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Digital River - Talk to the Experts

Show Season

By Denis Pombriant
Oct 4, 2017 11:21 AM PT

Autumn officially kicked off about a week ago -- not with some celestial convergence but with show season, with companies like HubSpot and SugarCRM holding conclaves of their faithful. This is traditionally the beginning of attempts at closing the calendar year on a high note, as CRM vendors work to garner customer dollars based on the promises of new technologies unveiled at conferences.

Coming in November, there is Dreamforce. If past is prologue, it will offer myriad new applications and services, like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Oracle OpenWorld 2017 is currently under way and set to wrap on Thursday. This year's OpenWorld is an attempt to leverage the company's increasing financial success from its cloud offerings to help it prosper as a leader in the cloud market. This isn't a hard lift.

Oracle's Unique Cloud Conversion

Oracle is in the midst of turning over its entire product line to operate in the cloud, and to take advantage of the cloud's many advantages -- such as high performance and low costs. Executives last year predicted the process would take a decade or more, and that's likely a fair estimate.

The estimate actually is more about converting the company's more than 425,000 customers to some version of cloud computing. This means rolling out infrastructure-only solutions for those who just want to move the data center to the cloud, for the moment, while Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) focus on customers more prepared to retire their older systems.

Oracle continues to emphasize that there's plenty of life left in the older systems, and it included sessions at OpenWorld for adapting older products like Siebel CRM and JD Edwards (ERP) to new circumstances.

This was the path that Oracle had to take given its huge legacy base. It could not abandon the base, because it still generates a great deal of maintenance revenue -- and new sales -- and, perhaps more importantly, because Oracle's reputation in enterprise data centers would be at stake. So the Oracle transition to the cloud doesn't look like a typical cloud offering by a company born there.

For customers already situated in the cloud or contemplating it, Oracle will offer a variety of high-performance solutions based on analytics and machine learning additions to all of its customer experience product lines, including sales, marketing, service and field service, as well as less traditional CRM areas like retailing. Oracle is also making a big push into the Internet of Things, or IoT, which will further the disruption that cloud computing has caused for most of this century.

The Importance of Process

The big question that this fall's shows will attempt to answer is this: Where are we in the market lifecycle? We're a culture trained to think about what's new and exciting, but the CRM space is about 20 years old now. That's not exactly new, but given our penchant for reinvention, the current version of CRM that is heavy on analytics and machine learning is just a toddler.

Perhaps a better way to look at the situation is to ask about the business processes affected rather than the technologies that affect them. The simple reason is that as disruption proceeds, new technologies support new process options, and I see process as even more important than technology at this point. With disruption comes automation and commoditization, and we're beginning to see a lot of it. Perhaps the greatest example of this is the new automated Oracle database that I will be briefed on.

Based on Larry Ellison's talk during the recent earnings call, the DB is supposed to use analytics to set up and tune itself. If you work off the assumption that most instances of the database have some minor tuning inconsistencies, then this automation will enable better performance with very little investment -- something CIOs will love.

It also will mean less work for IT professionals. It's hard to say whether this will result in job losses, which is typical with automation. After all, cloud computing is its own form of automation and commoditization, but we rarely talk about it as a job killer.

Salesforce claims that in its base alone, there are north of 350,000 jobs going begging for lack of qualified people. So I doubt the absolute number of IT jobs is about to plummet, and for any job erased at this still early stage of IT automation, there should be plenty of new opportunities. Nonetheless, that doesn't mean pay parity or job satisfaction for a displaced IT person -- it just means the absolute number of jobs will remain constant and probably grow.

So, the answers to my questions won't be found only at OpenWorld or only at Dreamforce or any of the multitude of other shows that I can't possibly get to. However, as an industry watcher, I have my hypotheses, and I'll be doing plenty of legwork in the weeks ahead to disprove or validate them.

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. He can be reached at

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