Friday, November 17, 2006

Oracle talks about the future

I was at the UK Oracle User Group conference last week. Now you might think that Oracle doesn’t have a lot to do with mainframes – but think about IBM and Oracle’s recently-announced strategic initiative to collaborate on the sales and marketing of a series of enterprise business solutions with Oracle applications and technology for Linux on System z. And, don't forget, PeopleSoft and Siebel applications are already available on z/OS.

Of course, Oracle is a major software player in the industry, and the attitude it has can be an important indicator of things to come for many other companies. Plus, of course, there are very few mainframe-only sites these days. Apart from PCs everywhere, there is usually a bewildering array of different (and some quite old) mid-range machines.

The user group meeting gave Oracle employees the opportunity to reiterate a lot of the announcements that first appeared at OpenWorld a month or so back. It also gave the user group an opportunity to share its view of Oracle’s performance with Oracle.

Interestingly, Oracle seems to have absorbed the Siebel, PeopleSoft, and JD Edwards customers very well into the Oracle fold. And they have done this to such an extent that they even felt comfortable saying DB2 and SQL Server during a keynote presentation (as you know, Siebel, PeopleSoft, and JD Edwards users may very well have chosen that particular product so they didn’t have to use the Oracle database). They were also keen to stress how much they have learned from taking over so many companies. In fact, Oracle has recently “merged” (the preferred corporate term) with Stellent, MetaSolv Software, and SPL WorldGroup.

To be fair, Oracle is now far more than just a database company. It’s also a middleware company and an applications company. And it was keen to show roadmaps for Siebel, PeopleSoft, and JD Edwards future products as well as its own. Sometime in 2008 it will have completed its Fusion middleware rollout and its Applications Unlimited. I assume, although no-one confirmed this, that gaps in the Applications portfolio identified by senior Oracle staff is what has lead to these recent “mergers” – and probably some future ones.

The other interesting thing was how, although they kept showing the roadmap to the future, all Oracle staff repeatedly said that users would only upgrade their software “when they are ready to” – so, no more vendor pressure to move to the latest release. In fact, people were keen to stress how a successful Oracle depended on having happy and successful customers.

The UK user group has a symbiotic relationship with Oracle. Ably led by Ronan Miles, it now has easy access to Oracle senior staff and is not afraid to tell Oracle where it is going wrong. And, with its new friendly face, Oracle is taking the criticism and doing something about it. For example, in previous years, Oracle support services has been criticized by the user group following its annual survey of members. Oracle has now addressed the problem and the survey shows more users are happy with Oracle support.

This could be the new way to do business: producing new products that offer customers benefits, but allowing the customer to choose their own timescale for migration; listening to users’ needs and doing something about it; and believing customer success equals vendor success. We’ll see how long they can keep it up and how many other companies adopt a similar approach.

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