CIOs Navigate a Restless Sea of Mergers

Opinion: Risk-averse CIOs are more susceptible than ever to campaigns of fear, uncertainty and doubt. And Oracle's buying spree is making them nervous.

Jim Harding, CIO for the $4.1 billion health care company Henry Schein Inc., doesnt like taking risks with other peoples money. Especially not the money of the people who control his salary.

Its certainly fair to say that Harding is risk-averse, but that doesnt prevent him from considering unproven, cutting-edge technologies such as voice over IP. Thats why I was startled when he spoke so vehemently this week about his fear of buying products from Oracle.

"To make a major, multimillion-dollar decision here on a new ERP [enterprise resource planning] system, I have a hard time picking Oracle because I dont know where its headed," Harding said.

"Are we going to have to migrate? Its a very dicey world. Its much easier to pick SAP because you know what youre getting. Would I want to stand in front of the chairman and put our company at risk like that? Not unless I absolutely have to."

Hardings comments sounded eerily similar to those I heard recently from another CIO, Neil McCarthy, who runs the technology operations at the $3 billion Wawa convenience-store chain.

/zimages/2/28571.gifTo read more about the Wawa CIOs perspective on making a major enterprise-software move in the middle of an acquisition battle, please click here.

While Harding was trying to decide between Retek and SAP, Retek was purchased by Oracle. "Thank God we didnt go with Retek," he said, because of all of the changes and uncertainty that will surround Retek "for the next two years as Oracle tries to integrate it all in."

Fear of Oracle because of perceived lack of product direction? This is Oracle, which for years has been seen as the safe choice, akin to the old "you cant be fired for choosing IBM" days. As long as a CIO could stomach Larry Ellisons strutting-peacock media comments, Oracle was an easy option.

Microsoft was a control freak, and Computer Associates priced its services as though its customers were arch-enemies of its ancestors, but Oracle was simple.

Oracles sin? Ellisons appetite for buying companies, including PeopleSoft, Retek, ProfitLogic and J.D. Edwards. It may take a tough man to make a tender offer, but it takes an even tougher CIO to ride it out until all of those acquisitions are figured out, rationalized and cleaned up.

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