Oracle OpenWorld 2019 was a culmination of the earliest stages of a breathtaking transformation at Oracle and the beginning of a new phase in their growth and relationships with customers, prospects, other companies and the world at large. Is this a good thing?
I don't want to call this a full-blown deep analysis of Oracle OpenWorld 2019 and Oracle's positioning in the business; however, what Oracle has done over the past year, culminating in what they presented at the conference deserves some mention and at minimum some profoundly…random thoughts. I hope that you are willing to accept that much of this is raw material.
So Ladies and Gents, the product of my fevered mind…
Oracle is ready
We live in a technology – and business – world defined by platforms and ecosystems. The days of the technology stack are over. Period. I hope that's emphatic enough to let you know how adamantly I believe that. No major technology company can survive simply by trying to sell its tech stack components to its potential and actual customers. We live in a world driven by the ability to deliver outcomes. For those at the more sophisticated and conceptual level, it's a world of jobs to be done (JBTD), not products and toolsets – whixc exist for the enablement pleasure of outcomes and JTBD.
Oracle, while somewhat late to the game, has figured that out. And, something I would not have said a year plus ago, made the pivot. They are now focused on platforms, ecosystems, outcomes and, unbeknownst to them, JTBD. While I am unaware if they are methodological advocates of service dominant logic and the world of Vargo and Lusch, I see that they are starting to think and practice with a similar outlook. But more than that, they are now ecosystems and platforms aligned with the market – and you can't ask for more than that.
According to Oracle VIPs, some of their platforms -- such as machine ;learning - are for internal use only; that is, they use them for the purposes of building solutions. Some of them are public – their cloud platform as an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) being one of those. But all in all they have moved to platforms as the foundation for their -- and their customers' -- technology needs.
There are multiple signs that they are taking the ecosystems piece seriously. Steve Fioretti, long-time rock star Oracle veteran and friend has moved from his job as the VP, Customer Service and then Customer Service and Sales formerly known as the Engagement Cloud to becoming the person (a VP position too) in charge of the ISV program. His job is to build a partner ecosystem (not a channel per se) to support the Oracle platform and the subsequent ecosystems of demand/need that serves their customer base best as it evolves. Building out this partner ecosystem is a core need
This leads me to the conclusion that as of OpenWorld 2019, Oracle has pivoted from:
Technology Stack (2017 and earlier) to:
Platforms & Solutions jointly, not ecosystems (Oracle MCX 2018) to:
Platforms, Solutions, Customer Experiences ecosystems in concept(Oracle MCX 2019) to:
Platforms & Ecosystems (Open World 2019)
Platforms + Ecosystems + Oracle = Sweet.
Oracle Redwood UI/UX is more than a pretty face
Hillel Cooperman and Jenny Lam do not only do the best UI/UX design work in the industry but they are both helping drive and signify what is the biggest change in culture in Oracle's history. Openness,and -- dare I say it -- fun are now part of how Oracle does things.
The work that Hillel and Jenny are spearheading is fundamental to the look and feel of not only the applications and platform, mobile, cloud etc but are fundamental to the company. They are both a reflection of and a driver of how Oracle is feeling about itself and how much it means to the company to do things that look good, feel good and at the same time satisfy the sensory needs of contemporary customers. Here's a short look at Redwood as presented at OpenWorld:
See how much nicer that makes the post look. Kind of proves my visceral point.
But Redwood isn't just a design initiative and this isn't lipstick on a pig. This is a signal and a supportive driver of a profound, company-wide change in the culture of Oracle. They are moving from a company that was misaligned and pretty arrogant to a well-aligned and customer-focused company that truly is drinking the Gatorade (emphatically NOT Kool-Aid) of collaborating with a younger generation of customers and its older connected representatives – in a B2C and a B2B or a B2B2C world.
Newco, Oldco: Oracle in transition
Many moons ago, when I was a young warrior, I was subjected to more than one discussion among people who had been at PriceWaterhouseCoopers f.k.a Price Waterhouse and Coopers and Lybrand – two separate companies. These were somewhat excruciating, but I assumed it was part of my warrior survival training, so I never complained. I stayed taciturn.
The merger between the two companies had just happened, which makes it 1998, so I was a youngster of 48 years old. The excruciating part of the discussion was that each time a person from the newly formed PwC was introduced to someone they hadn't met before they would say something like, "Randall Cobb Jr, oldco Coopers and Lybrand." They had this clear "thing" between newco (PwC) and oldco (Price Waterhouse or Coopers and Lybrand).
But as ridiculous as saying literally "newco" and "oldco" was, it does reflect what Oracle is going through as a company and its nothing short of breathtaking when it comes to the culture. Oldco Oracle was not, shall we say, the easiest company to get along with or work with or even pay attention to. It's culture was, if I am being nice about it, difficult, and being honest, really bad, except for some wonderful pockets of sanity and decency (Anthony Lye's CRM business unit for example). It was internally depressing – over the years, I had dozens of Oracle employees call me about going elsewhere. Personally, I had had multiple difficulties with Oracle. I couldn't work with them as a partner (I worked for a company with a decent-sized Oracle practice and was responsible for securing partnerships among my other duties), as an analyst and when engaged by them. That said, I did see they had one great silver lining and that was their middle management – the Senior Directors, Vice Presidents and SVPs and occasional EVP (hear that, Steve Miranda, one of the truly good ones?) who were a pleasure to work with. They were good human beings who got stuff done and thus kept Oracle at least on the business apps side more than competitive. But the company's culture was considered pretty toxic by me and many others.
Well, guess what? Not only has that gone away but what has apparently replaced it is the nearly breathtaking opposite – and it extends -- apparently -- to the whole company. There is a Newco Oracle. What I have seen is that the culture is now open – to ideas, to treating people humanely, to doing philanthropic good, to creativity, to collaborating with customers rather than just selling and servicing them – and to aligning themselves with their customers and prospects and the market as it is and to some extent, though there is still a fair amount of work to do here, with the future.
Before I get too effervescently effusive, this is early on in the company's transformation. They still do not have a visionary culture, though it is now beginning to show some flair and creativity. They still have some significantly large parts of the organization that remain well ensconced in the cultural marshes. But on the whole it is not just refreshing but exciting to see what is a renaissance of a company – and a damned huge one – underway and while the baggage is not entirely gone, much of it has been discarded.
Some of the signs of that are the way that customers are being thought of. In the past, by Oracle's admission, they treated customers as objects of a sale. "Here's what you need, customers, buy it, use it, it's good, we will support it. But you should buy these products." And "you want that, sure, we'll sell it to (even though they don't really need it)." Now they have learned by their own admission to say "no" when customers want to buy something that they don't need and to ask customers what they need and what outcomes they are looking for, not what products do they want to buy. They have gone from a product-centric outlook to a -- gasp! -- customer-centric (if not fully customer-engaged) outlook. That is a MAJOR transition. It extends so many other ways that might sound trite and not business-like but make a huge difference in both employee morale and attitude and are signals that Oracle is changing. For example, Brent Leary and I did several episodes of CRM Playaz, our insanely popular (according the Playaz Global Ratings System) show at Oracle MCX last March. One of the episodes, embedded here, was a rap battle between Jeff Wartgow and Steve Fioretti two VPs on the CX side. Know what makes this amazing? This was ORACLE'S idea, not ours. It is something our fevered brains might come up with, but the fact that Oracle (specifically the supercool Kim Guillon, AR rock star) came up with it, knocked us OUT, and we just went ahead and did it.
Watch it here:
Hilarious. No? Yes?
This is something that would have been unfathomable a few years ago but is indicative of a change at Oracle that has been brewing culturally for the last 18 months or so. This, in combination with the technology and the overhaul of the look and feel of everything at the company that I spoke of earlier, is telling me that Oracle, as formidable as it has been in its Death Star history is now moving much more toward the light – and will be a force to be reckoned with because of, among other things, the cultural transformation and the impact the new look is having on everything they do.
To reinforce the point, an attendee comment lifted from diginomica's OpenWorld coverage:
"I went along to OW for the second day and was impressed by the refreshingly low key and unpretentious presentation atmosphere, and spent most of the day talking to attendees rather than going to sessions."
That is NOT the Oracle of yore. But it is Oracle at, and in, the moment.
But let's not stop there. Let's also consider what -- at least from the business apps side --was the most important moment at OOW: the official announcement of the actual release of CX Unity - another weapon in the Oracle competitive arsenal.
CX Unity isn't a CDP but it is something of great significance
Arguably Oracle's most important release in quite awhile - and to me with all my biases intact - more important than even Autonomous Linux and Autonomous Databases, CX Unity provides the foundation for not just significantly improved user interactions (hyperpersonalization) but more granular ways to intervene in those interactions (micro-moments). This was made posssible with the integration of long time Oracle acquisition Blue Kai and ID Graph into CX Unity. It's incredibly well thought out. And, true to one of Oracle's traditions even in the worst moments, delivered as promised.
Oracle SO nice to their...partners formerly known as competitors
Larry Ellison spent a good deal of time waxing enthusiastically about Oracle's strategic partnership with Microsoft - the cloud interoperability partnership announced last June. If you want some interesting takes on both the announcement and Larry's speech on it at OpenWorld, read the links I provided. What makes this significant aside from Larry and Oracle taking sides in the Azure vs. AWS wars, is that this is coming at a time when in the past, Microsoft was one of the enemies. Oracle's entire strategy is shifting to much more partner friendly at the grand strategic level down to the more tactical "filling the holes in the ecosystem" I will have a LOT more to say about this overall (well beyond Oracle) in an upcoming post because its an actually important "trend" that I'm seeing at the enterprise tech level. But, to keep this hyperfocused and away from my usual meandering, this partnership - given the titanic nature of the two companies, has industry-wide significance.
So what was the downside? Anything? I mean...anything?
Well, honestly, the downsides were more conference related than Oracle transformation related. Here are a few nitpicks and one or two things that were still clearly missing, just kind of proving the points I made when I wrote my post a few months ago on why Oracle won the Watchlist 2019.
Here are the nitpicks and the more substantial concerns all rolled into one. You can figure out which is which:
The way they do keynotes needs to be rethought. I saw several and aside from Steve Miranda's and Rob Tarkoff's, most were pretty poorly organized and presented. They were "oldco" Oracle, product focused, not resonating with the audiences particularly. They didn't really have any inspirational outside speakers. They didn't highlight the philanthropic side of the company. The demos, while interesting, were (again except for business apps) showing off product, not outcomes enablement. You get the drift. Fix it, Oracle.
The message around Autonomous (Linux, Database, Cloud) was creepy even though the actual work that Oracle is doing in this area is really promising. It was "it will reduce human error by reducing human involvement" It kind of came across that "since the problem with human error was humans, take the humans out of the equation and there won't be errors." The overall theme seemed to be this will replace human beings and thus eliminate error which is a I think missing the purpose of AI/ML etc which is to enhance and enable human capabilities, not replace them. Also, I'm a bit hard pressed to figure out how Autonomous Linux replaces a person (Charlie Brown's buddy Linus maybe?). This was transmitted kind of poorly. It made it seem as if humans were flawed machines. Uhhhh, no. The ironic thing is what they are technologically doing is potentially game changing but telling the world that way about it - Skynet. So rethink the message, stay strong with the tech.
The lack of any public emphasis on corporate philanthropy is actually a problem. Doing Good with a capital G is something that generations from baby boomers to Gen Z are looking for from contemporary business. Oracle needs to get past the "ask don't tell" on this and proactively talk about the good they are doing.
Oracle OpenWorld 2019 was a stunning confirmation that Oracle is undergoing what is best characterized as a contemporary Renaissance. Aligned with the market, dramatic cultural transformation best reflected by the UI/UX Oracle look and feel and sensory immersion led by Hillel Cooperman and Jenny Lam, the focus around platform, ecosystems, and outcomes, the friendly focus on strategic partnerships and the vastly improved and truly released CX Unity are telling - and they are telling me and others that Oracle is now a formidable contemporary force in the technology world. Which is SO nice to see. A long way from oldco to newco, but they are there.