Debra Lilley talks about uniting the diverse UK Oracle User Group

Two months after becoming the chairman of the UK Oracle User Group (UKOUG), Debra Lilley talks to Computer Weekly about her plans to integrate the disparate user communities following Oracle's acquisitions.

Two months after becoming the chairman of the UK Oracle User Group (UKOUG), Debra Lilley talks to Computer Weekly about her plans to integrate the disparate user communities following Oracle's acquisitions.

The UK Oracle User Group (UKOUG) is an independent organisation with over 15,000 individual members that provides representation and support for the Oracle business community. Debra Lilley was named the first female chairman of UKOUG in March 2011.

Replacing Ronan Miles, director of collaborative services at BT, Lilley is currently Oracle alliance director at Fujitsu and was previously deputy chair of the UKOUG.

Lilley is also product development committee chair at the International Oracle User Community, and ACE director with Oracle's technology network programme, making her officially a guru. She is also an advisor at advisory firm Constellation Research Group.

Lilley hopes to bring the UKOUG up to date with changes resulting from Oracle's many acquisitions.

Oracle spent $7bn (£4.4bn) buying Sun Microsystems in 2009, the ailing Unix hardware manufacturer, which added to the acquisition of PeopleSoft, JD Edwards and Retek in 2005 as well as the buy-out of performance management software provider, Hyperion Solutions for £1.73bn cash.

"The Oracle community has changed over the last five to six years. A lot of the people in the community are not wall-to-wall Oracle since its acquisition programme. We need to acknowledge and cater for that," says Lilley.


Acquisition of communities

She adds that the diversity of the products in hardware and operating systems as well as the breadth of people in the community, including technology professionals, operations and networking staff, means the user group now requires information in different ways (whether through an informal meet-up in the pub or a formal user conference).

Lilley says a new "buddy" system is being used among Oracle partners and acquired companies partners to allow information to be shared.

"When Oracle acquires a community, they need to be given user group content as understanding of what they're now part of," said Lilley.

Lilley's main priority is making a significant change in the way the user group approaches its events and services and is in the process of presenting changes to the board to take effect in July 2011.

"To ensure all the community is well represented, we're looking at a wider input of understanding and taking wider representation of the community," she said.


Merging diverse communities

The commercial elements of the user group have also changed. "The funding has always been a pay upfront and top up with sales of exhibitions and sponsorships." However, Lilley explains the market has contracted due to the mergers and acquisitions, reducing funding.

"The commercial aspect is the same for every user group," adds Lilley. "But the change in the community itself is heightened in Oracle. Oracle as a vendor has a widened remit," she says.

The "widened remit" fuels a wider range of user concerns.

"Oracle gets criticism for licencing," says Lilley. She adds that it's difficult for the user group to argue that licencing costs are too high or wrong because that's what users signed up for.

However, greater concerns exist around discontinued support.

"There were concerns when Oracle bought Sun, that they would kill off Solaris kit," she said.

A current poll on the user group website is collecting views on Oracle's decision to cease development on Intel Itanium platform.

Lilley says Oracle's acquisitions have provided its users with more choice. "That choice brings its own problem because now end-users have to make decisions."

"In the past, customers decided what to invest in and upgraded every three years. Now, users are thinking, 'do I upgrade or leave another year?'"


Walking a fine line

Lilley says, with her many roles, she is in a unique position to juggle independently user group concerns while assisting Fujitsu with its Oracle strategy.

"I immediately know about Oracle announcements as soon as they become available. But if Oracle tells me something under non-disclosure, it stays that way," she says.

"It's enough to say I understand Oracle. There is a fine line and I'm conscious of it. I wouldn't have been re-elected six times if I haven't got it right," added Lilley.

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