Archive for September 2014

Oracle: Social Is Now Part of The Infrastructure

Larry Ellison of Oracle has been around the IT industry from before it was called the IT industry. While he doesn’t always predict the future well (cloud computing… ahem) he is a keen observer of large enterprises. He is also willing to say what he thinks. That must drive the corporate communications people at Oracle insane but it is refreshing for the rest of us. Mr. Ellison, in speaking about Oracle’s cloud platform at Oracle OpenWorld, made it known where he thinks Social (meaning enterprise social networks) fits into the IT ecosystem. In his view it is part of the infrastructure like a database, Java VM, or a web server. It is just another component of the Big Red Stack and every application built with it.

He’s right of course. Social has gone mainstream and is now a piece of middleware, infusing every application with the same set of capabilities. The problem is that while Social becomes as common as electricity, innovation is slowing. Updates are mostly incremental improvements. Vendors add templates to enable quicker paths to collaboration. They have announced partnerships to provide a more “rich” experience by integrating with a mission critical application such as a system of record. It’s all just nibbling at the edges which is to be expected. Infrastructure solves a limited set of problems by delivering a standard set of features across all applications. Big changes in infrastructure are too disruptive to be of use to developers and IT professionals.

The major problem still exists – knowledge workers don’t use these systems. When first introduced into a company there’s usually a lot of activity. Over time, however, only a small group of employees realize enough value in social networks at work to keep at it. I’ve been saying this for years: corporate adoption is high; the number of users is high; the number of dedicated daily users is small. No matter how good the UI or extensive the templates only a select group uses social networking features and applications.

What has changed (for me at least) is that I no longer think that is a bad thing. It’s actually the normal thing. Not everyone needs or wants an enterprise social network. It’s not an age problem or a job function issue. It’s not about onboarding or tricking people through gamification. The reason is personalities. Group sharing, the major expression of the social network, is not something everyone is comfortable with or finds useful. There are returns for those who do like to interact this way. Not for everyone but for some.

And this is why Larry Ellison and Oracle are right about Social. It needs to be embedded everywhere and in everything so that it is always available to people who want to use it. It’s time to get over this idea that everyone has to use social features for it to be of value. CRM is valuable even though only a small fraction of sales professionals use it to the utmost. By making it part of the stack, by embedding social everywhere, those who want it can have it. And those who don’t? Well, email works most of the time now doesn’t it?

Bye Bye Larry… Oh Wait!

 

Oracle announced yesterday that Larry Ellison will hand over the CEO reins to his lieutenants Mark Hurd and Safra Catz. I bet HP feels really stupid just about now for having said so many mean things about Hurd. Predictably, this set off a series of ancient clichés in the press and amongst Silicon Valley executives and bloggers. Headlines have declared this “the end of an era” and a “changing of the guard” which, of course, it’s not. In fact, unlike Elvis, Larry has not left the building. He doesn’t carry the CEO title anymore but he is now the new Executive Chairman (after demoting the Board Chair to Vice-chair) and CTO. That means that the Hurd and Catz will still be herding the cats at Oracle and Larry will still be the boss. Oh, they may have some more freedom with sales, marketing, and operations but Larry is still keeping his hands directly on the technology team and on them.

So, less than stepping down, Ellison is stepping up. This is decidedly not a retirement as has been suggested. Spending your days on your boat or, in Ellison’s case, giant yatch, is retirement. Focusing your full time attention on philanthropy the way Bill Gates has, is retirement (of a sort). I don’t call going to work everyday at the same company with the same team doing the same stuff retirement. Oracle is only slightly shuffling the deck chairs.

So why the shuffle? Well, there is the matter of narrowly missing financial analysts’ forecasts again. That has happened with a regularity that is probably worrisome to professional investors. That’s always a problem with megacompanies – pleasing large financial institutions become the focus. By appearing to relinquish control, Ellison appears to be taking responsibility for the disappointment among investors and passing the baton to others who can fix the perceived problems. Of course, the team has stayed the same so why anyone would think that radical change is on the way is beyond me.

And then there’s Ellison’s age. Silicon Valley has become youth obsessed and at 70, Ellison is two and a half times the age of the current technocrats like Mark Zuckerberg (age 30). Of course, if Larry and Mark were to battle it out in extreme sports, my money is on Larry. He’s in way better shape than most of the skinny nerds that pass for tech CEOs these days. Some news reports want to link the management changes to his age but that’s silly given the physical shape Ellison keeps himself in.

So if it’s not meaningful change that will make a difference for investors or in Ellison’s life and not age or infirmity, what then is the reason? My guess (and it’s only a guess) is that he needed to give more of the limelight to his team. With Ellison in the CEO driver’s seat, Hurd and Catz would always be in the back. This change will encourage Oracle to give more airtime to these two top executives and force the press and analysts to listen to them instead of Ellison.

And that will be a good thing. Oracle is a company with tons of depth in their bench. It will help them to highlight other executives even more and keep Oracle from becoming the Cult of Larry.

 

Note: In honor of the commentary on this subject, I have peppered this blog with a boatload of clichés. See if you can find them all. Tom P.