Oracles Accuracy Woes

Opinion: Within 30 days, Oracle has publicly made what appear to be at least three provably inaccurate statements about its retail business. Is it careless or orchestrated?

Catching misleading statements and half-truths in vendor news releases takes me back to my old days of covering New Jersey politics.

It was never news to say that a particular New Jersey politician was a crook. The news was when they slipped up enough to let you prove it.

As any IT manager knows, news releases are self-serving documents whose entire raison dêtre is to present a one-sided argument why the issuing vendor is a great place to give lots of money. Half-truths and misleading comments are not only popular in news releases, theyre damn near mandatory.

Some years back, I remember a DEC manager who told reporters that a particular new OS hook they had created already had "a number of ISVs committed to using it." When nothing turned up and the feature was abandoned, the manager conceded that no one had ever opted to support it. Asked about his news conference claim, the manager sheepishly smiled and said, "Zeros a number."

Indeed, it is. And in a bitter fight for the retail technology dollar, Oracle and SAP have thrown lots of charges back and forth.

/zimages/5/28571.gifTo read more about the Gartner misrepresentations in the Oracle ad, click here.

But Oracle in the last 30 days has made a crucial (and most likely careless) error that has done in so many politicians: they said things that were provably false. Thats just bad form. At least when SAP and IBM deceive, they have the decency to make it so convoluted that no ones going to be bothered to run it down.

Given that lying requires a conscious belief that one is uttering something false with the intent to deceive, Apple gets a pass because their top brass actually believe most of what they say.

But Oracle just got sloppy. Last month, it was research giant Gartner that said Oracle misrepresented data in an Oracle ad about how many customers were using current versions of Oracle and SAP apps.

Then Oracle announced on Dec. 15 that it had taken the retail business of SAP German partner Karstadt away, only to have Karstadt spokesmen deny it a few days later.

Although Oracle wont comment, the deal being referenced was apparently that of a former Karstadt unit that it had sold and, according to SAP, even that unit is only in discussions with Oracle.

The third strike came this week when another research firm—Stratascope—went to the trouble of paying for a news release to declare that Oracle—a major paying client—had "mischaracterized, misrepresented and referenced without permission" statistics from Stratascope.

It takes a lot to anger a company so much that it issues that kind of a release criticizing a large customer, but Oracle has a knack of bringing that out in people.

What happened with Stratascope was that Oracle grabbed a bunch of data from its files—which it was completely permitted to do, as a paying client—but then Oracle crunched the numbers, concluded its application outperformed others by 49.7 percent and put out a news release that Stratascope had come to that conclusion in a "research study."

Stratascope had never conducted any such study and has no idea if such conclusions are fair or accurate until it does, said Stratascope CEO Bruce Brien. Oh, just to rub a little salt in Oracles wound, the statement Stratascope issued pointed out a spelling error in Oracles release. (At least my editors have the decency to tell that stuff to me privately. And, yes, I never thought Id use the words "editors" and "decency" in the same sentence, either.)

The Stratascope statement added: "We have no knowledge of the validity of the criteria and methodology [Oracle] used, particularly because several of their claims are based on a set of data that we do not possess."

Within a day, Oracle reissued the original news release, making the requested changes.

Stratascopes Brien said the essence of the Oracle news release—that Oracle substantially outperforms its rivals—may be absolutely accurate, for all he knows.

He wasnt saying that Oracles conclusions are wrong, but merely that they were Oracle conclusions—based on whatever methods Oracle felt like using—and they werent the result of the methodical analysis that his company does. It should be noted that Stratascope also works for SAP.

/zimages/5/28571.gifOracles patch dilemma: balancing customers, code and researchers. Click here to read more.

"I am absolutely not saying that [Oracle] is wrong," he said. "It was a simple mistake on their part [about attribution]. They probably crafted the release too quickly."

Asked how his customer felt about the release, Brien said "there were some people over there [at Oracle] who are a little upset."

But he said that—like Gartner in December—his companys reputation was too crucial to let Oracles statements go by unaddressed.

"The most important asset our small company has is our name. Its something that we do take very seriously," he said. "I have very stringent procedures in place for quality assurance and so forth."

Next Page: SAP comes out swinging.