Oracle chief spells out application strategy

Hot on the heels of the Oracle Openworld conference in the US, the UK Oracle User Group (UKOUG) headed to Birmingham to host its...

Hot on the heels of the Oracle Openworld conference in the US, the UK Oracle User Group (UKOUG) headed to Birmingham to host its annual conference. caught up with Jeremy Burton, Oracle's senior vice-president of marketing, to discuss some of the burning issues of 2001 and find out what the company's plans are for the next 12 months.

The UKOUG has announced the results of a customer satisfaction survey and your customer relationship management (CRM) suite and the Application Server came lowest. Why is this and what are you doing about it?

I think you'll find that a lot of people in the user group are very database-centric. Our CRM offering and the Application Server are two of our newest products, and combined with the PL SQL [database programming language] skills of the user group, I can't say I'm really surprised by these findings.

The thing that came out on top was the database, with 99% of people saying they were happy with it. But I think these results have come out this way because most of those people questioned were database people.

Oracle had a very public falling out with the Oracle Applications User Group in the US earlier in the year over the withdrawal of support for 10.7 Applications and the company's lack of involvement with its conferences. What have you learnt from this?

We were following a pretty regular support pattern for 10.7, but the OUG surveyed users and lobbied us to move the date because there was concern that users were not quite ready to move to 11.

As for the OUG's conference strategy, I think that was blown out of all proportion. It has since been resolved and we will be running joint conferences, which is good for the user group, good for us and good for the user. We didn't think it made sense to have six or seven application conferences a year.

Your company has run a controversial advertising campaign for 9i this year, knocking IBM and its DB2 database. IBM claims it has won many new customers as a result. Has this not backfired somewhat?

IBM were the guys that wanted a fight in the database market. We are the leader; we have the best database; we are the fastest; and we have the most using it. People want focus and all the ad campaign did was to highlight that focus.

IBM has said they haven't lost a single customer from Informix [the company IBM acquired in August]. But I have a list of 25 companies that have come to Oracle. Eastman Chemical were running SAP on DB2. They have thrown that out and it goes 10 times faster on Oracle. I'd say there's a lot of smoke and not much fire with IBM. It is not making any progress in databases.

You have been talking about CRM of late. How important is CRM to your strategy?

We've taken the decision to go pretty broad in product coverage, and we have been working on the foundation of the software. When you compete with the niche players, they're going to be more successful in the first instance. But the CRM market is changing. First of all it was about sales force automation. Siebel [CRM market leader] is trying to diversify to grow, and it's clearly number one, but the market is starting to turn. We have the foundation [with Oracle Front Office CRM] to cover sales, services and marketing, and to be scalable and integrated.

There have been problems with the functionality of the 11i Applications e-business suite, your ERP offering. Have the problems been ironed out?

A lot of the issues we have had with the e-business suite 11i came about because we underestimated how hard it would be to push a product that broad to the market. It was probably one of the biggest engineering projects we have ever undertaken and was twice as big as its predecessor 11. We put out a release in March, and I think the product got into shape and has started to generate favourable reports. We're going into 2002 with a lot of optimism with applications.

Oracle generated a great deal of controversy when it changed its licensing model to a processor power-based plan? Do you still believe this was the right thing to do?

We used to charge on concurrent and end-user basis a couple of years ago. Then the Internet came along. We were the first company to move from a per-user basis to power pricing. There's a big difference between a system running on a Pentium 4 and a system on a 286.

What we underestimated was how fast the circuit speeds were going to evolve, and I think IT managers were finding it very difficult to budget on this basis. The idea was the right one, but now we have moved to processor-based pricing, I think all those issues have gone away.

Microsoft is cropping up as a competitor and claims it can compete from the low end through to the high end. How well positioned are you to stand your ground?

In 1997, they [Microsoft] were making progress with SQL. The Internet then came along and changed the requirements to interoperability and scalability. Microsoft has lost a lot of momentum from 1998 to the present day.

You also have to remember that it's all Windows-based. And when it comes to Microsoft competing at the high end, I predict they will be as successful in enterprise software as we would be in consumer software. Enterprise software is in large about supporting a lot of users, easily and securely. They will have to sit down and write a lot of code if they want to get into high-end computing.

Java is becoming more important to Oracle, and many users of your database programming language PL SQL have expressed concern about its continuing support. What is the company' s long-term PL SQL plans?

PL SQL is the native language of the database. We introduced Java in 1998 as a PL SQL language and we will continue to support it going forward. I think what you'll find is a lot of these guys will write their business applications in Java, but a lot of the database system in PL SQL. There's no question that support will continue long into the future, because we are dependent on it internally.

What can we expect to see from Oracle in 2002?

The challenge is going to be execution. We feel very strongly about the database, and I think the gap is widening between IBM and Oracle. We are in a very strong competitive position with Application Server and we are broadening our reach in CRM and SCM [supply chain management].

Being a big company when the economy dips means you can continue to invest in R&D [research and development], so you can get the products in shape for when the economy comes back. We've spent the past 12 months investing in R&D and will concentrate on the execution of our products in 2002.

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