Along with promising integrated hardware and software solutions and vertical apps from Oracle and downplaying the virtualisation and automation he was pushing at HP, Oracle president Mark Hurd shared his views on the cloud and Oracle itself. Plus he came up with one of the more compelling arguments about the consumerisation of IT and why enterprises (whether they pin their hopes on Oracle or note) can't keep running the same old internal apps if they're not flexible enough. And as with so many other changes recently, it's the iPhone.
Thanks to iPhone apps we're less likely to accept bad customer service, he believes - and delivering good service means improving the applications inside businesses. Hurd compared his daughter looking up airport information easily with an iPhone app to bad experiences with automated call centres when he tried phoning to find out what gate to go to (hands-free, he assured us). Why was the call centre so unhelpful? "This data is in legacy applications," he told her (and then despaired of explaining the morass of legacy applications in time to get to the airport). The real point? "Here's a consumer who is about to be a buyer can't understand why I would tolerate horrible customer service. We got trained to deal with bad customer service - they're not. I think this app movement is key to getting more efficient use of data."
The idea is a virtuous cycle to Hurd; smartphone apps that raise expectations that systems should be easy to work with and the applications that run the enterprises that pump information into those systems. Trends like ecommerce, social network and smartphones do make it imperative for businesses to tackle internal app sprawl so they can deliver. He's probably right when he says "If you can't get your money out of closing the books and into 'how do I better serve that customer' you are at a disadvantage and you are going to continue to be at a disadvantage. I want data through whatever device I want to use - if you can't do it, I'm betting somebody else can. If you can't get your environment transformed to get that done I'm going to find plenty of competitors out there." The question is whether Oracle can really produce everything from hardware to apps and do a better job than everyone else specialising in their own area - especially when you consider that Sun canned much of its own hardware development. (Or rather that Larry Ellison rather vocally canned the project when Oracle bought Sun...)
No magic cloud Hurd also dismissed the idea that cloud solutions can do any of this better - or that they threaten Oracle sales. "When we talk about some issue or some opportunity, people insert the word 'cloud' and that is going to be the answer to whatever question. It's magic! Somewhere in this cloud is hardware, software, there's intellectual property… the cloud is basically 'somebody else is doing it'. Imagine if you talk to a company and they say 'I want to know what kind of server you've got; in fact I want to know what chip is in the box, I want to know what cable you're using, I want to go down to the component level''but if it's in the cloud 'I don't care; I'll take whatever you got'?"
That sounds a little like someone who used to be a hardware guy finally saying what he 's thought all along about cloud now that he doesn't have to say the politically correct thing; not caring what's in the box is one of the big selling points of cloud services but it doesn't promise big hardware margins for the server makers like HP. And of course if everyone went to cloud platforms and services, they wouldn't need those integrated Oracle stacks he's pushing...
Talking of competition, Hurd also explained why he'd taken the job at Oracle over other offers he received. "When I left HP I actually thought about sitting out for a while and I got some calls and the calls that I got real quick were the sort of call you'd expect to get… 'I have a company that's in bad shape; would you come get it in some other kind of shape?' I thought about doing that and it didn't really motivate me."
The opportunity he sees at Oracle sounds like a good fit for the approach he took to running HP. Hurd is someone who likes to know the numbers and someone who cares about making the business get things done to make the numbers better:, or as he puts it; "I think about what leaders do. You work on strategy, number one; then you work on aligning the operations to make sure the strategy can get implemented - and then you get the best people on the planet to execute the operations can get executed. I thought Oracle was strategically in such great shape that it put me in a different position."
And while he didn't mention the fact that Oracle has now bought its own customers several times over, and spent several years turning the products and knowledge it acquired into actual Oracle products, he did repeat something we've heard from Oracle customers before. "Get it to be easier to get access to technology and access to the people - that's the biggest criticism that I've heard since I've been at Oracle. My job is it to make it easier to do business with them." And that could be the most useful integration he could bring to Oracle...