Collaborate is always worthwhile but it forces you to work hard to catch back up after a week out of the office.  The time since Collaborate has given me a chance to reflect on all that I learned there.  This posting will net out my reactions to a great conference.

The JD Edwards community was out in force in Vegas with over 1100 individuals from customer organizations, 600+ vendor employees, and plenty of JDE focused people from Oracle.  Best of all, the people I talked to were energized, optimistic and pleased with what has been happening to the applications on which they depend.  The dark concerns of past years about the long-term viability of JD Edwards seem to now be completely gone.

My posting before the conference lamented the fact that Oracle was not sending President Mark Hurd or another of its top guns to our event.  After attending the presentation by Oracle CIO Mark Sunday I have to admit that I over-reacted.   The presentation Sunday gave (on a Tuesday) did an excellent job helping us understand how Oracle eats its own cooking.  It reinforced the impression I have that Oracle is very effective running the behind the scenes parts of its business.  Oracle’s approach to marketing is so secretive and low-key that we rarely get to see how the company we depend on really works.  This presentation did not offer any big insights into Oracle’s product strategy or future direction but it was a fascinating look into what goes on out of sight.

In the presentation we learned that Oracle plans to start making internal use the new Fusion Applications in stages beginning after its 2013 fiscal year kicks off in June.   The first application put to use internally will be CRM.  Other Fusion Applications will follow over time but there was no indication of when.  Oracle’s decision to slowly adopt Fusion Applications internally was another indication that the plan for this new product line continues to be to slow-play its introduction.

It remains impossible to determine if the leisurely rollout of Fusion Applications is part of a brilliant strategy or the result of problems getting it completed.  I suspect it is some of each.  I continue to believe that these applications will some day be a dramatic improvement over the ones we are using today.  It remains unclear when it will be realistic for most of us to start putting them to use.  The approximately 250 organizations making use of some of them have not yet come forward to declare them mature, wonderful and ready for everyone else to employ.  That may come over time, perhaps starting at the next OpenWorld in October.  One of the few mentioned by name was the Red Robin chain of restaurants.  It is apparently attempting to make broader use of the full suite of applications than most of the others.

The overview presentation I attended on Fusion Applications did provide some further insight.  Apparently the software is up to its fourth major release which implies that it is starting to achieve a level of stability and maturity.  Not surprisingly, quite powerful servers such Oracle’s Exadata series are needed to provide acceptable performance.  Many of the early users have been given deep discounts on Oracle appliances as part of the early adopter program.  There was also an indication that the ability to run these applications in a cloud environment has been the most popular option so far.

Oracle’s decision to downplay the importance of Fusion Applications has been fine so far within the community represented at Collaborate.  In general, users of JD Edwards, PeopleSoft and E-Business Suite are happy with what they own and have limited interest in making a wrenching change to something new, even if it sounds wonderful conceptually.  They remain curious about Fusion Applications but only vaguely interested in making use of them anytime soon.

The meeting of Quest members featured a presentation by Adam Lashinsky, author of the new book Inside Apple.  A key theme was how obsessive Apple is about secrecy.  The book documents the close personal relationship between Apple founder Steve Jobs and Oracle’s Larry Ellison – who served on the Apple Board of Directors for many years.  Obviously both share a philosophy that marketing should be about brand image and awareness and not involve sharing information about future plans.

The cult of secrecy that appears to have worked well for Apple seems to be a guiding principle of Ellison’s as well so I expect that Oracle will remain as secretive as ever.  I have come to accept that Oracle will remain inscrutable as part of an intentional strategy.  A likely consequence is that presentations made by Oracle employees will continue to generally be bland and lacking in any attempt to connect on an emotional level with the audience.  The only exception at the conference to this general rule was Lyle Ekdahl’s session.   It did not provide a great deal of dramatic news, but what he had to say was presented with energy, excitement and great graphics.

Far too many other presenters fell into the trap of trying to do product demos during presentations.  Am I the only one that can never follow on-stage software demonstrations?  The screens always seem cluttered and impossible to read.  By the time you begin to figure out one screen the presenter has thrown up two more.  I can never follow the presenter’s patter, visually see what was done, and make sense out of the user interface all at once.

A recent study discovered that most children dislike clowns.  Apparently people assume that while they don’t care for clowns themselves, others surely must like them.  I wonder if in a similar way everyone hates it when presenters attempt to demonstrate software but that no one is willing to admit that they personally can’t follow what is going on.  Sorry if this side note does not resonate with some of you.  It just feels good to rant a little about something that annoys me at all software conferences not just Collaborate.

Clown-like software demos aside, I came away from Collaborate 2012 feeling more informed, optimistic about the state of the evolution of the software that we all care about, and generally energized.  The great mystery that is Oracle Corporation did not solve itself, but I came away better understanding that it likes it that way.