In October 2007, I moaned that Oracle operates by double standards. This was in the context of the then crazy situation where Oracle wanted to invite me to OpenWorld but would not pay my travel and expenses. At the time I noted that Oracle said:
"We’re not picking up travel costs or expenses, sorry. This will keep you impartial. If you see me, I’ll give you a pat on the back, how’s that instead?"
Am I supposed to be grateful? I'm offended. Like all other major vendors, it is a fact that Oracle picks up expenses for accredited press traveling from overseas - in my case Spain. Draw your own conclusions about Oracle's genuine willingness to engage with bloggers who are regarded as influencers..
Close to four years on and the situation is not improving.
Yesterday, Oracle called up inviting me to an analyst conference at the end of June. I had wind from colleagues they might want to invite me so the call wasn't a total surprise. On this occasion they are prepared to pay my freight so that's a good start. But, the condition is that I don't write or Tweet about anything under discussion. Why?
The reason given went as follows. Oracle knows that people in my position are unlikely to be bound by NDAs and certainly not for an entire conference. It doesn't make sense but it does want to find a way of including a handful of people like myself to this event. All credit to them. But it comes with problems.
Oracle exercises a level of control over mainstream analysts like Gartner (they were specifically named in the conversation.) It was put this way: "I told them no blogging, no writing because one of the things that we do have with our analysts is that we have some agreement to review what they write and I don't think that falls under the category of my relationship with folks like yourself so I've gotten permission to invite a few people to come out but rather than reviewing what you write, just don't write. You can use it for your own purposes..."
Apparently some people have agreed to be bound by this but my immediate response was an emphatic 'no.' As I said on the call: "It's pointless."
The topic areas Oracle wishes to discuss sound interesting and I would have thought that with all the negative publicity around Oracle it would be a good opportunity to have people like myself able to say something neutral and possibly congratulatory about the company. As an example, going back to my 2007 piece, Vinnie Mirchandani and I ended up duking it out with a couple of Oracle people (link is now broken to the content) and getting nowhere. Contrast that with last week when Vinnie attended a local Oracle event where he said:
I must admit it was good to see Steve [Miranda, Oracle] play a video of Principal, the financial services company, one of the early Fusion adopters (along with units of Alcoa and Eaton in various business processes and world regions) and then gleefully repeat what one of the customers says in the video: “Fusion is real!”. It was an assurance to customers who may have been spooked by his boss, Larry Ellison at the last Oracle OpenWorld when he talked about only adopting Fusion if you are “brave”.
Above all I want to thank NetSuite. They’ve taken some tough words from me in the past but most recently I have been pleased to see them offer great content. The webinar I attended the other day was first class and the advisory they offered to professional services businesses was top class content.
It should be clear to anyone that people like Vinnie and I, while often sharply critical, give credit where it is due. It's called being an equal opportunity flamethrower. What may be less well known that is in the conversations we have with executives, it is clear what our positions will be as part of the unfolding conversation. Not for us the straight Q&A. That gives the companies we speak with ample opportunity to rebutt, correct or amplify the position that is making us scratch our heads. A great example is the conversation over the departure of John Wookey from SAP.
In this case it is a little different. It seems that while Oracle wants to put this event on and is promising access to co-presidents Mark Hurd and Safra Catz, it doesn't want whatever is said between attendees and the co-presidents reported to the outside world. Why?
My experience over 40 plus years suggests companies that are over controlling have something to hide. The problem is that in a world where very little that is said does unreported, Oracle's attempts to gag analysts etc is counterproductive.
As I said to the Oracle representative, I can get pretty much all the information I need for both public and private consumption without direct Oracle input. Its wall of silence forces people like myself to find other ways to get information. The myriad sources make it relatively easy for me to find people to speak candidly. A lot of the time, sources approach me directly. I may not get the senior level access I would like and there may be occasional inaccuracies but that doesn't matter. It cuts both ways. In behaving in this strange way, Oracle relinquishes its right of reply.
You can argue that Howlett is moaning over nothing and should shut up, take what's on offer and see where it goes to from there. Or...heh - how is that different to Apple that is among the most secretive of tech companies? The comparisons could not be more wrong. Apple puts product into the mainstream generating millions of column inches in all directions. It doesn't matter whether it is good or bad because regardless of what anyone thinks about Apple's secrecy, it sells a ton of product to a broadly happy and appreciative customer base. Oracle has completely different issues and is taking a different tack.
On a personal level, I am not going to take four days out of my life (two days traveling, two days locked up somewhere) and not know if I can use anything of what I learn with others who want to understand the broad tech landscape. That's before I think about anything going into the public domain. I'm not going to set an example that prevents me from having the freedom to put into the public domain topics of broad interest in the enterprise space. Where does it end? If other anal-ysts want to sign up for that, take the million dollar checks as the price of their silence and brag they have some secret inside track then they are welcome to it. From Oracle's standpoint, it is a small price to pay. From mine it is too high a price. As for the anal-yst firms, they sold their souls.
There is one caveat. There are plenty of occasions where a vendor will say: 'We'd like to show you XYZ but we're not ready to talk about it publicly. Do you mind not writing about this for ABC period. We'll let you know and re-brief you?' That's often in the context of something broader that can go in the public domain. I have never refused such a request. Quid pro quo.
What Oracle is proposing and is also confirming is something that many of my colleagues believe is a retrograde trend: overt control and pay to play. Oracle already has credibility issues. By gagging its influencer community it compounds the problem. How can any of us build real trust when the traffic is one way and we can't effectively validate in the outside world?
The burning question remains - who else will say no? We may never know (sic) because ironically, those who choose the Oracle Way won't be able to say. I guess in some distorted manner that's called a 'win-win.'
Endnote: the person who reached out to me is trying hard to find a way of getting Oracle to be a tad more open. I admire their efforts in doing a tough job. It's unfortunate that I have to take this position.