Oracle makes its ERP financials smarter -- and talkative

At its user conference in Las Vegas, Oracle demonstrated how voice can now be used to conduct complex business actions, including financial ERP transactions.

Oracle is making it easier for users to interact with its ERP systems. Complex business actions are now possible through voice, chat platforms and text messaging. Applying this kind of AI is particularly evident in its ERP financials product.

Steve Miranda, executive vice president of Oracle applications, demonstrated how the new features work at the Oracle Modern Business Experience conference in Las Vegas. Miranda spoke to an Amazon Echo: "Alexa, ask Oracle Assistant what's in my approval queue."

Alexa informed Miranda that he had 185 job offers at Oracle for candidates in his queue. The digital assistant then asked if he wanted to approve them. Miranda queried about the budget impact, which Alexa described. He got more granular to find out how many job offers were in the approved salary range and then took action.

Oracle's digital assistant can also be integrated with Slack and text messaging applications. And the technology is not for financial ERP alone. It has use with HR and other ERP systems.

Financial ERP upgrades

Steve Miranda, executive vice president of Oracle applicationsSteve Miranda

Oracle's Modern Business Experience event is the first time the company brought together its human capital management, ERP financials and supply chain customers. While past events were separate conferences, this year's conference is recognition that underlying ERP technologies cut across the platform. Nonetheless, the upgrades announced at the event highlighted a specific ERP functionality, especially to Oracle ERP financials.

Oracle detailed "advanced financial controls" that use machine learning to analyze financial ERP transactions and detect anomalies. Oracle's broader goal is to get users comfortable with automation. Once that happens, users may be open to automating more of their ERP financials.

For now, Oracle's ERP financial systems are augmenting ERP decision-making, said Juergen Lindner, senior vice president of product marketing for SaaS, in an interview. As users "extend more trust into the capabilities of the system, then you can decide at what pace of automation you want to progress," he said.

Oracle's gradual approach to automating financial ERP makes sense, Jac Amerell said from the Las Vegas conference. As the vice president and corporate controller at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, he is leading a project to move the insurer's ERP financials, along with other systems, to Oracle's cloud-based platform.

The ultimate vision is more automation

Amerell said he would love to get to a point where a transaction arrives "and I don't have to touch it once," he said. "That would be the ultimate vision."

But Amerell said automation also poses major change management issues. He said he can see reluctance from peers, including regulators and auditors, to trust machine learning technologies.

"They don't believe that a machine can do what actuaries can do in projecting our claims costs, in forecasting what our revenue's going to be," Amerell said.

Amerell's firm plans to go live with its move to Oracle Cloud in the first quarter of 2020, and he is leading the shift. The new Oracle system will be a dramatic change from the current on-premises financial systems that rely on multiple vendors, he said. His firm has about $30 billion in annual revenue and 5 million policyholders.

The new system is challenging people to think about the possibilities, Amerell said. It is also prompting the company to think about retention and training.

"We've sent people to robotics process automation [RPA] training. We've sent people to learn about blockchain, and we've sent people to learn about artificial intelligence," Amerell said.

They have adopted some RPA tools and have been challenging people to figure out what processes they can build bots for. The goal is to "teach people already on staff those new skills," he said.

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