There was plenty of product and technology news from across the application portfolio to coincide with yesterday's Oracle Live virtual event. But one of the most interesting ongoing developments on display yesterday wasn't the subject of a press release. Oracle has not only been moving its core applications to the cloud these past few years. The enterprise software vendor has also been transitioning its business operations to support the kind of continuous engagement with customers that is characteristic of the SaaS and cloud model.
One big example of that shift has been the recent move to combine support, service and product development for applications into a single organization reporting to Steve Miranda, EVP of Oracle Applications Product Development. The aim is to have a single customer success manager responsible for each customer, while still drawing on expert resources across the product set that's applicable for that customer. Speaking to analysts yesterday, Miranda explained how the reorganization has enabled a different approach to customer service.
Historically, customer service at Oracle has been measured against traditional support agent metrics such as service request resolution time, he says. So if the same question kept on coming up, an agent might write up the answer as a knowledge article. Then the next time the question came up, it could be resolved more quickly by sending the customer to the article. But that wasn't fixing the underlying issue, says Miranda.
It'd be great if, instead of writing the article, you went back to the dev team and said, 'You know, we've got 100 people asking this question, why don't you fix the product?' ...
[We're] changing that mindset. Support's job is to avoid problems, not to fix problems quickly.
Although the mindset had started to change with the move to the cloud, realigning the organization has made it much easier to follow through, he adds.
You know, magic things happen when lines change on org charts. Now it's very clear — support is part of development. Their charter is to make the product better. Of course, yes, we measure them on how fast you can answer customers' questions, etcetera. But really putting that change into improving the position long term. [It's] one example of a subtle but important change, we think.
Collaborative customer engagement
Underlying this change is a shift from a product-centric focus, which emphasizes the sales transaction, to a customer-centric focus where the emphasis is on the ongoing relationship — a transformation that Oracle's been working on now for two years or more. This more collaborative relationship has helped support customers this year as they've sought to streamline operations or roll out new cloud applications in response to the impact of COVID-19.
One example of a very rapid response was the UK's National Health Service, which had an urgent need to accelerate the roll-out of a cloud-based inventory management system, says Miranda.
Right as the pandemic hit, we installed and they were up and running on the Inventory Cloud before they had actually signed contract. They basically called us, they said they were tracking I think it was PPE at the time in the UK. They wanted an inventory system, we just provisioned it and off they went.
Becoming a SaaS vendor opens up other ways of engaging with how customers are using your products, such as collecting telemetry on what's working or not working as new features roll out — especially when combined with machine learning. Miranda cites as an example the roll-out of a company directory tool within Oracle, which generated large numbers of errors because people treated it "like Siri, they were asking it everything." That ability to quickly see what's happening and then use the findings to course-correct and improve the product is invaluable, he says.
Once people start to use it, these bots and machine learning, and you start to mine what's going on, it's been a fascinating, huge fast input and just great ideas for innovation.
Machine learning is increasingly becoming a core part of the user interface, using the ability to detect patterns of behavior to suggest short cuts. That may be as simple as autofilling a response in a form, similar to autocorrect on a smartphone, or using the context to recommend the next best action.
What we're finding in our SaaS systems is that a lot of the activity that people do is repetitive within context ... So in ERP, and sales systems, HR systems, if you find a context, which we do more and more through machine learning, then [you can] turn it into recommendation.
Becoming the default
While the digital assitant is currently an add-on option, Miranda foresees a time when this will become a default feature of the application suite, in the same way that self-service evolved from being a chargeable extra to the default pattern.
As things become commonplace, we actually remove those from the price list, and we add them to the flow. So for example, we used to, or we still today, charge for the digital assistant. It's becoming so that the digital system is part of all the transactions.
We used to charge for self service. Well, there's no such thing as ... self service HR anymore, it's just HR. So we think the same thing is going to happen with machine learning.
Subscription billing is another aspect of the SaaS model that Oracle has adopted. It now sees its customers moving in the same direction, says Miranda.
What Oracle's gone through, and what a lot of companies are going through, formerly product companies are becoming now either completely services companies, or product and services companies.
He also sees similar change rolling through Oracle's partner ecosystem.
We feel strongly that these huge monolithic implementations, and these huge upgrades, are over. They're over in our business or over in the SI business, it just doesn't work that way in the cloud ...
I think that what's going to happen in the partner community is they will transform much in the way software, like we have had to transform, and many other industries transform.
The transformation Miranda describes is something that at diginomica we call the XaaS Effect — what software vendors went through as they become Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) businesses is now affecting every industry as Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) becomes the norm. The unifying factor here is that businesses are now digitally connected to their customers and therefore must continuously engage with customers, monitor their usage of the products and services, and keep on improving the results customers achieve. Oracle has embraced this journey perhaps more aggressively than several of its peers in the established enterprise software segment. Now it must help its customers follow a similar journey.