Some retailers always rush things a bit by starting to sell Christmas items in September. In a similar way, Oracle likes to jump the gun by starting its Fiscal Year 2012 on June 1. This unusual schedule impacts the way Oracle interacts with its customers in a number of important ways. First, all energy in May is focused on customers that appear ready to buy something. Others have to wait for a while to get any attention. The last minute shoppers expect and usually get the largest discounts offered all year.

In June, the Oracle sales teams are often exhausted from the year end push and are either celebrating success, making excuses for missing targets, or are sending out resumes. Those that survive start planning for the next year. They also wait to find out what their new territory will be, their personal sales plan and quotas, and what sales promotions are planned. While all this is going on, contact with customers tends to be limited until July or later.

Those of you in a product evaluation cycle not geared for a May decision need to accept the reality of Oracle’s schedule. You should not feel slighted if your Oracle sales team has not paid much attention to you recently. Be patient, they will be back soon.

The new Oracle year also represents a good time to speculate about what changes the new fiscal year might bring in terms of products, sales campaigns, and messaging. I see few major shifts in direction occurring but can imagine many ways in which FY 2012 will differ from the past. The important changes that I believe are on the way include:

• More appliance offerings. Exadata and Exalogic are sure to be refreshed and expanded, and additional hardware/software combinations have to be in the pipeline.
• Cloud clarification. Ellison’s ad hoc comments about cloud computing at the last Open World were largely an appeal to buy his new Exalogic servers. This year Oracle has to make it clear what it really thinks about the cloud.
• Fusion Applications will at long last become something real this year. What the customers testing it out say will matter far more than the way Oracle describes it.
• Mark Hurd will finally emerge from the shadows at Open World. He will definitely put his own stamp on the event and on Oracle but exactly how is not yet clear.
• Oracle is overdue to acquire something sizeable. The next big thing will almost certainly aim to shore up the Sun franchise.

At the same time, some things won’t change very much in FY 2012:

• Solid financial results. Ellison’s flamboyant style sometimes overshadows his exceptional skill at making whatever he does profitable.
• Public attacks on HP and IBM will continue as long as they keep eroding Oracle’s share of the Unix server market.
• Oracle’s application products will keep relentlessly grinding out routine releases. All the real innovation will come through Fusion.
• Oracle’s low key marketing philosophy will change very slowly, even as Mark Hurd begins to play a more visible role running the company.

Since your Oracle sales team is really busy right now, let me be the first to wish all of you a Happy New Fiscal Year!