SAN FRANCISCO—Whats Oracle got to hide? That was my first question on the second official day of Oracle OpenWorld scheduled Oct. 22-26.
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.”
Oracle has two years, give or take, before it completes Fusion applications. In that time, it is adding Fusion Middleware components and functionality to PeopleSoft 9, the next major release of PeopleSoft, and likely to JD Edwards and Siebel as well. Given that added functionality and the unlimited support Oracle has proposed with Applications Unlimited—in addition to all the capability in the Fusion Middleware suite as a whole—one has to wonder what will push users forward to Fusion applications?
The thing is, Oracle likely does have a pretty good story to tell around Fusion applications.
It has decided on an underlying model—the E-Business Suite—and is clearly tying in elements of Fusion Middleware to the next editions of its stand-alone ERP suites, likely to create an easier upgrade (versus migration) path for users. Oracle has clearly established its database business, and Fusion Middleware seems to be doing a pretty good business as well (more than $1 billion in sales this year, Oracle officials said). So what gives on the nonexistent executive access?
Whatever the case, I will say this about OpenWorld 2006: Its downright sleepy compared with last year. The 2005 event brought together for the first time Oracle E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft and JD Edwards users—about 30,000 people—after Oracles very acrimonious takeover of PeopleSoft and JD Edwards by default, since JD Edwards had been acquired by PeopleSoft.
Last year was delightful, sheer pandemonium. People were everywhere, teeming in every hall of Moscone Center. No one knew really where to go or what to do. That year, Oracles public relations teams set up plenty of press meetings with executives. Problem was, many of them didnt show up. But the executives—John Wookey, head of application development, is one that I recall—made every effort, one way or the other, to sit down with the press, one-on-one, to pound out the details of Fusion.
This year, theres a rather staid feel to everything. No big pronouncements, at least not yet—Larry Ellison, Oracles bombastic CEO, is scheduled to take the stage later today (Oct. 26), so anything can happen there. And this year, the Siebel customer base has been added to the mix, bringing the attendee count up to about 41,000 people, but attendees seem much, well, calmer. The event itself is much better organized.
I suppose thats a good thing, but it takes some of the excitement out of the air. Which is likely not such a bad thing from Oracles perspective.
“Boring and staid and steady as it goes is actually the right message for Oracles customers,” said Joshua Greenbaum, principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting, in Berkeley, Calif. “Turmoil is not good for customer satisfaction. Oracle is finally able to talk about a road map that makes sense, that isnt upsetting, so theyre really trying to stay the course.”
But heres a little secret: Not talking about something openly breeds more suspicion than any kind of discussion, canned or not, ever did.