I arrived at the press registration desk and asked for a copy of my meeting schedule—standard procedure for any of the two-dozen or so conferences I attend every year. The response: There is no schedule. Why? Because there are no executive meetings scheduled for press members at OpenWorld 2006.
Huh? No executive meetings? Isnt this what these conferences are all about? Getting together, in person, with a companys executives to discuss the news of the day, product road maps, the companys vision for the future?
Never, in all the conferences I have ever attended, has there been an instance where I have not met with at least one executive. Most of the time, its back-to-back meetings with executives—and customers—to the point of exhaustion.
At a recent SAP conference I met with Shai Agassi, the executive board member in charge of application development. At previous SAP events this year, Ive interviewed Henning Kagermann, the CEO; Hasso Plattner, co-founder; and Bill McDermott, president and CEO of SAP Americas. Several months ago, Microsoft called me to see if I could come down to Austin, Texas, to interview CEO Steve Ballmer at a conference. (I was on the next plane.) At a recent Salesforce.com event, I interviewed Marc Benioff, Salesforce.coms CEO. Shortly after that, at another event here in San Francisco, I interviewed Parker Harris, Salesforce.coms founder and chief technology officer. For a NetSuite event scheduled to coincide with OpenWorld on Oct. 26, the companys CEO, Zach Nelson, called me to provide his perspective on the companys news.
The list of examples is endless. The reason journalists go to these shows is to get the scoop that isnt in the press release—not necessarily more news, but the underlying meaning to the news sound bite. Dont get me wrong, we also go to talk to customers and partners, to get the story behind the vendorspeak. But the executive meetings bring clarity and vision in a best-case scenario.
Sure, there is an executive Q&A scheduled for the media Wednesday afternoon, but I think those all-inclusive events rarely elicit the type of responses one can get in a one-on-one interview.
So that leaves me (happily, I might add) to suss out the news that isnt the news at this event. In other words, whats really going on that Oracle cant make a single executive available for an interview? Are they too busy building out Fusion applications to set aside a few minutes to talk about the details? Are there too many customer meetings packed into this five-day event to manage a few media questions? If so, what does that say about Oracles commitment to the customer the rest of the year—is this the only time the two parties actually meet face to face?
Maybe there were questions Oracle didnt want to answer, like whats the real end date for Applications Unlimited, when the payment for extended services outweighs the cost of upgrading to Fusion applications? Or whats going on with all those acquisitions outside PeopleSoft, JD Edwards and Siebel?
Or maybe Oracle doesnt really want to drill down on where its at with Fusion development. Is it really past the halfway mark, where the company said it was last year around this time? Is it perhaps harder than the company anticipated tying together the "best of" functionality from three major ERP (enterprise resource planning) suites and a CRM (customer relationship manager) suite? Or maybe Oracle executives dont want to drill down on how theyre going to link all the functionality from the applications theyve acquired—G-Log (Global Logistics Technology), Demantra, Retek—into PeopleSoft, Siebel and JD Edwards applications.
For that matter, is anyone really buying any more PeopleSoft, Siebel and JD Edwards applications? I suppose there are one or two companies out there upgrading before they decide what to do about Fusion applications. I should know, I met with them today. Oracle did set those meetings up for me.
Maybe there is something to this customer angle—the reason a PR person told me executives arent available, because theres so many customers to meet with. Ari Kaplan, president of IOUG (Independent Oracle Users Group), believes this is a crucial time for Oracle to connect with his groups members.
"I am very confident that Oracle has made a lot of very good progress [with Fusion], and [IOUG] is going to be using Oracle OpenWorld to hear feedback in terms of technology and support," said Kaplan. "What Oracle wants to avoid happening is customer attrition during times of transition."