Looking forward to Oracle OpenWorld, I was recalling that about 20 years ago, when I started covering the software industry as a Wall St. analyst, I paid a visit to the company. There were many fewer database-shaped glass buildings there in Redwood Shores then but the lack of corporate focus on business applications and users remains unchanged.
Right after that first visit, I told another software analyst that, of all the people I met that day, the ones that impressed me the least were the executives running the Oracle Applications part of the business. That, as in other multi-line companies, there were parts where the fighter jocks worked and other parts where they obviously didn’t – and that was Oracle Apps. He agreed and then remarked that the reason was simple – business applications are trivial. What he meant by that was that the technology underpinning business applications is a trivial extension of all the hard work required to develop the core database and other IT components required to create a business application. I replied that while that’s undeniable, the “domain expertise” needed to build business applications isn’t trivial at all. He seemed unconvinced. In that respect I think he accurately reflected the mindset of Oracle senior executives in the 1990s. And today.
Of course, it isn’t as if PeopleSoft, Siebel, Hyperion and the other acquired business software companies have been enrolled in a witness protection program, and there are a large number of business-focused sessions in the line-up. Nonetheless, the broad swath of applications that once had their own users group meetings are now a much more marginal part of Oracle World. Last year, I attended a session where a company presented one of the best Governance, Risk and Compliance case studies I’ve heard. Leaving aside his colleagues and the consultants that helped implement the solution, there were fewer than ten people in that room, which could seat 150 people. It was emblematic of the difficulty I think Oracle has in attracting business people to the event. Most of them really couldn’t care less about fusion and middleware and don’t find enough people to connect with in the crush of IT folks to make attending all that worthwhile (especially when budgets are squeezed). Even the closing keynote last year by Larry Ellison provided more focus on the Oracle Exadata appliance than Fusion as my colleague assessed (See: “Larry Ellison Stumps Oracle Exadata and Fusion Applications with California Governor“)
Hyperion Solutions who Oracle has acquired faced this same issue when it was an independent company. In a memorable users’ group keynote one year, John Cleese observed that the audience was made up of two separate groups – geeks and bean counters. However, Hyperion was able to pull it off because it had a ‘separate but equal’ approach.
I think Oracle needs a separate finance and business users' group meeting focused on applications. One where attendees are more likely to find people with similar interests and focus. Given the number of companies using its business-focused software there is certainly sufficient critical mass to support it. When Oracle realizes the importance of business leadership to sponsoring and purchasing new applications like Fusion but for now it does not look like that is going to happen anytime soon. Let’s see what happens next week!
Robert Kugel – SVP Research