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Information Age on "Oracle's Victory March"
March 18, 2005
Mark Rittman

Information AgeI was browsing this afternoon through one of the free magazines that pile up on my desk while I'm away, and came across an interesting article on Oracle that I thought worth sharing. It's in this month's Information Age and entitled "Oracle's Victory March", and an online version is available on the infoconomy.com website.

It's written by a journalist called Kenny Maciver and it's a pretty good summary of where Oracle are now, how it got to where it is and where it's going, post the PeopleSoft merger. You can tell it's going to be a good article when it starts off like this:

"It has been a painful journey for Oracle's applications software business to January 2005. The uncorking of champagne that marked the completion of its $10.3 billion, 19-month hostile takeover of application rival PeopleSoft on 7 January would have seemed unthinkable around the year 2000 when its management team was split by internal warfare, and the premature release of the atrociously 'buggy' E-Business Suite 11i almost killed its ambitions in applications stone dead.

If a single meeting changed that potential outcome, it took place on an afternoon in 1998 when Oracle founder and CEO Larry Ellison reluctantly agreed to pick up the applications torch.

Under intense pressure from Ray Lane, the company president at the time, to somehow "turn a bunch of 'sucky' applications into something that the Oracle sales teams could actually sell", he demanded Ellison sack the loyal but uncharismatic head of applications development, Ron Wohl, and appoint an outsider to lead the division - a division that was turning into the ugly sister of the company's hugely successful database business.

Surprisingly, even to Lane, Ellison made a watershed commitment. As he later recounted to Matthew Symonds, author of the Ellison biography, Softwar: "I [told Ray], 'Okay, I'll be Mr Applications. I don't want to do it... I really don't.' Order management, tax tables, accounting - are you kidding me? I'm working on parallel server [database technology]. I didn't want to go from computer science to accounting. I thought that understanding and automating all these business processes would be dull and duller. It just wasn't a book I wanted to read."

What happened next goes directly to Ellison character - and stands as a pointer to how the PeopleSoft saga might turn out."

I was impressed with the use of Softwar as background material; I've said before that if you're looking to get a good overview of how Oracle came to be the company it currently is, including all the internal politics and their "aggressive" approach to marketing and development, this is the book to read.

The article goes on to talk about the first release of the E-Business Suite:

"With the E-Business Suite it first released in May 2000, Oracle had rebuilt the applications code almost from the ground up to create, under Ellison's vision, an Internet-centric, integrated set of core business applications. Almost 40% of the modules were new and they all shared a single, unified data model. Unfortunately, Ellison, renowned since the early days of Oracle as adhering to the product release principle of, 'If it compiles, ship it', did just that.

The first version of the Oracle E-Business Suite 11i contained over 5,000 documented bugs. Oracle itself did not install the product until the beginning of 2001 and even then it found that the mission-critical order management system was so incomplete that the company was unable to place a single order for a fortnight. Others in the same boat had different problems. International courier DHL found it was unable to complete transactions in euros, putting its planned roll out of applications to a dozen European divisions back by several months."

With the recently completed PeopleSoft takeover, the author then looks at Oracle's history of previous takeovers, including one that we'll all be familiar with:

"In the early 1990s, a new type of database emerged that (at least in some areas of business intelligence) threatened the hegemony of relational database products. These online analytical processing (OLAP) products are the foundation of most complex data analysis today, but back then only one company was cleaning up with its pioneering technology - Arbor Software (later Hyperion Solutions). To compete in what it regarded as its backyard Oracle acquired the Express product line from research house IRI. But within a few years it had let Express die on the vine and in the process lost the initiative - and a top position - in business intelligence."

I'd probably disagree slightly with this - sure the marketing of Express (and the follow-up, Oracle OLAP) has been a series of largely self-inflicted disasters, but it's still the best OLAP server technology and is finally now coming back into relevance with the 10g Business Intelligence Suite. Still, compared to what industry commentators expected Oracle to do with Express compared to how it turned out, I'm sure this is largely a fair comment.

So, given Oracle's history of takeovers, none of which are anything like the scale of the PeopleSoft merger, and the previous "release first, sort the bugs out after" approach to development, does the author think things are heading for disaster? Well no, actually, because he thinks Oracle has now "grown up":

"Of course, Oracle is not the same company it was when these previous sea changes took place. It is much more mature. Its E-Business Suite now consists of a stable, broad applications portfolio, built on a common data model. The company has established internal processes that now make it less volatile and more responsive to customer issues; its financials (thanks to the lucrative franchise built by its database product) are in good shape ...

... In a statement in early January, Oracle said that its aim was for the PeopleSoft engineers to complete the development of PeopleSoft version 8.9 (in 2005) and then push towards the last upgrade, version 9.0 (in 2006). The last JDE EnterpriseOne release will be 8.12 (due in 2006), with JDEWorld and Enterprise XE on support and "enhancements" only. The fusion of key PeopleSoft functionality and the Oracle applications is due in 2007-8. While it is laying off 45% of PeopleSoft's staff of 11,225, Oracle has offered jobs to 90% of its development and support engineers. But customers, intent on protecting their investments in PeopleSoft applications, will want to know how many sign up. "

Although it's certainly not going to be plain sailing:

"Whether PeopleSoft and JDE's 11,000 customers will eventually migrate to Oracle depends on how that early experience goes. But Oracle is counting on a large proportion eventually making the switch. If not, its revenue picture is certainly not going to turn in the right direction ... In the coming weeks, as Oracle spells out plans for its organisational structure, products and marketing, PeopleSoft customers must now hope that there is a silver lining to the predicament they find themselves in. Oracle may have won the fight for their business - now it must show it deserves it."

Anyway, as I said at the start this is an excellent, well written and well researched article that's a great heads-up on what challenges Oracle are likely to face in the future. Take a look if you've got a spare 10 minutes, and the rest of the Infoconomy site looks worth a look as well. Just shows it pays to look through the freebie magazines once in a while.


 

   
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