Oracle CX and SAS GBF: Product-focused companies in the throes of change

Oracle and SAS have some things in common that are very apparent. These two founder-dominated companies also face similar challenges.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

The next couple of posts are not my norm. They are short. I'm experimenting a little bit to see if I am even capable of short posts and at the same time want to make sure that some of my thinking is down on digital paper before my decidedly senior memory takes hold. Kidding. Though I don't remember what I was kidding about.

So, read the announcement and then read the post -- they are related -- and see if you think that there is anything worthwhile in the shorter post. I won't feel bad if you don't. I'll be grateful if you do.


    I'm going to suspend writing about conferences for a while though you will see my thinking on Oracle CX and SAS's Global Forum in this post -- abbreviated of course. I will have the event scorecards available to those who planned those events (so SAS and Oracle, ask me and I'll give you an hour of time to go over it with you if you like -- all free of charge. It's the best way I have of saying thank you for honoring me with the invitation in the first place). I'm suspending coverage with definitely one and possibly two exceptions. The definite is Callidus Cloud's C3 (I missed them last year and owe this one to them). The possible one is SAP's SAPPHIRE (in Orlando next week). I'm not sure yet. Minimally SAP will get a review of some unknown length. As far as other ones, I will hopefully pick it back up later but for now I need to concentrate on writing all the Watchlist reviews and on writing my book, "The Commonwealth of Self-Interest". That said, expect some short pieces on the conferences in posts like this.

    Oracle CX 2016 and SAS Global Forum 2016

    There was something very similar in the SAS Global Business Forum 2016 and the Oracle CX 2016 conferences. Both took place within a couple of weeks of each other. That's neither here nor there. But what is important is that both are product-focused companies that are attempting to change and in the throes of that change.

    I get fascinated by these things, maybe a little more than I should be. I put on a sociological hat -- though to be clear, I make no claims of being a sociologist or a cultural anthropologist though both companies are important enough to be worthy of study by professionals of both disciplines. What I'm saying is strictly amateur observation.

    To put it mildly, these are two companies have been strongly dominated by their founders and both have been among the most prominent technology names in the history of technology. Both of these guys, Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Dr. James Goodnight (SAS) are technical and that is also putting it extremely mildly. They are people who revel in code and love to show it both figuratively and literally. However, they are also aware that change for their companies is necessary to meet the needs of the 21st century communications revolution that changed the way that business is done and -- to their credit -- are trying to figure out how to deal with it.

    Luckily, both companies have excellent middle management layers (Senior Director, VP, SVP, etc) -- really bright people at senior levels who not only are well acquainted with the need to change but also are ready to execute -- and have successfully done so -- which is what makes both companies "relevant to the conversation" as all we analyst types like to say for reasons that are probably unhealthy.

    Both companies have shown that they are cognizant of the business transformation and even more importantly, the change in customer expectations and demands. They are all willing to act on that need. For example, SAS announced Analytics for IoT, which makes sense of the sensor driven data from IoT devices. Oracle showed off one of the best mobile apps I've ever seen -- enterprise ready, sales, supply chain etc., all fully integrated with analytics on the back end -- a showcase of Oracle's end to end capabilities with a demo that showed it in use, rather than feature/function per se.

    Thus, both companies were providing, or will be soon, products that were tuned to the needs of contemporary enterprise customers. Both companies also showed major user interface changes -- not just refreshes but overhauls -- table stakes at this juncture -- with an eye to the future as millennials begin to take over management positions in the workforce. Oracle itself is, according to an article by uber-analyst Vinnie Mirchandani, hiring millennials to the point that 38 percent of the company is now Gen Y (Oracle CEO Mark Hurd's assertion).

    These products seemed to be very powerful -- both in intent and execution. I saw them on the main stage at SAS and the analyst day briefing at Oracle CX. Both companies clearly built these products with modern business needs and outcomes in mind. But the narratives begin to fall down a bit here.

    The problem is that the focus was and is still product, product, product. SAS dove straight into product at the keynote presentation. Oracle CX dove straight into product at the analyst day opening discussion. What was missing in both cases was the vision necessary to frame the reasons that they created these products. I have to assume they have the vision or they wouldn't have been able to develop the products they released. But unfortunately, neither company made that vision apparent. Nor was there any public indication that they were moving to change the outlook of the company from a product-centric one to at least an outcomes-based view of the world, if not a deeply customer-centric culture.

    Ironically, SAS, at least, has one of the best employee cultures and programs in the world, having been a Top 10-20 place to work by all of the lists of that sort of thing for the last two decades. But what was apparent was that both companies, in their own way, were clearly being impacted by newly powerful customer demand and were in the midst of transitioning out of the purely product-centric technical models that have dominated their past to something newer. What "newer" is to some extent remains to be seen -- with each company at its own pace and with its own culture -- but it will not be product-centric and will be an enriched more contemporary focus -- thanks to the stirring of the middle levels of management at these two venerable and sometimes frustrating companies.

    As I dig deeper, I'll be able to report back in more depth -- and once I resume the conference coverage. Watch for each of their CRM Watchlist 2016 reviews coming later this year for the deeper analysis. Both companies have the kind of impact that wins the Watchlist -- and could win potentially year over year. But both of them have to make these transitions successfully to continue to be the force that they have been over the past few months.

    Finally, my apologies to each of them for not covering their conferences independently. I am honored that they care enough to invite me and I don't want that to be unnoticed. But that still doesn't abnegate their need to make these important changes. I'll shut up now. At least on this.

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