The ghost of Anthony Lye presided over Oracle OpenWorld’s third-day customer experience, or CX, keynote. For CRM and related things, it was the moment I’d been waiting for. Lye is in robust health as far as I know, but he has been gone from Oracle for about a year. He was the architect of Oracle’s CRM strategy that resulted in the acquisitions of RightNow Technologies, ATG, Endeca, and other brands that the company spent billions on and consolidated into its CX operations.
Lye’s fingerprints were all over the keynote script, ably presented by David Vap, who made a kind of case for why social media embedded in CRM has become or is becoming standard equipment for any company aiming to access 21st century marketing and sales.
Vap updated some concepts about customers deserting vendors when vendors can’t meet their needs — 26 percent now post negative comments about vendors, 86 percent stop doing business after one bad experience, and 69 percent of employees are not actively engaged with their jobs.
While Vap’s effort was intended to present a brief for social’s inevitability, I felt it was more of an indictment of business as usual — of simply trying to apply social Band-Aids to what are fundamentally cultural problems in many corporations today. It was like looking through the wrong end of the telescope.
The corporate culture is still too mired in a manufacturing age — the build-it, ship-it and collect-the-money model untouched by things like subscriptions and mobile technology — and Oracle’s approach to it all seemed to me to be a social overlay on fundamentally broken business processes. As a strategy it works because it offers sinners salvation without asking them to repent. Unfortunately, they keep sinning.
What was missing, to my way of thinking, was the customer. There was little acknowledgement that amending the corporate culture and the business model starts with asking the customer — not once, but throughout the lifecycle — what do you want and how are we doing? It was alluded to in Vap’s talk, but presumably Oracle doesn’t have an app for that, only a methodology, so it didn’t get the attention it deserved.
A big tell for me was Oracle’s reliance on what I think is one major analyst firm’s infinite loop customer lifecycle. The parts of the lifecycle include Need, Research, Select, Purchase, Receive, Use, Maintain and Recommend, which brings us back to Need. I much prefer the lifecycle promoted by GetSatisfaction and some other social vendors, which uses only six stages: Discovery, Evaluation, Purchase, Use/Experience, Bonding and Advocacy.
The first lifecycle aims to provide vendor side solutions for every step — with the possible exception of Advocacy, which is inherently customer side. It is neatly contained by the vendor and its presumed use of customer experience notions.
The reason I like the alternative better is that it admits that the vendor is not in control and actually puts the customer in the center of the model. It admits that the customer is in control from the beginning, leveraging the information resources of the Internet and social media to conduct a purchase process largely free of vendor influence.
It’s the second half of the lifecycle, the back nine of the relationship, where social shows its stuff in this model. Rather than deliver a product and wish the new owner luck, the second approach continues to leverage social leading up to the most critical part of business today, bonding.
Vendors may mourn the fact that they can’t control customers as they did back when they controlled information flow, but they’ve made too little progress on the back nine in understanding that bonding is not only the new black, but also the new everything.
Without bonding you never get to recommendation, which is a tepid form of advocacy, and without either you spend more than you should attracting and maintaining customers at a time when the costs of those activities eats into margins in a nontrivial way.
For all that, it seems that Oracle might be doing well enough with its customer experience strategy, at least in Europe. It was interesting that the major use stories came from Tesco, a large retailer and grocer — and everyone’s favorite Lego. The presenter from Lego showed that he really gets it and told several stories about customer engagement, about being in the moment with the customer, and ultimately about customer bonding. Oracle needs more of that.
Had Lye stuck around, I wonder if he would have been able to turn the ship from a culture of layering technology on old business processes to one that embeds a customer culture into the technology. That’s not a fair question, because everyone moves on and what remains ought to be the culture that drives the organization forward.
Oracle has some amazing tools and the ears of very powerful people in IT across the world, so I am not concerned about it getting its social messaging right eventually. They haven’t been at it very long, after all.
There were many bright spots at Oracle OpenWorld — don’t let this rat hole I’ve fallen into give you the wrong impression. Nearly everyone I interact with said it was the best run thing in years, and much credit for my little part of that experience goes to Susie Penner for her tireless efforts to give us access to Oracle executives.
There was also the little matter of the America’s Cup, which I wrote about last time with regard to analytics. I have had a ringside seat to some of the comings and goings behind the scenes over the last couple of years, and I have to say that while many people were miffed that Larry Ellison played hooky from a keynote to root, root, root for the home team, I think he made the right move. OpenWorld happens every year; America’s Cup on your boat and in your backyard — not so much.
Larry Ellison’s keynote at Oracle OpenWorld on Sunday night had many flourishes as well as reminders of previous OpenWorlds. If this is your first experience with OpenWorld it is a TECHNOLOGY conference with, yes, a heavy emphasis on tech. That included a preliminary address by Fujitsu, one of the sponsors, that managed to make watching paint dry seem exciting.
No matter though, the show was about Oracle and its founder and guiding light, Larry Ellison who arrived from a day on San Francisco Bay watching his Team USA America’s Cup entry score a pair of wins on the previously dominating New Zealand hull. With the American boat still playing catch up at 8 wins to 5 (9 needed to win) there was no gloating but you could see a bit of self satisfaction on Ellison’s face both for the win and presumably because he didn’t have to deliver any bad news at the outset. New Zealand needs one more win to take the trophy home so it’s nail biting time for the American fans.
Nonetheless, Ellison was in a good mood as he unveiled some high capacity innovations in his company’s database (12c) and two new database appliances and other silicon based gadgetry that, if you are a gear-head or database maven, will thrill you.
First up, Oracle 12c, the fully in-memory version of the database that can run queries more than 100 times faster than the conventional model. That’s a huge performance improvement — like getting a Corvette for your sixteenth birthday when you were expecting a new bicycle. If you happen to be a Fortune 500 company with data, data everywhere, this advancement will bring a smile to your face. Never mind the row and column format innovations that make it possible, this is big picture, because, I am not a database guy any more. I can just appreciate it.
Then there is yet another device in the growing stable of Sun/Oracle devices that accelerate database activity. The new machine, M6-32, enables massive shared memory for in memory applications. It sports a silicon based interconnect running at 3 terabyte/sec (I was told to make sure it’s terabytes and not terabits). It translates into uber-fast data movement to help afford radically great database performance for databases that carry billions of rows.
Finally, there is a new backup and logging device for the database that also operates rather snappily, so well in fact that they saddled it with a ridiculous name which is something like Backup and Logging Device, which is sort of like the idea of naming a boy Sue as in a Johnny Cash song or naming your jelly Smuckers. Nobody is going to forget this machine once they see what it does and it does plenty.
What’s interesting to me about all this is that 1) it demonstrates some very good engineering aimed at confronting the biggest issues of database and hardware business today, Big Data; it also 2) positions Oracle even more directly as the plumber of the cloud as no other hardware maker has gone to the effort of thinking through what happens in 2020 when there are upwards of 50 billion devices hanging on the cloud. In memory is a big step in that direction.
This means that Oracle is the lead dog in the hunt to be the infrastructure maven of the cloud as it creeps toward reliability standards previously only seen in the phone system or possible some good electric utilities. That’s where we need to be for the cloud to become the indispensable business tool its supporters envisioned ten years ago.
Over the next few days, we’ll hear about the company’s applications and its business model and strategies for getting its customer base to dip a toe into the cloud, to bruise a metaphor. That will be the trick but fortunately for all, Oracle has found a way to engineer a win-win situation for all customers to take their time making the transition. All Ellison needs now is a little wind for his boat to do the same.