Oracle Open World 2010: It All Works Out In the...

I'm back from Oracle Open World 2010 and now that I'm completely zonked and at the same time loaded with energy, I think, in retrospect (short term retrospect) I might have attended one of the most curious conferences I ever attended - and in fact, as I think about it, as the lead in Alice in Wonderland a.k.

I'm back from Oracle Open World 2010 and now that I'm completely zonked and at the same time loaded with energy, I think, in retrospect (short term retrospect) I might have attended one of the most curious conferences I ever attended - and in fact, as I think about it, as the lead in Alice in Wonderland a.k.a Alice says, it grows "curiouser and curiouser"

On the one hand, there was some notably powerful movement forward at least with things that concern me - and that would be Fusion apps and CRM.  Given who leads these various efforts and the investment that Oracle is making in especially Fusion apps, there is no surprise.

Sort of in between is their new (though I'm sure that they will claim this isn't new) deep embrace of their version of the cloud - and their distinctive, though not necessarily all that wonderful, hardware focus on it.

On the other hand the presentation of their vision was deeply flawed and thus,did what they are actually accomplishing a significant disservice.  In fact, they had no real identifiable vision. The vision that they presented was more of a technical road map than transformative or inspirational thinking. While some may poo poo (what a bizarre phrase but you get the point) this and say that Oracle wasn't being fluffy - just building stuff, that would be simply a wrongheaded way to think. Visions drive companies to greater heights and can differentiate those companies from their competition - A vision can inspire customers to support the company - which leads to the product sales that they devoutly wish.

Okay enough.Lets start this funnel drop in the stratosphere, fall through the clouds and land in the weeds.

The BIGGEST POSSIBLE PICTURE (He said loudly)

When a conference begins, ordinarily, you get a keynote that is visionary.  The reasons for that are myriad but ultimately simple.  These conferences, aside from being great locations to show customers, partners, suppliers and analysts/press what your company is doing, establish a tone for the nature of the company that carries year to year. There is never any more important messaging than the messaging that is presented at the flagship conferences in the enterprise software industry. They can move an industry and drive customers to click "submit" on the purchase button.

So it was entirely puzzling to me and pretty much everyone else (see Mike Fauscette, Ray Wang, Denis Pombriant et. al) as to why (other than the $1 million HP paid), that Oracle led the conference off with the same infomercial for Hewlett Packard that was universally panned last year.  Exact same, presented by the same presenter, only delivered even more badly and for a longer time.  It was a hardcore "ugh" of a speech and the tweetstream was brutal.

Then Larry Ellison, who is normally a dynamo, was clearly unprepared and got incredibly deep into the technical aspects of their new hardware and software offerings and the benefits (we'll get into the details of that to some extent later). The one positive around the worse-than-uninspired speech was that you could see that Larry E is a passionate geek who truly loves the technology weeds - and that's to his credit.  But he is the leader of one of the most significant companies in the world - in any industry, not just enterprise software - and owes his company, his acolytes, his customers (he doesn't owe us analysts or press a thing really - other than a fair exchange) and the business world a vision - because that what leaders should do.  And for better or worse, he is an iconoclastic internationally known figure.

Both his speeches were a big failure as were pretty much all the keynotes except the guy from Intel, and the demos of Fusion run by Steve Miranda and others like Anthony Lye. They worked very, very well.

That aside, what shone was the track presentations and the demos that were going on all across the conference throughout. They were exceptionally good (at least the ones I attended and the ones that I heard of from my colleagues).  The true nature of what Oracle was doing came through in those and the vision that is there, was rather shiny and interesting and to my eyes, smart, though there were elements that I can't subscribe to also.

The War Continues On The Cloud

Late last year, I did a webinar on the Cloud Computing for salesforce.com. In the course of my research, I found that McKinsey discovered some 22 "formal" definitions of the cloud and myriads of other lesser descriptions.  I developed, from those definitions something that I thought suited what the cloud was:

"The use of a pervasively connected Internet-based computing platform to source services, applications, and infrastructure employing a consumption-based (pay-for-what-you-use) pricing model. It is the deployment of your business workload on the Internet."

Two years ago at Open World, I wrote a section about the conference where "Larry was being Larry" (no disrespect to Manny Ramirez) and I quoted Larry Ellison:

"Ellison also managed to get in an attack on cloud computing, I presume to maintain his image as irascible, with the following statement:

'The interesting thing about cloud computing is that we've redefined cloud computing to include everything that we already do. I can't think of anything that isn't cloud computing with all of these announcements. The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than woman's fashion. Maybe I'm an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It's complete gibberish. It's insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?

"We'll make cloud computing announcements. I'm not going to fight this thing. But I don't understand what we would do differently in the light of cloud.'"

Note the second to last sentence: "I'm not going to fight this thing."  My take on that at the time was that he wasn't "going to fight this thing" because he needed to milk what would be a cash cow.

It is a cash cow, with pricing to back that up. Ellison announced the "cloud in a box" - a.k.a. private cloud a.k.a. (according to salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff) "box taller than a human being," the Exalogic Elastic Compute Cloud, from here on known as E2C2, no relation to R2D2...I don't think. This is a hardware/software solution that goes to the heart of Larry Ellison's definition of the cloud as he so put it at a Churchill Club discussion where he imitated valley speak about the cloud in 2009 - "Its not water vapor, all it is is a computer attached to a network."  (He should have only been as good at the horrible keynote as he was at the Churchill Club.)  Listen for yourself on this vision of the cloud that he should have explicitly presented at the event. This is entertaining and substantial - though I don't fully agree.

His release of E2C2 (not related to C3P0 either), is nothing more than an extension of the vision he had here. He is both the private cloud and the box at the end of the rainbow.  Suffice to say it is a really, really big box but I won't go into detail. Ellison in his keynote went into excruciatingly painful detail. Let's just say that the detail was so minute that the announcement before his Wednesday keynote that he was going to drill down let to this thought: "He's going to speak in binary code." Because there wasn't any place else to drill down to.

But he is consistent in his vision of the cloud.  Oh, by the way, the E2C2 boxes start at $1,075,000. I bought three for my house.  Kidding. Really.

What was particularly interesting is that as he began this part of his keynote, he compared two versions (not visions) of the cloud - salesforce.com's and Amazon's.  He leaned in the direction of Amazon's vision of the cloud which is the vision I lean toward. Because it involves not just the Platform as a Service, but Infrastructure as a Service, Cloud Applications etc.  I tend to see salesforce.com providing great cloud apps but not the full monty. Oddly, though, Ellison's version of the cloud in box served neither particularly - except Oracle's -  and in fact, Mark Benioff, in his, by contrast, superb speech at OOW, showed this tweet from Werner Vogel, CTO of Amazon, which mocked Larry's version.

Werner Vogel, Amazon CTO, tweets

All this somewhat childish nyah nyah from all sides aside, what is clear and welcome is that Oracle is making a HUGE commitment to the cloud in their own way - which should be expected since Oracle is doing what Oracle should do - protect and propagate its own interests. They just aren't doing the way I would when it comes to messaging. But then I'm not worth $27 billion either.

But there was, for my purposes, so much more to this conference which indicates how, at least from the applications side, Oracle is making HUGE strides toward the way an enterprise needs to be thinking about their applications in a 21st century business.

Fusion Apps and CRM

Five years ago, Oracle announced that they were going to be taking all their disparate apps accumulated through their multiple acquisitions, and combine them into a best possible app suite that would be good to all.  Though they were way too early in their announcement, setting expectations for a 1/2 decade, they, for the most part, have delivered the apps and I have to say, I agree with my friend and star pundit, Sameer Patel, they are worth it.  While they span the gamut from human capital management to enterprise collaboration management to CRM, I'm going to focus on CRM for reasons, that if they aren't obvious, then I'm REALLY doing a bad job of branding.

Oracle has three and actually, stretching it, 4 CRM or CRMish sets of applications for their on premise suites. They have Oracle's own, PeopleSoft CRM and of course the Siebel suite. The "ish" is JD Edwards functionality that ties to CRM.

So, one would wonder, what is it about Fusion that it does that makes it Fusion and not just an amalgam of all of the above.  It isn't just a "which feature set is executed best and thus adopted for Fusion" line of thinking that went into the creation of Fusion CRM. Though it was that too.  It was a brand new data model and a brand new architecture that was based on a standardized middleware and, if you look at it, a brand new and maybe even brilliant user interface that defined the difference between Fusion and the more disparate specific CRM applications.  One aspect of the tight thinking Oracle clearly did around Fusion CRM is that while you certainly can simply replace, say, Siebel Sales, with Fusion Sales, you don't have to. You can replace all, integrate parts, replace parts or, since Oracle will continue to endorse and support its existing customers use of their other CRM programs, you can do nothing. But when you see the depth of functionality and its customization capabilities and the incredibly smart interface, you'll probably want to replace what you have.

Here's some Fusion CRM Sales screenshots to give you a flavor of what I mean.

Fusion CRM Sales Management Dashboard

Fusion CRM Sales Management Dashboard

Fusion CRM Sales Recommendations

Fusion CRM Sales Recommendations

Fusion CRM Opportunity Management

Fusion CRM Opportunity Management

See what I mean? In these three slides alone, you see strong functionality that benefits sales managers, sales people, and involves those who are collaborating with those sales people. With, as we say in Yinglish, a UI to die for.

All this said, there is something that I would say is mildly disquieting but not a deal breaker for my enthusiasm so far.  That is the announcement that this won't be available for general release until the vague three month period known as the first quarter of 2011 - which means anytime from January to March.  It would be no big deal if it weren't for the fact that this has already been five years in the making AND lots of Fusion promises weren't really kept in the earlier time periods.  They will be releasing this as a controlled experiment starting now - and that's good to hear, but I'd suggest they "get it right" and "right out the door" at the same time - sooner than later. Its better for them.

One other note - a bit peripheral.  Based I presume on the Fusion HCM apps, Larry E. announced that Successfactors, Workday and an implied Taleo are now in the gun sites of Oracle as salesforce.com has been for a long time.  While that's expected behavior from a company that isn't known for its civility (except for the CRM team who are utterly wonderful - and visionary - people), they could do better on concentrating their time on finishing the Fusion products, getting them out the door, and showing how good they are, rather then how bad salesforce.com, Successfactors, et. al. are. That behavior would do wonders for Oracle's skin tone.

Oracle CRM On Demand R18

Keep in mind that Oracle CRM On Demand is a distinctly different offering than Fusion CRM.  It is what it is - a highly pedigreed offering, competitive with salesforce.com - and it has about 12% of the CRM on demand market - where salesforce.com has about twice that.  But the Oracle CRM On Demand pedigree is significant - it arose from the long ago acquisition of Upshot by Siebel, which of course came with the portfolio Siebel gave Oracle with its acquisition.  But even since then, Oracle has made impressive annual large and continual small improvements to the product and have now released version 18.

In general, this is a significant release that adds important functionality - perhaps the most important of which is their marketing automation first go round.  I'll treat that separately in a few.

The most touted additions (beyond the marketing automation module) were the mobile capabilities, some social stuff (what Anthony called off the top of his head "social relationship management" and business planning that encompassed some sophisticated capabilities for accounts and territorie. Curiously, they also focused on integration with Microsoft Outlook.

Oracle has, since roughly 2008, been working hard on mobile apps for CRM and they've done a really innovative and excellent job - from their social marketing mobile apps (see Swedish Rail in 2009) to their ability to access any platform, they've presented solidly constructed, useful CRM apps that go beyond the standard SFA that others have provided.  This time around, they've gone beyond the iPhone, which they had nailed and now are able to do what they do in Android and Blackberry and whoever else flavors - a wise move since Android in particular is gaining market share and some real business mind share.

As far as the social improvements with Oracle On Demand (OOD) they've added a social media tab that allow the user to track Twitter, etc. activity streams and then incorporate the streams into the customer record via a sync button.  This isn't automatic. The sync button needs to be hit. Frankly that's the smart way to do it at the moment - because a lot of the tweet stream, etc is just unadulterated noise.  In the future, adding business rules to help automate specifically targeted activity streams inclusion in the customer or account record would be welcome. What also makes what they have good, is that other users who have permission to access these streams can make comments.  All in all, nothing spectacularly sexy, but definitely a valuable addition to the OOD portfolio of functionality.

As far as Outlook integration, would I have made such a big deal of it? No.  There are plenty of players on the market who have Outlook integration to one degree or another. Those who have integration range from SalesLogix which pretty much just syncs contacts, accounts, etc. to Salesforce.com which through an AppExchange app (LinkView) allows for the creation of opportunities, leads, etc. to Avidian which is fully integrated so that you can natively create opportunities etc. - and is focused on the small business market to, of course Microsoft Dynamics CRM which does the same as Oracle - a complete native integration.  This is an achievement that's a good thing, since so many still rely on Outlook as their prime business UI, but its also about time that Oracle did this.

Marketing Automation

Okay, now to the big deal. This is something that Oracle needs to be applauded for because they've conceptually got it right - though there are holes that need to be addressed - a couple in particular - before I get really enthused by it.

Conceptually, they nailed it when Anthony Lye, one of the visionary leaders in CRM as far as I'm concerned, said it well (this is totally paraphrased): "the suites didn't have marketing.  Most of the time, buyers had to go to third parties."

So Oracle decided to develop a marketing automation suite - one that does the traditional marketing functions - like campaign management, lead scoring, lead nuturing, etc.  Not so much social or interactive functions.

All in all Oracle's first shot at marketing automation on demand is credible.  It has the basics, they are well executed but there are two things that need work - and need it quickly.  First, the UI as Denis Pombriant describes it is very "1.0." It is usable, don't get me wrong, but let's say by comparison to Fusion CRM (an admittedly unfair one) its not even close. Given the excellent UI of salesforce.com (who doesn't have anything notable whatever in marketing automation), this is something that needs to be addressed fairly quickly.  The second flaw is their lead scoring system. Its inflexible as of now (though flexibility is in the wind) and its got an odd scoring system - A thru E - not even 1 thru 5.  Since lead scoring is such an important part of marketing, I found that an odd quirk but I'm assured that this will be customizable and far more flexible that 5 letters in the future.

Overall, In Sum, Closing, See Ya

I have to say that I'm pumped by what I've seen in Fusion in general, CRM in particular and am certainly glad to see that the Oracle CRM team continues to make some serious progress. I'm also glad to see that Larry E is off his "Larry being Larry" path and sees the value of the cloud, even if its in Oracle's terms.  However, I will say that Oracle is going to need to re-establish the "vision thing" by the next Open World or they will lose some mind share at the point that they are making genuinely important strides in the world of enterprise software.   That wouldn't be cool.  Or smart.

But Fusion? Yum.

Oh yeah, and lose HP.  They're suing Oracle anyway.

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