Cloud Solution Hubs are interwoven into Oracle's fabric: Hamza Jahangir Credit: OracleSupplied Art
Business Management

Cloud Solution Hubs are interwoven into Oracle's fabric: Hamza Jahangir

Hamza Jahangir spearheads Oracle’s innovative concept of Cloud Solution Hub across the globe. Launched a couple of years ago in Bangalore (India), the Cloud Solution Hub has grown to five centers (or hubs) of developers and engineers that work on solutions for organizations intending to modernize and transform their businesses using the Oracle offerings mainly Oracle Cloud. IDG India had a detailed interaction with Hamza Jahangir, group vice president, Cloud Solution Hub, Oracle at the company’s HQ at SFO on the momentum around these hubs to accentuate Oracle’s strategy in the modern technology world.

 Edited Excerpts

The cloud solution hubs under your leadership are changing Oracle’s culture and workforce more towards innovation, rapid engineering and customer success. How did it all start? 

I picked multiple cities for the project in India and in the process inherited 30 to 40 people around two and a half years ago in Bangalore. The team was more like an offshore centre back in 2016 timeframe. With this kind of talent operating more of a back office it didn't provide the speed at which we need to move today. The hub concept I started in 2017 with 40 odd team has grown to over 250 people through a massive hiring exercise, and importantly making sure they feel that we are truly investing in growth for them.  

Everything is 100 percent standardized as these cloud solution hubs are in a way, a single model. Every hub essentially is built around ‘world is flat’ concept as there’s a certain level of standardization of - skill set, hiring, way they work – as they're building exactly the equivalent use cases. Currently we have cloud solution hubs in Austin, Texas; Reston, Virginia; Burlington, Massachusetts and Santa Monica, California and Bangalore, India. This model covers all of our major time zones in the US, and we get Bangalore to give follow-the-sun. 

Most of the US hubs have 60 to 70 people. With the scale of Bangalore hub, we can start flexing some muscle and start experimenting to turn India more into a proof-of-concept specialized center of excellence. The people working with our customer base have quick conversations to understand their problem and build something quick. But a lot of customers after the interaction cycle, want very specific requirements from us which could take a week, two weeks to build, and that POC may be a two-month, three-month exercise. 

Center of Excellence (CoE) is the new normal of technology world. Do these hubs double up as CoE or are they pure R&D labs? 

Neither. Cloud Solution Hubs is the new entity to engage with customers technically. CoEs or R&D innovation centers have the connotation to do more science experiments, and not practical as of today's problem-solving kind of a mentality. We focus on innovation that a customer can adopt in the next 12 months for example or immediately, but let's say a year of change management. When we started with a small team some of the early solutions were virtual reality in a training room, and with analytics one could touch and drill down into the pie chart. That’s eye candy for sure, but no customer is actually ready, probably for the next three years, to start making VR mainstream in their business, at least not that many customers I see. 

We paired with things for our employees to enjoy and grow their skills. We've partitioned it as they can go play (experiment) for 10 percent of time. But we still have to solve problems for our customers to get value from Oracle. We have other organizations at Oracle that act as pure COE or R&D centre but we (Cloud Solution Hubs) are not necessarily in that bracket.

It could have been titled as solutions hub or everything inside these hubs related to cloud?

Honestly, our marketing team gave me a brand ‘Cloud Solution Hubs’ and I ran it as I trust marketing professionals.  But there is an overlay angle because ninety percent plus of work in the hubs are cloud projects. The very reason for the cloud word is to reemphasize on our skill sets are cloud native, projects we do is about cloud, everything, like all tools we use for our own purposes is in the cloud. I have a few people actually in Bangalore on premise legacy software skill sets, which we'll sometimes use for certain targeted projects. 

We don't have a mathematical model but in our engagements with customers, our first conversation is bringing them to one of our hubs. I call it ‘Disneyland tour’. In our hubs we've built these physical demo stations to let them experience emerging areas like analytics, machine learning and IoT. We are now starting to have a lot of customers on this tour. It’s like a high-tech factory tour displaying elements of DevOps organization, trend of new age workforce, what they want us to build, and connecting to how our sales teams are leveraging this new way of selling now.

If you are building the right kinds of solutions, it's a matter of getting customers to adopt in this cloud era. It’s focusing more on customer experience as there isn’t a whole lot of hard-selling anymore. We are starting to see the hubs now connected into the fabric of Oracle and we were in-taking a lot of existing demand, and now we're trying to outflow other new ideas to change our internal ecosystem and drive a new kind of approach to sell it. 

These hubs might be the outsourcing centers for the customers and their IT teams’ DevOps blueprint.

There's too much hype with terms like DevOps. Our entire approach has been to live these things and then relate the outcome to our customers else we don't have much credibility. We said forget the word DevOps as we need to dramatically accelerate with a running live code and now more in the cloud.

DevOps, according to our definition, is essentially a pipeline that accelerates your innovation cycle. It requires a definite plan with all tools and processes in place, backed by reorganization of all people to avoid any bottleneck to each other. It should be very fluid and friction-free to take an idea to prototype phase, and put automatic cloud tenancy through DevOps tooling like CI/CD pipeline tool we are building that automatically deploys with a lot of software-defined infrastructure underneath it. 

Let’s talk about technical skill sets in the global market because as per IDG State of The CIO Survey 2019, there’s huge skill set gaps, primarily in data science, analytics, security and cloud. How do you manage to find right resources?

Our whole premise for the hubs is to hire the talent and grow their skill sets as the volume of that skill sets in the market aren’t there. And if they are there, they are astronomically expensive, and they're hard to retain. Our people strategy is to take them out of school and put them in boot camps, training through a great onboarding experience including learning to work with customers, develop soft skills and problem-solving skills, develop communication skills, and continue developing hard core technical skills. The talent is mostly coming out of CS and engineering majors. There isn’t much difference in the profile in Bangalore versus my hiring in other hubs. I could interchange, and I have moved people between the hubs too.

Because of the evolution of AI, ML and data science, the skill set of today's data scientist is not the skill set we want even three years from now, because of autonomous database for example. Now we're essentially removing all those needs for them to be an expert Python or R person as we now build a full end-to-end solution without doing any of that.  Whenever there's a business problem, it always comes back down to- do we have skills to deliver?

Will the products and offerings out of Cloud Solution Hubs be productized or have an IP to replicate in the industry?

We aren’t building products but focusing on building solutions, and at present we are really letting it grow fairly organically. For any legitimate problem of a customer, we will apply resources and the first touch could be a quick tour. The second would be prototype (a quick solution) and step three is trying to build V1 or alpha version of solution in a POC setting, and then hand it to the customer. 

Because of Oracle cloud and our cloud accounts, we offer some free trial time. Once the trial is over, the customer can convert it into their account as the solution is up and running, in which case, either the in-house developers can take over or they hire implementation partner. 
Let’s take an example of our customer using a solution - with IoT cloud service, autonomous database, our cloud infra products, storage products and others - with probably eight or nine cloud services. Today our customers are no longer buying any cloud services, they're actually buying UCC (Universal Cloud Credit) which is like a pool of funds. When the customer approaches us with their problem and associated IT budget, our team rewires the architecture with the right products to actually solve that problem. 

This is a big change as our sales teams give UCC credit and don't sell products anymore, they're just selling a pool of funds, much like our competitors. Once the customer adopts and starts using the solution, tomorrow we can add another service. For example, Oracle’s FastConnect service might not show bill of materials or an architecture. But once we go live with the customer who say their security team will use a VPN, we can just quickly attach and create a VPN service. As long as they have the pool of funds, they can burn whichever service they want. 

How popular has been UCC - since its launch couple of years ago - amongst Oracle customers and the marketplace at large?

UCC is the new business construct for our cloud business. For the tech business, the cloud credit is primarily for our PaaS and then RI as a portfolio. Our SaaS is mostly named user base, because that's the world they occupy. Most of the tech or the IaaS-PaaS customers are primarily developers who want the flexibility to pick whichever service at the time to solve their problem. The licensing or the credits concept was officially released in 2017, and it started becoming mainstream within a few months in 2018.

It’s a completely different mindset that we buy three products and Oracle will make us buy the fourth one. You're no longer buying products; you're just buying a pool of funds that's priced based on the problem you're trying to solve and that could be very elastic. You could use the same funds and deploy it, maybe at fewer instances but start adding new cloud services. 

Lastly, what was the idea to conceptualize Cloud Solution Hub? Was it the fact that organizations (and your customers) were grappling to adopt new-age technologies? Or Oracle wanted to create a niche in digital transformation era? 

Yes, fundamentally it was more to disrupt ourselves from within. We anticipated the tech market direction in coming years and with over 150,000 employees, it was a big ship to turn. 

We took the hub approach like little labs to play, but in a very practical sense as to not just build the solution but focus on the fastest way for our customers to adopt these solutions. That meant overhaul of our - sales teams, support team, services organizations – and go through partner with product development. We had to integrate with our own internal ecosystem and then changing that ecosystem, because it was important to get ourselves on the map with some credibility and then make other people start thinking differently. And for most transformational stories like these, there is often internal friction and much resistance but once that initial fear of the unknown is gone, same people say - Wow, this is interesting. 

Our priority industries engaged with Cloud Solution Hubs are high-tech, manufacturing, financial services, retail, healthcare, oil and gas/energy, public sector.  Traditionally, public sector has always been bit laggard. From Oracle cloud perspective, they've been more progressive than a lot of our private sector markets. 

My metric that I pay the most attention to is the number of our active customers. That means we have to acquire new customers and get the existing customers to use our hubs more. If we focus on the fundamentals to help the customer solve their problems, the usage of the cloud solution hubs will follow.

Locations of Oracle Cloud Solution Hubs

  1. Bangalore, India
  2. Austin, Texas
  3. Burlington, Massachusetts
  4. Reston, Virginia
  5. Santa Monica, California

Hamza’s 5 Takeaways on Oracle’s Cloud Solution Hubs

  1. A new entity to engage with customers technically with great focus on innovation that a customer can adopt in next year as example or immediately.
  2. More than 90% are cloud projects as our skill sets are cloud native, and everything, like all tools we use for our own purposes is in the cloud.
  3. Hubs are like ‘Disneyland tour’ delivering customer experience with physical demo stations of emerging technologies like analytics, ML, IoT.
  4. Our customers no longer buy any cloud services but they're actually buying Oracle UCC (Universal Cloud Credit) which is like a pool of funds.
  5. A great onboarding experience for people including customer facing, develop skills (soft, problem-solving and communication) and continue to develop hard core technical skills.

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