"Innovation is in the eye of the beholder" - No one that I know said it, 2009
Dennis Howlett, a friend, fellow ZDNET blogger and a man with serious enterprise applications chops, did a blog posting on Oracle and innovation a couple of days ago that I need to do a short response to with this blog posting of my own. Dennis, to tangle the hyperlinked web a bit, was referencing a blog posting by Vinnie Mirchandani, also a colleague and friend, about Oracle's no longer being an innovator and spending very little of their total revenue on R&D.
I agree but I disagree - and in part - it has to do with the definition of innovation. To a large degree, Oracle cuts its own throat and validates Dennis' and Vinnie's commentaries because of their definition of innovation which seems entirely consist of the words "first to..." and that doesn't fall in line with how innovation always works. Dennis, when he defines innovation, puts it this way:
"Innovation can have many definitions but in the software world in which I live it means presenting something that provides me with a better, more cost effective and/or revenue enhancing way of getting things done."
In part again, I agree with Dennis which is why I disagree with Dennis too. Innovation that's of the "first to..." variety, while good for bragging rights and even for some branding opportunity, isn't all that its cracked up to be. When innovation becomes worthwhile is either when the innovation itself becomes ordinary - meaning it provides such a substantial value that it is used routinely by many after a few iterations of the advance - OR it sparks a further outpouring of new capabilities and ideas - even if it doesn't catch fire.
If I were to view Oracle as a whole, I would say they are trying but not all that successful. I don't see where their servers or failed collaboration server product Beehive has gone since Open World - if one were to call those attempts at innovation. But they do have a crown jewel when it comes to innovation and, despite some of the individual pieces, Social CRM is it. While its easy to make the case that each of the individual components of social CRM has been available for a long time somewhere - e.g. the predictive analytics of Sales Prospector or the ratings and commenting social features of Sales Library, or the enterprise widgets for the Social CRM applications, it is the combination that is innovative. In the context of CRM, this provides a unique and highly innovative approach, that at the present time, no one else in the world of large enterprise CRM has. That said, there is innovation that is coming from the small guys like Helpstream and InsideView and, as my superbud and uberanalyst Denis Pombriant points out today, Oracle would do well to build up the kind of partner network of small innovators that salesforce.com seems to have a current monopoly on.
The way to think about Oracle's innovation isn't the original dish with the brand new wine made up of a new Heritage mix of grapes. Its pairing wine and food that individually has been been there - say A Vintage Port and Stilton Blue cheese - and coming up with something more valuable and interesting than the original pieces. Are they a remarkably innovative company? No. Not by anyone's definition. CRM is their standout by a long shot. But does that mean they are a retread. Not that either. Social CRM is an indication that a more innovative culture may be in the winds for Oracle. I just wouldn't write them off too fast.