Oracle’s Blessing

They pulled out all the stops at Oracle Open World last week to unveil a whole lot of advanced and interesting business technology. It was the 30th anniversary show, but the emphasis was clearly about the future — not the past.

There was lots that was not CRM related — though from my provincial perspective I can barely understand why — and I will leave it to the rest of the world to figure that out. There was certainly enough that was CRM to keep me busy.

Full disclosure, I was not there, but over the last few months I have received briefings as much to prepare me for writing this as to solicit my advice (opinions really) about their direction. Now, I feel like the secret mission is over and I can write freely.

Firing All Its Guns

One of my general impressions is that after a long, quiet period it seems like Oracle is coming out firing all its guns at once. There was lots of Fusion to talk about as well as Oracle’s approach to CRM and grid computing and a new take on CRM that has strong Web 2.0 underpinnings.

Where to start? I am not going to review what was announced but instead provide a little analysis on a couple of ideas.

Grid Computing

The first idea is grid computing. Lately, there has been a lot of talk about the merits of single- and multi-tenant architectures. The multi-tenant model is the one that came through the early testing by fire and won the on-demand war, or at least the first on-demand war.

Ten years ago, single tenant went by the name of facilities management, which essentially outsourced operations but left the expenses. Oracle never gave up on the single tenant idea, and grid computing seems to be a way to say it doesn’t matter. Grid computing supports both and provides solutions in a more hospitable (read non-client server) way than it once did.

Oracle claims, rightly so, that there are situations where customers simply cannot accept a multi-tenant architecture for legal and security reasons — think about a bank sharing space with a foreign company in a multi-tenant system.

I think this approach is likely to cause the on-demand community to further evolve its offerings and architecture or risk being shut out of some big and lucrative opportunities at a time when enterprises are coming to accept the on-demand message. With its grid announcement, Oracle is effectively saying, “Is it on-demand you want or multi-tenancy?”

Good question.

Focusing on Web 2.0

Closer to home, Oracle is tackling some interesting ideas in good old CRM. As we’ve been seeing from events like Sales 2.0 and blogs and discussion groups dedicated to asking what CRM 2.0 is, Web 2.0 (I think that’s enough 2.0’s for now) ideas are making their way into CRM. Briefly, Web 2.0 ideas cover a lot of ground, but the concept is about applying social networking to the challenge of communicating with and selling to customers.

One particularly slick idea in the Oracle arsenal involves applications that do everything from analyzing a territory and picking out likely prospects to helping users select content and strategize its delivery to the most promising prospects. It either sounds like “Buck Rogers” or 1984, depending on your world view, but regardless, it is very high powered.

Of course, in an event like this there is a lot of emphasis on the future to the extent that you may not always be sure of what is a real product or what’s in the pipeline. For example, one Oracle generated document said, “Oracle also will provide the Oracle Sales Library, which can essentially act as an index of a company’s best sales tools, such as presentations and RFPs (requests for proposals).”

I assume that means soon. That’s a cool thing, but it would be incorrect to think that everything Oracle was talking about was bleeding edge or leading edge. Other companies such as Kadient and maybe Savo already offer solutions like this one, for example.

Hedging Its Bets

Here’s how I would net it out. First, Oracle is taking on-demand computing seriously in a way I have not seen before and that should be good. Second, integration is important to Oracle in ways that were not in evidence before. The Oracle Application Integration Architecture is a good proof point. Third, Web 2.0 is coming to Oracle in part to enable the company’s enterprise customers to better develop, integrate and pursue business processes that have been limited by what even Oracle’s Ed Abbo, senior vice president of product development, called “fragile” business processes in his keynote.

Oracle has hedged its bets in lots of ways. With a plethora of new and farsighted ideas, the company doesn’t have to be clairvoyant or right 100 percent of the time to be successful. They’ve made some shrewd bets, and now they have a portfolio of new technologies — some of which could become home runs.

On the flip side though, as much as you might like a lot of what you saw and heard, at least some of the ideas have been around and other vendors — which may not have Oracle’s marketing budget or industry clout — have been delivering some of these goodies for a while.

So this conference might simply mark a time when Oracle woke up and brought to market its versions of cutting-edge solutions and therefore “legitimized” some spaces and ideas that have been slowly gaining traction.

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is working on a book and can be reached at [email protected].

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