If there's one word you could easily use to describe Oracle, it would be acquisitive. Here's a very partial list of its most notable tech acquisitions: Sun, Siebel Systems, PeopleSoft, BEA, RightNow, Hyperion, Eloqua. Is that ongoing pattern of buyouts a problem for customers of the acquired businesses?
Oracle is of course not unique in this respect: you can see similar behaviour with Cisco and with Microsoft. We're in an era where consolidation is a prominent feature of the enterprise IT landscape. Yet acquisition always creates a sense of uncertainty. Products that are acquired don't necessarily disappear, but if a roadmap isn't quickly presented and maintained, confidence in continuing to use that software or service (or hardware in the case of Sun) can evaporate.
I had this issue at the back of my mind when I visited Oracle's CloudWorld event in Melbourne last week, and it's a theme that popped up several times in conversation with executives and customers. One evident problem is that in a world of restricted IT budgets, you don't want to deal with additional uncertainty. As Oracle chairman Jeff Henley (pictured) noted: "People want to innovate — they understand the need to do all these new things — but their IT budgets aren't growing. There's a lot of tension on both sides."
While Oracle would clearly like to persuade people to sign up to as many of its products as possible, customers aren't necessarily worried about using a range of options. "Five years there was a huge issue in terms of who was on the platform and where our data was going," said Matthew Holst, director of demand centre & CRM APAC at Dell. "It's still very strict, but there's been a shift. It used to be all about 'best of breed' and Chinese walls to block competitors on the same platform, but that's no longer the case, Holst said. "We're starting to see the benefits of being on the same platforms."
The reality is often a mixture of advantage and disadvantage. Ben O'Leary is the CEO of ICT 123, which helps IT resellers sell Telstra products to their own customers. It uses CRM On Demand as its main CRM tool, and has also made use of Eloqua for marketing automation and BigMachines for sales automation, both technologies acquired by Oracle.
O'Leary said that the fact these providers ended up being owned by Oracle hadn't been a major challenge. "It makes me think I'm a couple of steps ahead of Larry Ellison," he joked. Ultimately, though, the choice of technology would be based on what served the business best: "We really couldn't find anything else in the market that did the configuration of complex products." One extra advantage: using Oracle made it easier to integrate with Telstra's existing Oracle-based systems.
In some contexts, being owned by a larger corporation is a big benefit in gaining a sale. "We've done due diligence and clearly from a reputational and brand perspective, we need to make sure we've chosen the right partners," said Anthony Micomonaco from National Australia Bank, which used Oracle's technology in a recent document management consolidation project. "For knowledge, the content that's being stored is currently low risk, but in terms of security, it's still very important.
Acquisition is also a fast-track for providers who want to sell internationally. "At a certain point to roll those out to regions consistently, it really does take additional investment," Holst said. "They're the sort of things you'd expect when Oracle comes in."
And what's Oracle's take on this? "The aim is not to cram Oracle's red stack down customers' throats," Oracle Senior VP for product development Reggie Bradford told Lifehacker. "Though that would be nice," he adds as an afterthought. "It's to create interoperability." Bradford came to Oracle via a familiar route: it purchased Virtue, the company he started to track social media integrations, in 2012.
Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.
Disclosure: Angus Kidman travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Oracle.