Oracle has a big problem: It's not cool.
This sounds like a little problem, but in the age of consumerized IT -- where end-users bring the tools they want to work, and the onus falls on IT to support them or offer a reasonable alternative -- it's already starting to lead the company to disappointing financial results.
Larry Ellison may have technically abdicated his throne at the head of the company he founded. But he's still involved enough to give the Sunday night keynote at this week's Oracle OpenWorld conference, showing off a new range of capabilities to help customers run their applications in the Oracle Cloud with a set of expanded platform services and a new infrastructure-as-a-service offering.
The message, we hear over and over, is that Oracle is all-in on the cloud, acting as a trusted partner to bring enterprise workloads quickly and securely to the cloud. Which is really cool for Oracle and would make a huge difference if it were still, say, 2012.
Back in 2012, we were at the tail end to a period of uncertainty as to this whole "cloud" thing. CITEworld itself launched its ongoing Tales From The Cloud series to highlight how real CIOs all over the world were using new technologies to change the way they do business.
But it quickly became apparent that these stories were becoming less and less noteworthy as time went on, and we had to get pickier about the stories we pursued -- for the simple reason that total business transformation via the cloud was par for the course. Now, in 2014, it's widely recognized that the cloud is a thing and it's not going anywhere any time soon.
Back to Oracle. It's Oracle's opinion that here in 2014, Oracle sells the best Oracle solutions for working with Oracle data, and that the cloud confuses people, especially large enterprises, who already work with Oracle systems, and therefore, Oracle offers the premium Oracle experience for the total Oracle stack in the cloud.
During a press Q&A session at OpenWorld, newly-appointed Oracle co-CEO Mark Hurd said "best of breed" so many times, your humble correspondent started wondering about a sponsorship from the American Kennel Club. Oracle has so many products, and they're all so amazing, Hurd says, that it's only inevitable for Oracle to take on the reigning champion of SaaS once it makes it easier to run its software in the cloud. In fact, he says, Oracle has so many products that he couldn't possibly find the time to enumerate why you should care about any one.
But that's why Oracle's lack of coolness is problematic. Let's pretend for a second that every single one of those applications is just as good as Hurd says it is (nothing but the Law of Averages says that they very probably aren't). Part of the reason Salesforce is so successful is that it's been really aggressive about courting developers, by purchasing startups like Heroku, by sponsoring hackathons, by making its annual Dreamforce conference an ego-boosting networking hullabaloo for ISVs, and generally by providing people with incentives to develop for the platform and do cool things with it.
Meanwhile, Oracle is out here doing things it can't quite adequately explain to an audience who are already doing the new stuff, or watching their colleagues reap the benefits and looking for a solid game plan from a vendor they've invested so much with already. If anything Oracle said this week is news to a CIO, they're probably behind the curve already.
From a user perspective, Oracle's claims that people don't want services from multiple cloud providers is nonsense, given that even of the firms that the company holds up as great examples of model customers -- GE, Intel, Proctor and Gamble -- are well known as voracious consumers of cloud services from multiple vendors.
Look only at Toyota's adoption of Box for content management to understand why it's so critical that users have the things they want. Whereas Oracle is selling to IT shops who seem to want to very much dictate the stack to their users.
There is some hope: Hurd mentioned a forthcoming announcement, too big to fit into the OpenWorld schedule, of a mobile framework to build better enterprise mobile apps. The company would still be a late mover, but it would be a step in the right direction.
In short, Oracle wants CIOs and users alike to have one choice: Oracle. And while their infrastructure and database offerings probably aren't going anywhere any time soon, Oracle's SaaS businesses are going to have a hard time adjusting to the world of consumerized IT that's already here in 2014.