Oracle’s “Applications Strategy Update” is a series of presentations scheduled around the world in the coming months. A better name for the series might be “Topics of local interest to some of Oracle applications customers”. Each meeting seems very narrowly targeted such as the dinner event last week in Seattle that focused on Insurance. A quick scan showed that very few of them will be relevant for JDE customers. This latest minor slight is another example of Oracle’s practice of making little effort to market directly to our community.
There are still well over 5,000 JDE customers around the world generating a modest and slowly growing profit for Oracle. This is nice, but not enough to command any real attention. Oracle executives remain focused on finding major new sources of growth and on strategies that will transform the IT industry. They correctly assume that the JDE community will be satisfied with the scraps that fall off the table as a giant feast is prepared.
The issues that consume almost all of Oracle’s top-level attention include:
- Using the Sun acquisition to replace IBM as the premier “one stop shopping” IT vendor.
- Emerging from a highly competitive pack as the top BI vendor.
- Using Fusion Applications to leap ahead of SAP as the top application provider.
- Building on the market lead the database franchise has established.
- Winning the middleware war versus Microsoft and IBM.
- Filling out the various product portfolios through acquisitions.
As far as I can tell, JDE leader Lyle Ekdahl and his team are largely being left alone as those steering the ship focus on the big challenges listed above. This is not as bad as it sounds because the JDE team has an adequate R&D budget and the freedom to spend it on anything that fits within the framework of the grand strategy. At the same time, almost no effort or money is allocated for JDE specific marketing.
Under Oracle, the JDE customer base has remained stable and loyal so the policy of benign neglect does not appear to have had a major negative impact. A case could be made that a small investment in JDE marketing might lead to even more positive results, but no one seems inclined to try to argue that with Ellison.
My own company just helped convince a manufacturing company to replace one of the outdated Infor ERP suites with JDE applications. The case for JDE was extremely strong but SAP nearly won the business anyway – not because it offered a good alternative but because of unfounded doubts about JDE that the SAP sales team was able to cultivate. In this case we were able to prevail, but I wonder how many other times the absence of visible support for JDE from Oracle top management has led to losses.
The lack of marketing air cover and the general policy of benign neglect are frustrating in sales situations but in a perverse way it actually has some benefits. When Lenley Hensarling was in charge of the JDE franchise he once confided in me that his personal strategy was to maintain a very low profile within Oracle. He aspired to enhance the franchise as much as possible while calling little attention to it internally. His belief was that “help” from high above might cause more harm than good.
The grand initiatives that Oracle has undertaken during the period since JDE became part of its product line have overall been positive for us. They include Applications Unlimited, Application Integration Architecture and the acquisition of Siebel, G-Log, Demantra and many others. Even the development of Fusion Applications has had a indirect but positive impact that should grow over time.
It has slowly become apparent that Oracle’s act is to focus on creating technologically elegant products and then let customers figure out for themselves if they want to buy them. This is not the way most management consultants would suggest running a company, but it is Ellison’s way and it is hard to argue with his track record. I am therefore willing to live with benign neglect as long as it continues to be combined with indirect benefits that more than compensate.
As always, other thoughts or opinions are welcome.