Oh, what to write about Sunday night?
Sunday must be the hardest night to do a keynote, especially at Oracle OpenWorld. People have been flying all day or the day before and have traveled great distances — 19 percent came from EMEA while 70 percent came from North America — so they’re tired and running on a different time zone’s clock. So I get it.
Nevertheless, Oracle continued a tradition of mediocrity with two keynotes the first by Intel President, Renee J. James and the climax by founder and CTO, and newly appointed Executive Chairman, Larry Ellison. Each presentation had its merits but they could have been better. For some reason each speaker felt a need to recapitulate the history of technology since the invention of the wheel, which got a little tedious.
On the plus side, the companies are doing some very cool R&D that is translating into products that help manage both the big data tsunami and help lock down data so that those nasty people in Eastern Europe and the People’s Liberation Army in China, and yes, the NSA, will be thwarted as they try to figure out how I like my latte.
Best ideas from my vantage point — embedding database functions in silicon to make them extra fast and using silicon photonics to make the connections at the chip level even faster. So far these advances seem aimed at bulk commercial data processing but I can see huge upside as these vendors apply all of this to a single problem like molecular modeling or code breaking.
Ellison gave a survey of accomplishments from the last year touting all of the apps his company has built and that list is impressive. However, the proof of the pudding at this conference for me will involve how these points get lined up into end-to-end business process support. I hope that’s where this is going because so far it seems instead like the company has reinvented its legacy products for the cloud rather than re-imagining the business processes. Hope I am wrong.
However, it must be said that both speakers seemed to tire as their talks went on. James got giddy as she made what seemed like a few small unforced errors and Ellison decided on an alternative order for his slides even while his remote clicker went on the fritz yet again, “Backup two slides, please.”
James didn’t seem to know the conference’s title is Oracle OpenWorld and not Oracle World. I know this sounds picky but it leads one to question how much practice the speakers put in and how well rehearsed the whole event is. Maybe I am spoiled by Salesforce’s crispness and manic attention to presentation details. But that’s the way it ought to be when you are addressing your global customer base in your annual address.
We’ll see how it goes today. Over and out.
Every year around this time I write two columns one on the year that was and another on what I expect the new year to bring. There is no methodology for this process and I believe this lack of method is important. I take a blank screen and fill it up with what has been on my mind for the last year and what made it out through my posts. Here are a few ideas that bubbled up.
We lost Steve this year and the outpouring in the media was inspiring. For some reason, many people felt the need to try to reconcile Jobs’ fastidious and demanding personality with the beautiful products he inspired. One who did not was Malcolm Gladwell who placed Jobs in a long continuum of people who did not invent original products but who tinkered with and improved them significantly. The world needs all kinds. That might have been true for the GUI but Jobs still gets high marks for things like iPod (an improvement on Walkman) and especially iPad, iTunes and the store for which there was little if any precursor.
A quote from a Time Magazine (July 10, 2011)review of GM executive Bob Lutz’s book from 2011 “Car Guys vs. Bean Counters” http://amzn.to/sZEwaq
makes an important point: “It’s interesting to note that the one area of the U.S. economy that’s adding jobs and increasing productivity and wealth is also the one that is the most relentlessly product- and consumer-focused: Silicon Valley. The company off Highway 101 that best illustrates this point is, of course, Apple. The only time Apple ever lost the plot was when it put the M.B.A.s in charge. As long as college dropout Steve Jobs is in the driver’s seat, customers (and shareholders) are happy.” Thanks, Steve.
Social, mobile and analytics plus cloud
On deck to assume the Jobs niche in the tech industry and beyond may be chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com, Marc Benioff. To be clear, Benioff and Jobs are very different people in most respects but Benioff has the same blue ocean strategy that Jobs had and a knack for entertaining his customers. Benioff also likes to invent things. He has driven the rest of the industry to embrace social, mobile, analytics and cloud much faster than it would have left to its own devices. This combination of attributes is really all any Martian would need to know to understand the market upon arriving here. The drive to embrace these technologies first is what separates Salesforce from all other conventional CRM companies and is a big reason for the Silicon Valley quote above.
We’ve been hearing about cloud computing for many years already and interestingly 2011 was a year of a dramatic demonstration of its power in reverse. Target Stores pulled its web site from the cloud into the premises in time to launch a huge marketing campaign featuring Missoni brand clothing. The campaign was so successful that it clobbered the site and crushed the ambitions of any other IT leaders who might still think on-prem will be a workable strategy as we go “all in” on social, mobile and analytics. Right?
The Missoni fiasco gave me a chance to showcase curation software from Storify. Curation products enable anyone to find and bring together relevant content from the web to produce a one of a kind package of related information that is greater than the sum of parts. Curation plucks gems from the torrent of things rushing by in the digital river (pun!) and it will be an important part of how we use the web in the future.
The Subscription economy
With cloud computing more valuable than ever we see a new idea taking shape called the subscription economy. You probably recognize it and consider it old by some measures. But the interesting thing about the subscription economy is that so far it has been at best held together with bailing wire and spit. Old style ERP systems have been a major impediment to subscriptions and many of us never realized it. I quoted others talking about how ERP has held back business innovation but also about Zuora and others who are pushing the envelope with billing and payment systems that enable subscriptions like never before. Zuora announced its series D round of $36 million recently and I look for them to be a major IPO in the next 24 months.
Blue ocean strategy
In a press conference early in 2011, Benioff said he had no interest in developing an ERP system to complement his company’s growing front office footprint. Without using the words blue or ocean in the same sentence he let us know that there is too much untapped potential in the front office, often in the form of applications of social concepts and business processes that have still not been invented or fleshed out. By the end of this year that approach seems to have put Salesforce into a category of its own as most of the ERP players I watch seem to be focused on re-selling their legacy bases.
Oracle and Salesforce
One such ERP company is Oracle, a self described fast follower, that has nonetheless made big investments in the front office. In 2011 Oracle acquired ecommerce provider ATG for one billion bucks and followed up about six months later with a $1.5 billion acquisition of RightNow. We’ll miss RightNow but Oracle seems to have blue ocean plans of its own regarding retail in the future. Watch this space.
Dreamforce and OpenWorld
We got an eyeful of how competitive the atmosphere is in San Francisco and Silicon Valley when Larry Ellison disinvited Marc Benioff to speak at OpenWorld. At first it looked like a bizarre move by Ellison but later it looked liked improvisational comedy by a couple of masters. It was certainly entertaining. Ellison used the opportunity to announce his own cloud computing and social strategies though true to form I was not shown much product or given a date for general availability for some parts of the product line.
Speaking of entertainment, Paul Greenberg got the industry organized around the Idol theme in the first annual CRM Idol competition, which I was part of. The concept is still rough around the edges — one wonders how entertaining business ought to be — but it brought the industry together across most of the world’s landmasses and fun was had by all. We discovered some very interesting companies and at least one, Assistly, was bought before the competition even finished. I think Idol has legs if we can get a better set of pre-conditions in place to screen out some companies that are clearly not competitive. Just sayn.
What’s going to get the economy moving again?
Over the summer there was fear of a double dip as the economy seemed to slow but that scare seems to have passed and the tepid recovery continues with job growth in the last 21 months and counting. Not enough jobs to erase a big unemployment number mind you, but progress, slow and steady.
Marketo CEO Phil Fernandez offered his own prescription for recovery saying that the revenue performance management (RPM) methodology that he and others (Eloqua, Cloud9) are promoting could generate as much as $2.5 trillion in new revenue globally. Maybe he’s right, but…
It’s all about energy
In May I was in Chicago to give a talk and noticed the prices for gas were almost hitting the five-dollar mark. The cost of energy, transportation and raw materials all derived from petroleum, hold the key to recovery (and, yes, European bankers and politicians). There’s no longer any slack in the petroleum production system and when demand spikes so do prices and when that happens, the economy cools. We’re in for some uneven performance as long as that is true.
Books I have read recently such as, “The End of Growth” by Richard Heinberg http://amzn.to/vYJesf and “World on the Edge” by Lester R. Brown http://amzn.to/sv0pvy, tell the same story. Nothing grows forever and on a finite planet there are finite resources, which ultimately places a cap on many things. That doesn’t mean doom and gloom but it does mean we need to think about our next steps as a species. Global warming isn’t going away on its own.
All the technologies we’ve been debuting in the last few years will be an important part of the next strategy, especially as we are required to pivot away from dead plants as our energy sources. That’s one vantage point from which I will be evaluating our industry in the new year. The business processes we use are directly related to the technologies we have to work with — the subscription economy is a case in point. Along with helping us make money, our great new technologies must serve our need to get carbon and costs out of our business processes ASAP.
But for now let me simply say thanks for reading my column this year and for your many good observations and comments. I hope you enjoy your year-end celebrations, however you do them.
WTF! I’ve been writing, talking and meeting all day. I thought I had the night off when this bombshell went off (it comes directly form Twitter):
“RT @Benioff: Larry just cancelled my keynote tomorrow! Sorry #oow11! Join me @ St. Regis AME Restaurant at 10:30AM! The show must go on! Sorry Larry!”
There are so many things to say on so many levels, this could take all night.
Of all the bush league things that could be done, this is a topper. If you thought the days of animosity and dirty tricks was over in Silicon Valley because we had somehow grown up — or at least aged out of it — tonight is a sobering reminder that they play by bare knuckles rules out here. Let’s try to pull this apart and analyze some of the levels of meaning. ALL OF WHAT FOLLOWS IS AT BEST A HYPOTHESIS, MY HYPOTHESIS.
First off, you don’t cancel a keynote on the speaker less than 24 hours in advance regardless of the reasons short of moral turpitude or an ax murder. We don’t have motives as I write this so it is my assumption that the Benioff keynote scheduled for tomorrow morning had no justifiable reason for termination.
Even if you are Larry and it’s your show, if you made the agreement, most likely a year ago, you keep your word. If you don’t like the idea, you cancel next year’s keynote a year in advance, not the night before. One immediately has to wonder why this ever got started in the first place.
So, what’s going on here?
Marc Benioff knows how to get under your skin if he wants to and that should be no surprise to anyone. For all we know, Cole Porter was imagining Benioff when he wrote the lyrics to “I’ve got you under my skin”. Tom Siebel got a big dose of Benioff when they were competing. I remember one of Benioff’s first attacks on Siebel featured a third grade kid named Dave who had to write one hundred times on the blackboard, “I will not let Siebel take my lunch money.” Ouch! That was effective.
People loved the Dr. Dave campaign in part because it pitted a real David against a goliath and it worked brilliantly. Benioff hounded Siebel relentlessly until time and circumstance made Siebel decide to throw in the towel and allow itself to be bought by Oracle where it remains today.
Today’s dust up can be seen as a reaction by Oracle to several years of Benioff sniping about cloud computing and Oracle’s lack thereof. Let’s review. Benioff started giving a keynote during OpenWorld a few years ago. As one of Oracle’s biggest customers it was a privilege but also something that the vendor — Oracle — could not easily refuse given the circumstances. At that point, Oracle had CRM OnDemand but Benioff had the momentum in cloud computing, CRM and social media.
Things only got better or worse depending on which horse you rode. Salesforce continued to grow and gain market share by offering more products like Chatter and socialized CRM. Oracle made incremental improvements to its core systems and continued to offer several flavors of CRM including CRM On-Demand and Siebel. Oracle is a tough competitor in CRM, not doubt about it.
When Oracle bought Sun and began bringing to market its Exa- series of hardware including storage (Exadata) and compute servers (Exalogic), Marc ridiculed them as cloud in a box and not real cloud computing. This year in the wake of a very successful Dreamforce, Benioff was ready to come out talking about collaboration, the social enterprise and the social customer. I think the dominant concern might have been letting this cannon loose in the OOW chicken coop.
Perhaps Oracle had justifiable concerns. If you went through the OpenWorld show floor today and visited the Salesforce booth (Yes, they have a booth!) you would have seen something very strange for a trade show. People from the Salesforce Foundation staffed the Salesforce booth and they were in the middle of preparing aid packages for charity work. There was nothing in the booth relevant to selling Salesforce’s SaaS service.
The foundation was simply recruiting people from the show to do the packing labor as they walked by. It was as if Benioff was saying to Ellison, “See, we don’t need your X-boxes you can do all this to make money and we have a higher calling.
Maybe that was the last straw, I don’t know. Earlier in the day, I had heard that there was a chance the keynote would be moved to the following day but not much later it all came to an abrupt end. Benioff has found alternate space for the speech and it will be held as planned. But meanwhile, Ellison and company look either like a bunch of fools who got played or the school yard bullies. Either way they’ve been pushed into an action they will regret. If this was football, I’d have to say that Salesforce caused its opponents to fumble or to throw an interception.
What precipitated the action is unclear and likely to remain a personal issue between two people who were once mentor and protégée. Why it happened says much about Oracle. They should have been able to behave better or at least in a more mature way but I guess that isn’t the way things always work out here.
Writing about the seminal event for CRM at Oracle Open World — the public cloud computing debate between Larry Ellison and Marc Benioff respective CEO’s of Oracle and Salesforce.com — is tougher than coming up with rent and alimony. There are so many threads to pull together and I have so much history following the debate that I might need multiple posts to get it right. As I see it there are technical, economic, social and personal threads to this.
Oracle Open World 2010 may be seen in retrospect as the schism-point for cloud computing. Until now, the two main camps did a passable job of playing nice with Oracle often discussing support for so-called hybrid implementations for instance. But that façade was wearing thin and finally cracked this week.
On one hand Oracle introduced some important hardware that will propel its version of the cloud model for a long time to come. On the other, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff reiterated the advantages of multi-tenant cloud computing and made a strong case that cloud computing represents a new paradigm of interactive, social and highly mobile computing that supports new business models. The debate will rage for years, but should it?
It has been clear for a long time that conventional computing involving private data centers running licensed software will not suddenly give up the ghost. Too much time, money and expertise is invested in the status quo for it to go away quietly. Oracle’s Exalogic compute server introduction is aimed at extending this paradigm by reducing the cost of conventional computing.
Oracle’s approach is to make computing resources ubiquitously available to customers for deployment at a moment’s notice. This introduction will be seen by conventional data centers as an important advancement. Though not the first to offer access to virtualized compute services, Oracle maintains that it has competitive advantages from owning the database, middleware and in some cases the operating systems. It claims superiority because all systems are engineered to work together. But implicit is this argument is the idea that the applications to be deployed already exist, an oversight that shouldn’t be ignored.
Benioff’s vision of the cloud starts where Ellison’s leaves off. Benioff believes the future of computing is social and mobile and his forward looking approach seeks to claim net new application customers in the same companies Oracle sells to, which brings us to economics.
Paradigms shift. Sometimes they move quickly and other times they move at a glacial rate. They also overlap with old and new coexisting during the transition and often the highest evolution of the old paradigm also turns out to be its swan song. Forget about the IT industry for a moment and think about the revolution passenger aircraft that replaced piston engines with jets. The jet engine was the disruptive innovation of its day but it won a paradigm debate because it offered characteristics that included lower maintenance costs, speed and performance. But piston driven aircraft didn’t disappear overnight.
The shift from piston driven passenger aircraft to jets took about twenty years and retired piston planes flew cargo for a long time after that. Perhaps the highest evolution of this kind of plane was the Lockheed Constellation, a beautiful plane with numerous amenities but with piston engines, a dinosaur when it went into service.
Back to IT. In some ways it’s interesting that we’re placing so much attention on cloud computing because the mainframe era is still with us. There are still over six thousand mainframes running mission critical applications in enterprise computing. My point is that while salesforce.com might have the keys to the future, there is still a lot of opportunity left in the older business model of licensed software. I don’t know too many people who want to start a software company based on this model nor do I know anyone interested in building a three-hundred seat piston engine driven passenger aircraft. But I should probably get out more.
I don’t believe the Exadata and Exalogic represent evolutionary dead ends like the Lockheed Constellation. The industry needs the huge capacities these machines represent. Their initial use in serving private clouds with virtualized systems is a good fit but as that paradigm sunsets I believe this technology or its successor will find a home in the larger conception of clouds.
Oracle has a large captive market to sell these new machines to. Selling paradigm extending clouds in a box makes perfect sense for Oracle just as selling a multi-tenant cloud makes perfect sense for Salesforce. Larry and Marc are each playing the hands they were dealt and these guys play well. So look for more sniping from both camps. It will be entertaining, which is why I was recently quoted comparing this situation to a low calorie beer commercial.
Speaking of beer, let’s get social.
The paradigm shift that Marc Benioff and others ushered in ten years ago was about technology but if you look carefully, you can see that the paradigm is shifting again. This time it is about computing at the user level rather than at the producer level. That’s a good reason for why Benioff is promoting Cloud 2 and trying to distance himself from Ellison’s cloud even as the two debate who really has the secret sauce.
We all know about the impact that social media and its use are causing in our culture. Ironically, if you listen to the Enterprise 2.0 crowd, all this socialization was supposed to have been adopted by business ten years ago. But top down, command and control management initially rejected the idea of decentralization instead opting for better technological controls thus extending that hierarchical paradigm. That’s a key reason sales force automation developed as it did, i.e. as a reporting tool.
Social media initially found a home in personal use and it is now transitioning to the enterprise as an overdue paradigm shift. So the debate between Oracle and Salesforce can be seen in this light as a sideshow to the shift in corporate culture. Of course, the shift has to be supported by software and so we have the debate.
Along with social models comes the need for mobility. This might not seem intuitive but think about it, without mobility technology to serve social software, we can only be social some of the time. And since we can’t ever hope to synchronize our activities social becomes an all or nothing proposition dependent on mobility at least some of the time.
The difference between the two computing paradigms comes into sharp focus over the idea of social integration. Benioff’s cloud is fundamentally a social cloud leveraging the wisdom of crowds, which makes this cloud ascendant. Benioff is putting a great deal of effort into socializing the enterprise. Chatter is perhaps the best known social application in the Salesforce quiver but before Chatter there were the Sales Cloud and Service Cloud each of which leverages the wisdom of crowds to discover hidden information that enables enterprises to achieve goals faster and for less expense.
Chatter does for the enterprise what the Cloud offerings do for departments. Using crowd wisdom techniques, Chatter surfaces information and knowledge that is usually hidden from view in an enterprise. By making what was previously unknown at least knowable, Chatter unlocks a new source of productivity for the enterprise. So far Oracle’s cloud paradigm has no answer for it.
Finally there is a personal thread running through all this. We all know that Marc worked for Larry and that Marc credits Larry as one of his mentors. Larry was also a very early investor in Salesforce and a member of the board. The two appear to enjoy the rivalry and I suspect each realizes that having a foil on the other side of an argument is better than being alone in the market, even if you are the leader. It generates press and free publicity as Benioff readily acknowledged in his keynote on Wednesday.
None of this should be taken to mean the situation won’t change. It may be true that past is prologue but one’s history is not one’s fate. As a very big company Oracle has become good at being what Oracle CRM leader Anthony Lye calls a fast follower. Conversely, Salesforce is still relatively small and continues its nimble ways. A future iteration of the debate spawned by Open World could easily expand into social strategies within the enterprise or between it and the customer. It could also grow to include a debate over whose platform and development strategy is best. The possibilities are vast and the options will fuel the conversation for a long time.
Dust off your baseball metaphors because they all apply. Yesterday, team Oracle threw strikes, played small ball, swung for the fences, shut down the opposition and generally stole home in a very satisfying win. We’re talking Open World.
It was a team effort at the Moscone Center in San Francisco where forty-one thousand guests and who knows how many Oracle employees participated in a learning program that revealed new products and services up and down the product line from hardware to software. CRM is my interest and there was plenty to see.
I don’t know how many billion dollars Oracle spends on research and development each year, though the number seven sticks in my brain. And I don’t know how much of it goes into CRM but I am reliably informed that the lion’s share goes into our favorite software.
It shows too. As a result, there is a great deal to talk about and only this small space — and, truthfully, my brain has not finished processing it all — so all I can provide are some highlights.
Parenthetically, it is good for me to see that some of the product directions are based on some of the same market assumptions I have been discussing for the last couple of years. Though we might disagree about the drivers for the market shifts the practical effect is that we’re seeing markets change affecting how companies go to market and that directly drives CRM development. Oracle is developing and has developed products that leverage change to help their customers.
A key point is the Sales Performance Suite, developed in Fusion that is penetrating both Siebel CRM and Oracle CRM On-Demand. The parts make for some interesting discussions. For instance, Fusion has analytics support built in and analytics permeate applications based on the platform. This results in some interesting applications for sales planning, territory planning, predictive analysis and one of my favorites, white space analytics.
In the future that I see, selling will look a lot more like retail, pharmaceuticals and consumer goods do now — established vendors selling into known customer bases and less new ground to cover. Vendors will necessarily need applications that can help them pinpoint how and when to sell upgrades or to make new offers to existing customers. That’s where analytics will shine and it points out the need for better social tools that capture the raw data these analytic engines will use.
That’s Oracle’s vision of sales performance. The goal is to help organizations better ensure adequate opportunity across all sales territories and with better coverage achieve better results overall. On the other side of the coin, new or improved applications designed to help vendors better understand customer lifetime value come with more social media support.
As Anthony Lye explained in one of his team’s presentations, customer lifetime value used to be measured only by the amount of revenue a vendor could expect from a customer.
Now, though, with the addition of better analytics and social tools, customer lifetime value is being extended to include the value of a person’s social network and the likelihood that a person will tell his or her network about a product or service. It’s viral marketing on a grand scale and one term to know is Social Activity Stream.
Other revelations might have been less dramatic but more reassuring. For instance, with regard to Fusion and Fusion applications, more than once I was told that Fusion is positioned as a tool for incremental application improvement not wholesale application replacement, though that’s certainly possible too. This means the brands that Oracle bought several years ago are not slated to disappear under a tsunami of Fusion applications, over time Fusion will be used by each product set to improve it.
One of my favorite ideas is Cross Channel CRM. Simply put, it is what makes it possible to surf the Web, talk to a sales person make a purchase on-line and pick it up at a nearby store. The logistics involved in passing all the data around to the many different channels are significant and a n important direction for Oracle.
Then there’s mobility, which isn’t exactly new but the concept is being enlarged. Oracle expects that sales of hand held devices will exceed conventional computers in the near future and that they — including tablets like the iPad — will become the primary CRM device. Take a minute to let that sink in.
It doesn’t mean the PC industry is in trouble but it does suggest the increased importance of mobility. In a world with high transportation costs, and regular is $3.59 down the street form me right now, every change of location is important and saving transportation costs is a key future direction. For those reasons alone, mobile devices fueled by data and intelligence from headquarters will be important for maintaining a competitive edge. These are some of the same reasons that territory planning and lead optimization and analyzing white space become more important. All help a company’s customer outreach to be more efficient and the return on sales investment has always been important and that won’t change.
Not all of the R&D budget goes directly into building products. I was impressed to hear Anthony Lye’s travel statistics for the last year — 240,000 air miles, 60 cities, 40 countries and more. He is not alone, the rest of the CRM team has similarly impressive numbers, which Lye said are accumulated visiting customers and listening to their needs as a routine part of the product development process. As it should be.
Oracle is not a perfect company but at Open World you get a palpable sense of how important customers are and how driven Oracle people are to deliver products and services that customers need. Customers love it and this is one reason so many of them flock to San Francisco every year. Open World continues today with more announcements and demos.