I've had a couple of days to rest my hands and brain, and think about Oracle OpenWorld away from the excitement of it all - which can generate a somewhat buzzed view. Let no writer tell you they are objective or dispassionate - especially in the face of passion and among the noise of 43,000 people who, for all you Shakespearian fanboys, were there to praise Oracle, not to bury it. Not only that, the distractions are now gone, like my 3G iPhone not allowing me to use (by crashing) every single app that was loaded onto it - except the default, Apple-loaded ones - which created enough of a grrrr condition to at times keep me from concentrating.
So, now, its time to review Oracle OpenWorld 2008 from a perspective that I can - CRM, and all things 2.0ish - and thus, you NEED to recognize the limitations of this review. There was a LOT more going on at OpenWorld than just CRM.In fact, the big announcement was that Oracle was going into the hardware business in an alliance with HP - The Exadata Storage Server - which, according to Oracle is an intelligent data server that uses the intelligence to direct the stream of data to allow for faster access and, for example, query results. There is a pre-configured version called the HP Oracle Database Machine - which is a series of the Exadata Storage Servers all running, what else, Oracle's database with Oracle's Enterprise Linux. I'm astounded at Larry Ellison's consistent fascination and commitment to hardware - given that he runs a software company - of course, with particular reference to his "the new model of computing is the appliance" - and the subsequent (in 2000) network appliance - which failed primarily due to it being prescient, not contemporary. Something like the steam engine invented by Hero of Alexandria during the reign of Roman Emperor Augustus. There was no cultural framework or infrastructure to make the steam engine anything but a curiosity so it ended being used as a weird toy until the centuries later "re-invention" by James Watt in the 18th century. (I remember this from reading Charles Beard's History of Business - given my age - I read it during Augustus' reign). Same with that "network appliance" which has made its appearance again as a thin client based on the Internet, with the culture and infrastructure there. So, I won't put it past Ellison to be right about the Exadata Storage Server ((I say this with grudging respect, given what I really think of the man) and the Oracle incursion into hardware.
Ellison also managed to get in an attack on cloud computing, I presume to maintain his image as irascible, with the following statement:
"The interesting thing about cloud computing is that we've redefined cloud computing to include everything that we already do. I can't think of anything that isn't cloud computing with all of these announcements. The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women's fashion. Maybe I'm an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It's complete gibberish. It's insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?
"We'll make cloud computing announcements. I'm not going to fight this thing. But I don't understand what we would do differently in the light of cloud."
You'll note that he's "not going to fight this thing" because, I presume, walking the catwalk can be a way of generating some serious revenue, especially given the Oracle commitment stated at OpenWorld that they are going to probably be selling more CRM On Demand than on premise within a few years, so this might have been a bit of "bad boy" posturing. The discussion on cloud computing seems to sum up as "I think its ridiculous and stupid and I know we can make money from it so I won't do anything about it but fake a rant."
But I digress.....
Oracle OpenWorld 2008 - The Environs
First, you have to imagine the scene there - there being Moscone Center in SF. The city itself was DOMINATED by people in red badges, red teeshirts and red everythings else who were tied to OpenWorld. Every hotel near the Moscone Center was booked, reservations at restaurants were nearly impossible to get; the Moscone Center itself was packed with Oracleans who came from every country imaginable to be there. There were so many vendors who wanted to be on the Side of the Red that they had to break the Exhibition Hall into two exhibition halls - one with a third of the exhibitors and the other with (duh) two-thirds of the exhibitors. One entire street (Yerba Buena?) was shut down and covered with a tent top so that people had a place to go to eat lunch that was big enough to handle them. The scope was staggering. The noise and the buzz exciting - this is an "EVENT" not a trade show. Oracle has its fanboys and fangirls every bit as committed as the Apple variety. The difference is that the Oracleans do Oracle for a living.
Even the parties were huge. As I reported a few days ago, the Oracle Social CRM party was an event unto itself - which a projected pre-registered attendance of 400 which turned into a projected pre-registered attendance of 850 - before they shut off the spigot.
Oracle OpenWorld 2008 - The CRM 2.0 (aka Social CRM)-related Concepts
This is where Oracle stood out. Anthony Lye, SVP of Oracle CRM, recently named by me as "The Secret Vendor Intellectual" in my 2008 CRM Personality Awards, was dead on with his discussion of the transformation of the business ecosystem. He gave large audiences in packed rooms (there was a HUGE interest at the event in Social CRM) a very strong framework that was focused around what CRM 2.0 (not Web 2.0) is: "CRM doesn't have a clue what a conversation is and social sites have no idea what enterprise data is. That is where social CRM comes in." He spent a good deal of time showing the crowds how the addition of social characteristics and social tools such as collaboration technologies, recommendation engines, review and comment capabilities and of course the ever popular blogs and wikis, have a material impact on businesses when they are integrated with the "traditional" CRM transactional features and functions.
Anthony made another really important point in an AM briefing:
"Social CRM is a complement to traditional transactional and analytical CRM. It uses the conversation as its basis. On top of these conversations, we allow communities to form. I am not a thought leader, I'm a fast-follower. I'm taking what's worked very well in the consumer market and leveraging it in the business market. Consumer applications like Facebook are fun but they don't drive business. They're great for reunions and hanging out and throwing things at your friends, but in business you need the enterprise space that's around it. You need to able to bring in the ERP and CRM data; stuff that you'd never put on the public internet."
These are mission critical for all CRM 2.0/Social CRM discussions and Anthony spent a lot of time driving that home throughout the days of the conference - as did members of his SocCRM Crew. The framework for Social CRM was hammered home and into place by the end of OpenWorld 2008 - a good move by Oracle.
Oracle OpenWorld 2008 - The CRM 2.0-related Content
There were two bows to the 2.0 world that I thought were culturally important and at the same time bolstered the Oracle argument that they were a true leader in the Enterprise 2.0 space (that said, they are A leader, not THE leader. Who that is remains to be seen. Long way to go yet).
Oracle Mix and New Culture
If you go to this URL, you'll run across something called "Oracle Mix." This is a social network that Oracle created, that was launched at Oracle OpenWorld 2008, but wasn't merely an appendage to OpenWorld. This is NOT an "event-driven social network" but a continuing one that was sparked by an event. What it consists of is a network with many subcommunities (groups) and a confluence of people, ideas, and reputations along with some social media tools thrown in which makes for a nicely organized appealing online community that is governed by the principles of what I call CRM 2.0 (though Anthony Lye, SVP of CRM at Oracle, doesn't like that term) or what Oracle and my good buddy Brent Leary call Social CRM. One and the same, always interchangeable. This is a walk the walk as well as talk the talk social CRM that Oracle is espousing. For example, as of this writing there are 73 members of My Oracle Open World Business Influencers Group - some who attended the conference some who didn't. Some are known business influencers and some aren't - known - but they might be business influencers. Here's a picture of my group:
Another sign of the times is the placement of bloggers/press tables in the Keynote Hall where the major keynotes were given. There were several dozen long tables that had electrical outlets on the floor with what turned out to be good wifi (at least for me) connectivity. The recognition of the importance of bloggers, while not a new event in the history of recent mankind, is still significant when it comes from a traditional software company that's re-inventing itself around a neo-culture that it wasn't very good at just a couple of years ago.
Like SAP, it seems that the cultural transformation of the company is being driven by a combination of external social forces and their specific CRM practice. Just as I saw at SAP's Sapphire event in May of this year, Oracle is also being changed - the "within" part being driven by the Social CRM group. They are not only engaged in their own applications development work, but are collaborating with other sections of the company - e.g. the Beehive people (Bee people?) and, from what I'm told, the Fusion folks to make their cultures collaborative and engaging - rather than siloed and suspicious - a HUGE change in how they do business and even act with each other. However, other than the CRM group, which is a major league outfit, they have a LONG way to go to get me to see a culture that is truly collaborative. But they are making strides.
Oracle Social CRM
This CRM related walking of the walk has been more than beneficial to what's coming out of the CRM group - its been materially transforming for parts of Oracle's culture. The social CRM applications that I saw at OpenWorld 2008 (#OOW08 for those who want to see the Twitterverse chatter) were considerably more complete than the ones I had seen just a month and a half before. Not only that, Sales Prospector was complete enough to be released as was Sales Library and Sales Campaign and their Social Marketing application was being developed in conjunction, with, gasp, a REAL CUSTOMER - L'Oreal in this case. The only weaknesses were a lack of any real customer service application that could be characterized as Social CRM.
I'm not going to cover the apps in major detail here - just a cursory look at one or two of them. First, I've done that before in prior posts. Second, they'll be in the 4th edition of CRM at the Speed of Light. Third, this is meant to be coverage of CRM at OpenWorld 2008, not a deep dive on app features and functions. For a fresh look at them, check out Michael Krigsman's wildly popular ZDNet Blog, IT Project Failures in his take on the Oracle Social CRM apps - which I concur with wholeheartedly - from his look at the applications to his noticing the passion with which the Oracle CRM team works.
Oracle Social CRM was so prevalent and threaded so actively throughout the event, it was almost a theme of the conference. There were actually multiple demonstrations of the various applications and an astonishing number of presentations on them - almost too many if that's possible - done extremely well by Anthony Lye, Melissa Boxer, Mark Woollen, Tara Roberts, and Dipock Das. The demos of Sales Prospector, Sales Campaign, and Sales Library (my personal favorite) showed products at varying levels of maturity but still release-ready, if not client tested yet. The one that has the most to show - and the most to prove - is Sales Prospector.
Sales Prospector is premised on its ability, using the "like me" model, to forecast the rate of success of an opportunity. It "predicts" the likelihood of the deal closing, the time it is likely to close and the likely amount of the deal. It's based on the idea that the history of prior deals like "it" in combination with externally captured knowledge can generate a reasonably accurate map of the possibility of success - and uses the historic customer data of deals past to see which product mix would engender the best rate of success - in other words, an enterprise version of a recommendation engine. The purpose is to use history and social sources (external sources) to increase the likelihood of success - or, if you take the glass half empty approach, decrease the likelihood of failure.
Not only does Sales Prospector have this very useful purpose, but it looks pretty damned good too - with a UI that a salesperson can actually use. Here's a picture of it. Nice and clean. Almost easy to understand. Unfortunately, Oracle used this as their standard Sales Prospector demo slide and its a slide that only a high tech salesperson would love - I'd have been considerably more "ordinary" a.k.a. less complex than that. But, with that caveat, I think you can see how good the UI is for this under any circumstance.
Of course, the true test of Sales Prospector hasn't been passed yet. How accurate is it is pretty much what makes or breaks this app. If the forecast for likelihood of closure, time of closure and size of opportunity is close to accurate (100% would be a bit much to ask for anything made of digital pieces) then Oracle has a real winner that looks good too. If not....well. I'd give this some time. On the one hand, its been released and presumably is in the hands of at least a few customers at this point. So the test cases are coming. But, all in all, like all software, we have to be patient with the first phase of tweaks that will be necessary. We'll see how fast Oracle can roll them out as the results of the first "pilots" come in from real live production environments. I'm betting that they'll be fast because they are banking on the success of Social CRM for the whole company and this is easily the boldest and the riskiest of their applications.
Oh yeah, as a standalone it can be delivered with CRM On Demand. Forgot to mention that. Is that fashionably in the cloud?
This is probably, at least the domain I can speak to, where Oracle just flat out fell down - though mostly due to the messaging - not the promise. Oracle Beehive was meant to be one of the dramatic surprises at OpenWorld 2008. It was surprisingly bad.
Presented as a Collaboration Server that, in effect, though the phrase wasn't used that I remember, was a Unified Communications platform that uses and integrates email, wiki, voice, conferencing, discussions, voicemail, blogs, chats as the communications channels and ties all of them to joint calendar, task, tags, contacts, search, presence i.e. the collaboration features. Sounds great, right up the CRM 2.0 alley and within the Enterprise 2.0 schema, but the demo showed us what? An Outlook interface, the ability to form groups within Outlook and the collaboration on a document - all in all something I could see five years ago on Lotus Notes or some whiteboard application - and less compelling that GotoMeeting.com, at least metaphorically. There were several problems. If that's how far along Beehive is so far, they should never have launched it or even pre-released it at this event - especially with the San Francisco citywide buildup it got. Ads on the sides of buses, for godssakes. If the functionality shown was an accurate representation of the development stage it was in, then it should NEVER have been show. If it was much further along than that, why show something that has long been surpassed by multiple other companies - like IBM?
Here's what it could look like in its ideal state:
The demo didn't even HINT at this, unless you allowed your imagination into almost impossible realms.
The idea of the Collaboration Server aka Beehive is smart and cool and progressive, though not game-changing. But when the best part of the Beehive event is getting a bee-shaped chocolate, there's a serious, though, no doubt, correctable problem. I hope that I'm shown to be wrong, because they have a potentially interesting product here - something built around a hot area in the world of Enterprise 2.0 - and especially CRM - and that would be Unified Communications - an area redefining the desktop and the way we actually use information technology to interact.
In Sum: Final Analysis
Personal expert biases aside, the discussion of Social CRM at Oracle OpenWorld 2008, was a major inflection point for Oracle's CRM applications. Probably the only criticism I have of it was that I thought that it was over-demonstrated - with a demo at the Oracle Social CRM party being inappropriate, given the expectation of a party was foremost on the minds of others - and it was a little repetitious throughout the conference. But all in all, the point was conceptually clear and the applications are just damned good. They need to get their services applications up to speed and their mobile Sales Assistant is nothing much to speak of, but everything else they have at this point is enterprise ready and will now be tested in the true battleground - the world of the enterprise. I think Sales Prospector is the one that is the most ready and carries the weight of risk on its shoulder - since its stated purpose is ultimately a more accurate forecast and a way of improving the odds of closing a deal. That's a lot to bear - but if it does - big time success - both for Sales Prospector and for proving that CRM 2.0 aka social CRM is now what companies considering how to engage their customers have to do.
This was an incredibly impressive event in sheer scope and level of organization. The Oracle CRM team did a great job of getting out the vote for Social CRM and giving it a conceptual framework. The failure was in Beehive which has some impact on 2.0 strategies of Oracle. Most of the other problems had had were not tactical or strategic but nitpicks not worth going into here. If I had to grade the event, I'd give it a B+. The Oracle Social CRM effort gets an A- and the minus is due to the spillover of the Beehive failure and the lack of a service component in any state of readiness for Social CRM.