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Oracle OpenWorld 2019 - the wrap and verdict

Den Howlett & Derek DuPreez Profile picture for user denandderek September 19, 2019
As Oracle OpenWorld winds down for another year, Derek and Den provide their perspectives


claimed outcomes from Oracle


Derek's on the ground assessment

Oracle is smart to ‘own’ the idea of autonomous systems. While others slap everything they can with an ‘AI’ moniker, Oracle is more outcome-focused and tied to the specificity of the machine learning message. This year the story behind Oracle's autonomous systems matured and started to make sense for buyers. As I noted in my coverage of Larry Ellison's first keynote, Oracle is pushing autonomous to solve several key problems for the enterprise  - and is making bold claims along the way. People, cost, complexity, and security are all burning issues to which a buyer readily relates. If Oracle can realistically help, then those same buyers will hand over hefty cheques. 

Oracle gets a branding facelift. Oracle’s branding has always been aggressive. In past years, the Moscone Centre in San Francisco is draped in red and black, as far as the eye can see. No more. Oracle has undergone a branding change, where the colors and themes complement its new Redwood UX. Done well, a UX design refresh changes the tone of the conference. Everything felt a bit calmer, softer, but equally self-assured. This is necessary for 2019, where the ways of doing business have changed. 

New friends. We saw announcements where Oracle is buddying up with Microsoft and VMWare. This is not what you’d expect from a company that historically has given customers the impression that it is THE only one in the market of any significance. This is a reflection of Oracle recognizing that it needs to be where it’s customers are going (i.e., solving their problems). Multi-cloud is real, and customers want options and choices. Ellison will still do his competition bashing on stage, but he seems to get that the market is moving towards more collaboration, greater integration, and ultimately more choice. This is good news for the buyer. 

Data as a discrete business within Oracle. A few years back, people questioned Oracle’s push into infrastructure. The assumption was that AWS was thought to have already won out in that market. What some observers people missed is that Oracle's full cloud stack (IaaS through to SaaS) allows the company to data at the center of its messaging. Autonomous at the IaaS/PaaS layer, but also machine learning and AI features through to the applications. During his second keynote, Ellison said we could think about data as a third discrete unit that complements both its IaaS and SaaS business units. Companies struggle to extract value from their data and Oracle solves that by offering useful ‘autonomous’ features and functionality. Recognizing that data is now a core element for Oracle customers, and investing in that is smart. 

Caveats. Despite all the positives, Oracle still has a lot of work to convince customers that autonomous is both a reality and a necessity today. At almost all the customer sessions I attended, the discussion largely focused on getting to the cloud and making that valuable. Autonomous is not (yet) on their radar. But Oracle is racing ahead, and it needs to figure out how to educate customers and convince them that this is what they need right now, while they’re still undergoing enormous amounts of change. Oracle has done a good job communicating its all-embracing message, and it doesn’t have to be ‘cloud’ or ‘autonomous’ - it is both - it’s making that a reality on the ground. Next year Oracle needs to showcase some of those large scale autonomous customers.

Den's view from the cheap seats 

This year's Oracle OpenWorld was a genuine surprise. Everything from NOT shutting down Howard Street in San Francisco to the decidedly restrained air in keynotes told a story of an Oracle that's looked inwards and discovered to its but only its surprise that a makeover is overdue. Cue Redwood, a calm yet complementary color palette that reminds me of SAP's autumn color collection a few years ago. It also reminds me of German World War II ground troop camo patterns. Perhaps there is a subliminal message in there that reflects Oracle's bellicose nature? Be that as it may, seeing this full refresh across the product portfolio and out to the web properties suggests a cohesion that supports \oracle's full-stack message. 

I focus on apps rather than the more technical world of infrastructure and databases but this year made me sit up and think. The fact Oracle natively supports a myriad of languages, other databases and data sources is enormous. Add in that developers can code using R, SQL, Python (for the machine learning wonks) and pretty much anything else in between is beyond huge. Mash that up with some smart data viz capability, albeit only strong in geospatial elements, and I can see a whole world of opportunity opening up. Heck, I might even head over and grab some of the free stuff CTO Ellison was keen to discuss.

Painting the big picture, yet making it a coherent whole is vitally important for any enterprise tech vendor. As usual at OpenWorld, Oracle wheeled out Larry Ellison, co-founder, and CTO to wrap the show. As I said on the Tweetstream, Ellison's command of detail at every point of his presentation was impressive, compelling, and persuasive. More to the point, the other keynotes I saw had a clear and consistent set of messages that added up to something more than I expected. 


Oracle wins against SAP


My only real nit is Ellison's compulsive need to waste time bashing competitors. It has a fun element for the cognoscenti but my experience is that it's a turn off for customers. It also runs the risk of stretching the truth, which puts into question assertions that might otherwise be valid. In that context, the slide Ellison chose to put up that compared Salesforce, Workday, SAP, and Oracle cloud landscapes was at best disingenuous and at worst downright wrong. On the other hand, the slide that named Oracle wins against SAP (see above) was a WTAF moment as was the outcome and benefits slide.

Moving forward, we need to drill into the detail of the main announcements and test the extent to which the overarching message of ML infused apps for the future is a reality that customers both understand and buy. Derek notes that most customers he met are oblivious to Ellison's autonomous rhetoric. That has to be a concern. And as I said before, Oracle's image is not as customer-friendly as it needs to be. After all, a single digital assistant with multiple skills sounds great but if I am being wallet fracked each time I want a new assistant then how long before I seek vendor love elsewhere?

Until the next time...

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