Oracle has done many things right over the last few years. Ever since Larry Ellison’s disastrous pronouncements disparaging cloud computing at the Churchill Club, the company has worked assiduously to become a cloud company and the results were on display at last week’s Oracle CX Summit in Las Vegas.
Beginning a few years ago, Oracle made a strategic decision to get out of the one-upmanship of competing with Salesforce for CRM ideological purity. That’s a waste of time and I am glad the boxers have moved to neutral corners. Oracle’s decision was to approach the front office through customer experience and so its branding is all about CX whether for sales, marketing, or service.
I like CX but like CRM it requires better definition for today. As business moves from transaction to process it’s not just any customer experience it’s the customer’s experience of a process, a moment of truth. In CRM-land they talk about systems of intelligence which doesn’t exactly land the aircraft so messaging is still a critical need all over.
Next, the company went on a buying binge acquiring many modern cloud companies under the capable leadership of Anthony Lye. Those acquisitions plus some important platform development and integration work have yielded the CX suite we saw last week. All indications are that the customer base is adopting Oracle cloud computing at a good clip even as many wonder aloud about things like security.
Oracle is not alone in this. I was at the SAS Global Forum a week before (also in Las Vegas) and cloud concerns were prevalent there as well. All I can say is that customer concerns are a good indication of incipient change. Nobody likes change and when people are vocalizing their concerns it’s a sure indication that change is in the wind.
So to summarize, Oracle has built a respectable suite of functionality that competes well for enterprise and smaller business in the front office. In Las Vegas I saw company executives, customers, and partners discussing the product road map and field success and it all seemed pretty good.
At this point I’d say the job is half complete—that’s not a bad thing but a reality. The next parts of the transition include business process orientation and dealing with financial realities and each has roots in how the company talks about itself—its messaging.
Oracle is being very aggressive in industry specific CRM which is much about how to support business processes for verticals like finance and healthcare. They are not alone and industry CRM is one of the key battlegrounds for CRM going forward. Salesforce is putting significant wood behind that arrow as are several startups most notably, Vlocity headed by David Schmaier formerly the number two executive at Siebel and the driving force behind Siebel’s industry strategy which is now part of Oracle.
In finance, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere Oracle is enduring an Innovator’s Dilemma moment as it transitions from lucrative software licensing to cloud subscriptions. Ironically as the company continues to succeed at turning over its customer base to the cloud, its earnings may suffer in comparison with the on-prem business. There’s not much to do about this other than to get through it and adapt to the new reality.
This brings us to messaging. Much, but not all, of the messaging and presentation to analysts reflected an older Oracle and that will continue to evolve. The presentations I witnessed were heavy on technology and too light for my taste on the so-what, which simply means that customers need more than speeds and feeds to make important decisions about moving to the cloud. But the Oracle culture I witnessed still focuses on selling technology rather than business results.
When integration partners discussed customer success, too often they limited their praise to a rapid deployment that was on time and budget. However, it was mind boggling that they were reluctant to give concrete assessments of the post implementation. Most didn’t name customers instead referring to “a company” in a particular market. It might still be early days for this though when customers got their turn on a panel, Oracle was able to present real people talking about their successes and they ranged from a specialty retailer, Elaine Turner, to very large enterprises including PSA, the company that owns Peugeot and Citroen, and Denon + Marantz Electronics.
Being in a transition state as Oracle is, is not entirely a bad thing. The company is in a delicate dance where it wants to demonstrate concrete commitment to loyal customers who are not ready to migrate for various reasons, while selling the vision of what’s shiny, new, and modern. Other vendors are in a similar box but I have to say that Oracle has done a good job of trying to bring everyone along.
So at this stage I’d say that Oracle is in a Goldilocks moment—not too hot or cold. They’re trying to steer a middle course between old and new and they’re doing a pretty good job of it. The biggest hurdle right now may be the financial markets’ expectations but then again, those markets have had nearly two decades to understand the migration pattern.