Last year, I was critical of Oracle's muddled messaging. This year, the general tenor of presentation has been a LOT crisper. Competitors? Watch out. Oracle's got its act together in many places.
Larry Ellison's keynotes are always a highlight and this year he did not disappoint. Amusing, cajoling, impish - this was the Larry of old that we've come to admire as the performer par excellence of Silicon Valley. Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce might be the Silicon Valley pied piper, but it is Ellison who owns the ground on which his successors play. His first keynote was the expected combination of "We're bigger, better (and badder) than anyone else on the planet" and it was clear the man was busting to get to his second keynote where he talked enthusiastically and with precision about how Oracle has cracked the nut on chip level security.
Not everyone is buying that story and in back channel, I had plenty of people telling me that element is Grade A bullshit. My response is simple. Put Oracle's feet to the fire and try it for yourself before writing it off. Ellison's argument was clear enough to me and until naysayers can crack the code then I'm putting this one firmly in the Oracle box.
I always enjoy meeting Steve Miranda, EVP products who has the cloud portfolio as his talking point. A group of analysts had the opportunity to fire questions at him covering everything from pricing through to what's real and what's to come and on to other topics which necessarily had to be under nondisclosure.
Miranda reminds me of the small handful of enterprise executives who is both gracious and open in providing frank answers. That combination makes conversations with Miranda engaging and valuable.
To my point from last year:
In my last story I wondered whether Oracle is readying for a mid-market play. This was a topic I brought up with Steve Miranda. He told me that while Oracle plays best with large customers, he’d like to see a stronger presence in the sub-$1 billion market.
Separately, Debra Lilley said she believes that Oracle’s cloud offerings now mean that tier 2 SIs can work with companies of around 500 employees. That will serve as a warning shot to the likes of Infor, which wants to serve what it sees as an underserved market, and Workday, that routinely picks off those sizes of organization.
A year on and Oracle is successfully attacking the mid-market, claiming 50 percent of wins are net new, green field sites. The customer stories on the apps side were both compelling and convincing. For its part, Oracle chose to select from a broad range of industries when presenting panels but still managed to showcase some of the better known brands, like Macy's.
During those customer sessions, some of us poked at the problem of change management. Customers were surprisingly sanguine about the topic but my view is that change management is like childbirth --- painful at the time but quickly fading from memory once the benefits are seen.
Returning to the conversation with Miranda, at one point he wondered whether Oracle gets a fair deal among the media and analysts. Oracle doesn't but then Oracle has a long history of playing fast and loose with facts to the point where we are always on the lookout for terminological inexactitudes. On the flip side Macy's made the point that:
But because it’s so complex what we are wrestling with, we need much more transparency, much more willingness to come in and help solve problems collaboratively, rather than [the vendor] just going off and figuring it out and coming back with a solution.
That’s not happening and frankly we can’t accept that. I’m very pleased with Oracle’s ability to come in and work with us. We are operating at a level that is absolutely essential in satisfying our needs going forward.
Elsewhere, Jessica Twentyman reported on a new school initiative underwritten by Oracle and led by Ellison. While this makes for a great headline, Oracle is well behind the curve on this topic. In that context, I think about the D-School and HPI, funded by Hasso Plattner, co-founder and supervisory board chairman at SAP and, more recently, SAP CEO Bill McDermott's initiatives in education. I also think about the way Vishal Sikka quickly established a funding initiative for education when he arrived as CEO at Infosys. Even so, it would be churlish to take away from the positives in Oracle's initiative which, I am sure, will be welcome news for the San Mateo school catchment area.
Similarly, I welcome Safra Catz, co-CEO commitment to diversity although I do wish that the parade of executives in tech companies talking about this topic would widen the scope beyond gender inequality to include race, age and disability.
Are we seeing a softer, more approachable Oracle? That's very hard to tell. I would like to think so and watching Ellison poke fun at his own slides was certainly an endearing moment but then we've seen this before among non-Oracle executives.
Before we get all dewy eyed at the thought of a less than brash Oracle, there was the odd mis-step. I'm not wholly convinced that Oracle has its post-Safe Harbor story fully lined up. But that's not to say the current 'version' is poor. I'm just not sure that all the execs are fully 'getting' the problem. Neither am I happy about the developer angle.
Overall, this year's event was a clear hit. Customers were happy, analysts were less grumpy than usual and while Oracle will always have a swagger to its step, there are many things going on that imply the changes Oracle itself needs to make are starting to take root and, in some cases, bearing fruit.
Disclosure: SAP, Salesforce and Oracle are premier partners at time of writing and Oracle covered most of my travel costs for attending OpenWorld