Oracle's No. 2...now will it try harder?

A new study says IBM has dethroned Oracle as the database leader. So why is this is great news for Oracle customers?

commentary Can it be true? According to a Gartner study released today, IBM has surpassed Oracle in database market share.

As Oracle has been quick to note, IBM's triumph is largely symbolic. Had IBM not bought Informix a year ago, Oracle would have kept its top slot by a very thin margin. Oracle still has two-thirds of the Unix database market. And over half the Fortune 100 use Oracle as their primary database, according to a study by The FactPoint Group

Yet this is still a watershed moment--a victory for the Blue Team and a moment of consternation for the Red Team. And I'm willing to bet that IBM's win has little to do with the relative technical merits of either the IBM or Oracle database product. Oracle continues to flex its technological muscle by offering high-end database clustering software or promising native XML capability in Oracle 9i Release 2, coming this summer.

As reported by Morgan Stanley, some of Oracle's slide may derive from customer perception that Oracle charges too much for its database. Or it may be that Oracle's fixation on marketing the Oracle 11i suite of enterprise business applications has stolen thunder from the company's own flagship database solutions.

But I think the real reason stems from a common phenomenon that occurs when companies achieve dominance in any market: They stop listening to customers.

Recently, I quizzed a CTO friend of mine about why, during the height of the boom, he had chosen a certain co-location company over the market leader. He offered a few vague technical reasons at first. Then he said: "Look, if you want to know the truth, I chose them because they were nice to me. They were willing to accommodate my needs." The market leader, by contrast, seemed to believe my friend should feel privileged to lease a cage in its facility.

For years now, IBM has been the have-it-your-way company, offering to integrate rather than replace customers' existing technology--and its Global Services folks will even install competitors' products where appropriate. Oracle, on the other hand, has been the have-it-our-way company, encouraging customers to implement its software without modifying it. That attitude has changed a bit recently, but the shift to helping users add functionality felt like a concession--particularly since Oracle continues to pressure customers into buying all-Oracle solutions at every turn.

Which would you rather do business with: a company apparently willing to bend over backward to give you what you want or one that walks in the door telling you what you can and can't do with its software? True, nobody can ever get exactly what they want, but the former promises a much better sales experience than the latter--not to mention a solution that's more likely to fit the problem.

My guess is that the market share news, which couldn't come at a worse time for Oracle (slipping sales, the California contract scandal, etc.), will have a major effect. The upside for Oracle customers is clear: Now's the time to negotiate hard. In fact, with a (mostly) strong product line, a modular suite of business applications, and abundant consulting resources, Oracle is in a good position to create terrific solutions that map to your needs. And I'm willing to bet that, after today, the company will be more inclined to do so.

Are you pleased with the service you've gotten from Oracle lately? Why or why not? TalkBack below.