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Inside Oracle's B2B commerce and apps platform news - customer and partner impact

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed October 19, 2022
Oracle CloudWorld 2022 is bursting with news - but can we somehow tie it together? Here's my personal pick of the show's top stories, including customer and partner views. A reassessment of Oracle's CX strategy is also in order.

Oliver Hughes - Red Bull Racing
(Oliver Hughes of Red Bull Racing in Vegas)

Wouldn't it be nice if we could sum up a show in a sound bite - and put a ribbon on it? Well, we're not going to be able to do that with Oracle CloudWorld.

CEO Safra Catz put customers across industries on stage. Then Larry Ellison made an impassioned - and spectacularly ambitious - case for changing health care.

Bolstered by the Cerner acquisition and vital pandemic projects like v-safe, Ellison now wants to unite the world's fragmented health care data silos.

But that's not the end of it. Over in the Oracle newsroom, the stories are piling up, including a load of embargo-lifted news that went public as of Wednesday October 19th. But what stories made the biggest impression on me? And what about customer and partner views?

Oracle's B2B Commerce news - time to rethink ERP assumptions

Let's start with Oracle's B2B Commerce announcements. From the press release:

The new Oracle B2B Commerce eliminates the disparate systems, processes, and data integration challenges that make B2B transactions so complex by directly connecting more than 40,000 buyers, sellers, and service providers via Oracle Cloud Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).

Okay, that's the pitch, but what is the news headline? Notable trading partners joining the fray:

Oracle B2B Commerce will provide integrations with J.P. Morgan's Payments business, which includes the firm's treasury services, trade, commercial card and merchant services capabilities, for integrated banking and J.P. Morgan travel card and expenses services as well as a planned logistics services integration as part of the FedEx Compatible program.

As I joked to Oracle's Steve Miranda during our pre-brief, with these types of global partners, this is not exactly a soft launch. As I see it, there are three critical themes to track here:

  • When you're able to connect cloud ERP systems to payment services via API, this is a different type of ERP, with a different value proposition.
  • Tying industry services into ERP is a welcome change over the cumbersome/expensive history of legacy customizations.
  • Connecting cloud services to ERP systems is a big reason why the future of ERP leans (gradually) towards cloud-native, not hosted.

During our pre-event chat, Miranda, Oracle EVP of Applications Development, hit similar points:

While we've been forever talking about our completeness of suite, the reality is, when you're doing B2B commerce, you've got your ERP system, and then you have the other - and that other is your key suppliers, or key logistics providers, or banks, because presumably you pay for these things, and you reconcile payments and the like.

We have two really big things going for us one: we're in the cloud, meaning we have everybody on the same system at the same time without any updates, and we manage and operate that on behalf of customers. What that means is you no longer have to buy our system, install it and connect to these third parties.

There is a cumulative power in APIs. Miranda:

Since most other companies are in the cloud, they have APIs. So JP Morgan has APIs, and FedEx has APIs. We're building those APIs and connectivity into our ERP system. The other thing that we have, which is very beneficial to us, is that we have over 10,000 Oracle Fusion customers. So when we approach these partners, it gives them another reach out to customers, and we have a large ecosystem going forward.

This is a different type of ERP user experience.

If you become a customer of Fusion, you have a direct log into JP Morgan Chase in your setup screen in ERP for payments [if you sign up for the service]. Then you could do things like issue payments through that. However, what JP Morgan is doing, now that you have that partnership and integration with ERP, there's a whole host of products from the banking perspective that they can offer their customers directly in-line.

Miranda says it's a similar dynamic for FedEx on the logistical services side:

They don't have to leave the context of that ERP system. So it's really a complete end-to-end platform. Really what we're going to do is leverage the strength of our platform and the strength of our ecosystem. Expect us to add more and more partners, but we really wanted to come out of the box with two marquee partners, which have also been longtime customers.

Oracle opens up its Fusion apps platform and Redwood UI tools - partner reaction

Note Miranda's "end-to-end platform" comment; it's important to grasping Oracle's much-discussed CX moves as well. Connecting partners to your platform is one thing - empowering them to build apps on your platform is another.

But when partner apps don't have the same look and feel as your own, customers get a choppy user experience. Oracle plans to change that now, by giving partners (and customers) access to its Redwood UI tools - as well as the Fusion development platform (Oracle Invites Customers and Partners to Build on Its Applications Platform). Miranda:

Where customers are using this is to really to extend our SaaS applications, but it can also be used to build brand new applications sitting on top of our OCI platform. It leverages and offers to our customers the same exact platform we're using to build our apps -  to either extend or build completely separate custom apps.

During our interview on modernizing ERP, I asked Marc Caruso, Chief Architect at Syntax - an Oracle partner - to react to Oracle's apps platform play, and what it means for modernizing ERP. As Caruso said to me:

When you look at what cloud is and what it's supposed to be, the API is the key to all of it. That's what allows you to integrate cloud apps with whatever applications you have running. The fact that Oracle is now going to be essentially exposing their whole Fusion development platform, with Redwood and all those capabilities - I think it's going to be compelling for customers.

It will give them a singular user experience, and give providers like us the ability to create these apps. I don't want to call them custom - they're extensions for particular functions that allow you to interact with the data, however it is you need it.

My take - the future of Oracle CX in an end-to-end world

I'm not out of CloudWorld news stories to analyze; I'm just out of space. But there is the matter of Oracle's CX moves. In the August timeframe, it was hard to miss sensational headlines, alleging Oracle made a larger number of apps-related layoffs, particularly on the CX side, including but not limited to product marketing (on the CX side, the cuts reportedly ran deeper than product marketing). Oracle is hardly the only enterprise software company to reorganize in this pressurized economy; alas, they won't be the last (example: Microsoft's recent layoffs).

Today, my question is: how does Oracle's shift in CX approach impact customers? And what does this say about Oracle's CX strategy?

The good news for customers, based on everything I've heard, is that Oracle CX customers with heavy investments in areas like Fusion Marketing and Fusion Sales, both of which received major updates just this year, should expect those investments to be supported for years to come. In other areas of CX, Oracle is doubling down, including Oracle's CDP, Unity, as well as next-gen CX-related products like CrowdTwist Loyalty and Engagement. (see: Oracle Unity CDP Expands Artificial Intelligence Models Across Industries to Enhance Customer Experiences).

On Tuesday, I joined a small group media session with Oliver Hughes, CMO of Red Bull Racing (Red Bull Racing are heavy Oracle CX users - they have no other CX products besides Oracle's). When I asked Hughes about Oracle's CX roadmap, he responded:

As part of our relationship Oracle, we're happy to be the guinea pigs as well. Since literally the day they got through the Sauce acquisition process, Oracle was asking us, 'Hey, let's just say we have this user-generated video product, do you think it could be useful?' I think we're one of the first major deployments of CrowdTwist as well, so we are happy to be the guinea pigs.

One analyst asked: what area is Hughes most excited by? He cited Oracle CloudTwist for fan engagement: "I think CrowdTwist is a real game changer for us."

During our pre-conference talk, Miranda was emphatic: Oracle CX will continue to provide the end-to-end process automation (and data/analytics) that Fusion Cloud Applications customers need - to tie CX into the rest of their Oracle apps/platform investment. Whether Oracle CX will be considered a comprehensive CX suite for non-Oracle customers going forward, that's for the market to decide.

At diginomica, we press all vendors on what situations they are a good fit for, and which they are not. Vendors often push back against this, in part because they don't want to be ruled out - before they are carefully evaluated by the customer. That's fair; I appreciate it when executives like Miranda are willing to talk on the record on tough issues. As I see it, that goes a long way for customer trust. For Miranda, a big part of this is a change in go-to-market. A different selling strategy changes the product marketing approach:

In CX, the emphasis is going to really be on what we sometimes refer to as engineered selling, but really, the proper name is automatic lead generation. The refocus on CX is to gear it around our strength in ERP. 

Miranda explained the end-to-end view behind this shift:

We're refocusing on a completeness of solution. If you look at the theme of the show, from extending on to industry verticals, to extending on platform, to extending with B2B Commerce, we've talked for a long time about completing the suite.

Our focus on CX is on that full end-to-end automation, and leveraging things that you couldn't otherwise leverage. We are competitive in other areas; I think our SFA is very competitive. That said, our differentiation is the fact you can bring in areas from other parts of the system, which are critical to the CX flow.

If Oracle's CX strategy helps move ERP away from an old school, back office mentality, into connections with CX, supply chain, and commerce systems, then that's the right play. I personally don't care about how Oracle CX fits into a quadrant or trapezoid. But we will be watching to see how it serves Fusion Cloud customers - as they look to bring their own customers (and customer data) into their workflows. Too often, CX systems cannot see into the back end. Ugh - now we have new cloud silos. Miranda:

Our true belief is that we drive better value when you have a more fully integrated business flow. Don't treat the back office as this thing that's in the back room... It's part of the business flow. That's where our refocus is.

That's a good stopping point - for now. There is more CloudWorld out there for me to kick tires on.

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