Oracle held its annual OpenWorld event once again at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco. The world's third-largest software company by revenue (in 2018) made several interesting and important announcements, many of which have been well-covered by journalists and analysts. The company invited me to attend its Industry Analyst event at Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, at which I gained insight into several high-level strategic trends that I believe are worth your attention.
I’ve followed Oracle not only as an analyst but as a past employee at several Fortune 250 companies who utilized Oracle’s software solutions as the backbone of their IT infrastructure. As such, I was looking forward to a deep dive of the company’s strategy across the multiple businesses it plays heavily (if not dominates) in.
The polished analyst event, overlooking the infield of Oracle Park, opened up my eyes to a few surprising things about the company.
Oracle wants to be friends with key competitive cloud players
First and foremost, I was pleased to see Oracle take a friendly (if not peacemaking) approach towards critical competitive cloud players like Microsoft and VMWare. While I have not followed Oracle until recently, my perception of Oracle (even as a user) was that the company likes to position itself as the most influential entity in the space that its plays in. That perception quickly evolved with Oracle’s announcement of an expansion of its partnership with Microsoft, with the goal of catapulting past Amazon AWS in the cloud infrastructure space. According to Patrick Moorhead, founder of Moor Insights & Strategy founder, AWS drives 30 times more IaaS business. Oracle occupies the lower-left ‘Magic Quadrant’ while AWS holds the upper right.
During his keynote, Larry Ellison, the co-founder and executive chairman of Oracle, praised Microsoft and Azure for the partnership. His comments focused on the investment protection benefits, both from a Microsoft and Oracle perspective, that customers will presumably value. Oracle also announced that VMWare would be added to Oracle Cloud’s list of public cloud providers. Customers can now set up hybrid cloud environments by combining VMware infrastructure in their own data centers with public clouds. While these announcements positively reflect the reality that more and more enterprise customers demand scalable multi-vendor cloud solutions that offer cross-compatibility, Oracle should be praised for its openness. This was not the Oracle I expected even if these moves came from a position of IaaS cloud weakness.
UX and branding garners greater importance within Oracle
What surprised me the most, however, was the terrific keynote at the beginning of the analyst event around usability and application design. The keynote, given by Hillel Cooperman and Jenny Lam, Oracle’s Senior Vice Presidents of User Experience Design, was one of the most refreshing presentations I’ve seen in some time. One doesn’t often look to large enterprise software companies for leadership in application design and usability, but had I not seen the Oracle logo on the presentation deck, I would have mistaken the content and proffered strategy as coming from a bona fide consumer technology, services, or packaged goods company.
Oracle’s branding has always been a bit assertive; it wasn’t uncommon to drive past the Moscone Center during prior OpenWorld events and see the entire facility draped in red and black. Regardless, Oracle’s new Redwood UX scheme is a breath of fresh air that, according to Cooperman, was designed to challenge the assumption that enterprise applications can’t look and feel like a consumer application—particularly from an ease of use standpoint. It’s worth noting that SAP has also been making moves in this direction—it will be interesting to compare the two.
The brief demo Oracle showed the analyst group during the usability session had all the characteristics of a classic consumer application from a look and feel standpoint. Good UX designs change over time utilizing feedback from users. One of Oracle’s advantages is the fact that it extensively tests its solutions internally with its large employee population before being released. Cooperman, Lam, and the Oracle team should be applauded for implementing a decidedly consumer-focused strategy at a company that is not typically known as a consumer-driven organization. You get can an informative deeper dive on Oracle’s new Redwood user experience strategy via this link.
Some final thoughts
In the immediate aftermath, it's hard to assess the success of an elaborate event like OpenWorld; the ultimate "judges" will be enterprise customers voting with their precious IT dollars and budgets. Putting that caveat aside, I was impressed with the thoughtful execution of the event itself, the plainspokenness of the multiple keynote presentations, and the candor of the executives even during informal one on one sessions throughout the event.
Oracle promises to embed AI and machine-learning technology into its solutions in order to proactively optimize people resources, lower costs, enhance security, reduce complexity, and truly avoid unmitigated disasters like the infamous Capital One breach. If it delivers on this, it will appeal to many enterprise customers. While there’s more work to be done, Oracle put up some major points on the scoreboard at the event.