First of all, advises Ian Hardacre, director of Oracle consultancy Moliere, users should make a list of all the Oracle kit they have, even if it came from a reseller. Tot up what it has cost you, and is still costing you. Lifecycle cost is the name of the game, not purchase price.
"A good starting point is to check what you are paying Oracle annually for support - you can bet that Oracle knows what you've got. Work backwards from that," says Hardacre.
Before buying any more products, check whether you really need them. Can you squeeze more out of what you already have? Should you upgrade what you have rather than take on new software? "Upgrading might be more cost-effective," says Hardacre.
An overhead that is easy to overlook is the cost of multiple systems communicating with each other. Consolidation can make good sense in a number of situations.
"How much effort is it to have two or three applications communicating via flat files etc? Why not bring them together on one platform?" suggests Hardacre. "Oracle will keep selling you databases, but you may already have enough capacity."
"An Oracle database needs regular tuning whatever application it is running - Oracle or third party. If you don't defrag discs regularly things can grind to a halt, or an application could have a programming fault and be filling up tables. You need an experienced database administrator to check these things, but if you can squeeze more out of the database you will get a tangible return."
Although Hardacre believes Oracle is very good at moving old applications forward, he points out that the corporate IT culture is about upward compatibility, and at some point products will get discontinued.
"Oracle cannot afford to maintain everything and neither can you," says Hardacre. You will have to move on eventually, so pick your time judiciously.
"For example, companies using Oracle 10.7 applications will need to start thinking about upgrading because from June 2003 Oracle will be removing support from Oracle 10.7," he says.
Leaving the changeover until the last moment, when skills are in most demand, may not be very smart.
Although Oracle is keen to get customers to buy the 9i development suites, older tools such as Forms and Reports still do the job and have been Web-enabled. Even so, it would be sensible to start training staff on the new tools. "Start building a couple of prototype projects with the new tools to gain experience," Hardacre suggests.
As always, be aware of what Oracle is trying to push, and check whether you really want to go in that direction. For example, for all Oracle's current emphasis on reliability and non-stop operations, it is worth asking yourself whether you really need 24x7 availability.
The bottom line to being a savvy Oracle customer is to clearly understand your needs and future strategy and combine this with a sound knowledge of Oracle's strategy and future plans. This will enable you to take best advantage of what the company is planning, as well as allowing you to identify the best times to buy, such as when the Oracle staff are under pressure to book sales at quarter and year ends.
"You must have a good road map and put pound signs on it," says Hardacre. Then keep the road map up to date. "Things are moving forward all the time," he says.
Top tips to get more from Oracle
- Before buying products, check whether you really need them - it may be possible to squeeze more out of existing systems
- Upgrading can be more cost-effective than buying new
- Where multiple systems are communicating with each other, consolidation may save you money
- Get an experienced database administrator to defrag and check databases for faults regularly
- When Oracle discontinues support for old products, do not leave the changeover until the last minute
- Understand Oracle's strategy so that you can pick the best times to buy, such as at year ends.