements to be met. But if you want a low-friction transition or you have been displaced then this might be a good place to look for work. Another positive with this option might be opportunities for remote work.

    Except for the larger hosting partners who can afford the capital expenses to build their own data centers, I expect many of these firms to co-locate their servers. This should translate into remote administration or telecommuting opportunities.

    Last But Not Least

    Finally, if sticking with EPM infrastructure doesn't seem likely for you then you may want to consider updating your technology skills to move in a different direction. Some ideas I have had over the years include:

    • Integration and data architecture
    • Big-data, streaming data pipelines, Etc.
    • AWS infrastructure (and similar) architecture
    • Oracle EPM functional or application development skills
    • Moving back to industry in an IT organization
    • Anything else in technology you are passionate about

    I don't expect the current Cloud hosting offerings to completely overtake the market anytime soon. There are too many complex customer-specific environment issues to address. Hopefully the ideas above give you some fuel to move forward and comfort that this isn't the end. Whether or not the Cloud solutions offered by vendors like Oracle permanently displace internal IT remains to be seen. I encourage you to look ahead to new opportunities and wish you the best of luck in your own journey.

    Cheers.

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Justin Biard

Working with computers / technology for 20+ years and just scratching the surface... (Opinions are my own)

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