Last week in Las Vegas, Oracle had its first in person CloudWorld in three years. This provided a good chance to get reacquainted with the company and what they have been up to for the past few years. What follows are my top take aways from the event. I am a supply chain management industry analyst, so that will be a primary focus of this article.
Oracle’s Technology Value Proposition
From a technology perspective, Oracle’s value proposition is that applications hosted in a public Cloud leads to lower maintenance costs, quicker implementations, quicker development cycles, the ability for customers to add new functionality on a regular basis with agility, and better customer support. I’ve talked to enough of their customers over the years and I believe this.
There was more confirmation at the show. 1-800-Flowers gave a presentation in which they talked about implementing Oracle warehouse management and transportation management systems in the Cloud. Oracle transportation management needed to be implemented quickly before the holiday season because their legacy TMS provider told them they would no longer support it. They implemented Oracle Transportation Management (OTM) in 12 weeks. That is fast! Historically, a robust TMS solution took 9 months or longer to implement.
The journey to modernize legacy applications on cloud architecture is complex and takes time. Some of their applications are more mature than others. OTM is a very mature application, for example. Oracle is moving from depth in an application, like transportation management, to adding industry specific functionality. But the industry functionality is also being added in terms of new industry specific applications and an understanding of what functionality needs to be added across their suite of products to better support that industry’s unique processes.
Oracle’s primary example of what they were doing to bring deeper industry solutions to market was what they are doing to support the healthcare industry. Larry Ellison, their CTO, gave a compelling and persuasive presentation on the value Oracle could provide to this industry through the combination of new functionality, applications, and the use of their Cloud Infrastructure to support more responsive and intelligent healthcare networks. This kind of solution would not have been possible with an on-premise application.
Clearly, there are advantages that come with a solution set that supports an end-to-end process. The order-to-delivery process, for example, is much wider than the fulfillment processes supported in a warehouse management system. The end-to-end process includes order management, demand and supply planning, inventory planning, transportation management, and other processes and applications as well. Not having to integrate numerous third-party applications together leads to quicker implementations and easier ongoing maintenance.
But Oracle is realistic. Not all customers are going to buy everything from Oracle. The company has strong capabilities to support hybrid cloud environments, which are the norm these days, particularly for larger customers.
Similarly, their supply chain customers often have older on-premise solutions from Oracle, Oracle’s Cloud solutions, and solutions from other vendors as well. A heterogeneous technology environment is the norm, and Oracle knows they need to support this.
Oracle also has a new user interface that is consumer grade. It is gradually being built into their solutions with the supply chain product group being one of the first to embrace this technology. This demo’d beautifully. The demo focused on manufacturing execution. I could not help but wonder if developing the 3D product images was something that would scale for a company with 10,000 or more products. I concluded that it could, it would just have to be done gradually. Every time a new product was introduced, or a bill of materials changed, they could add the graphics for that product.
When it came to their supply chain technology stack, I found it interesting what they did not talk about. During Covid many disruptions occurred because of a lack of visibility into the n-tier supply chain. This is the black hole at the heart of supply chain management. While Oracle has added functionality to support better agility and resilience, I don’t believe visibility to disruption occurring several tiers up in a company’s supply chain is a current strength for Oracle. In truth, this is a very hard problem to solve. But it is beginning to be solved.
In contrast, when it comes to sustainability I like their product vision and road map. This is a big topic that is worthy of a more detailed article.
From a Product Company to a Services Company
One point that executives made over and over again is that they have transitioned from being a product company to a services company. Customer centricity was not a historical strength for Oracle. With the older on-prem solutions, if something went wrong, it could be assumed that the fault lay with the customer or integrator. With a software-as-a-service payment model, it becomes more important to keep customers happy to keep the revenues flowing in.
There is a technological dimension to customer centricity as well. Oracle has done a lot of work around integrating their support capabilities with their applications business. This has led to a tighter integration of the various types of services like technical support and Oracle consulting.
The customers I talked to in private one-on-ones said they were happy with Oracle. And the user presentations echoed this. Even greater efforts are made to satisfy their top 200 customers and prospects. Each of these companies has an executive sponsor. An important measure of value creation in these relationships is the extent to which the big challenges can be identified and co-innovation with the customers can take place.
Oracle has an extensive partner infrastructure. In comparison to best of breeds, Oracle’s integration partners are far more likely to do implementations than the partners to best of breed vendors. Customer satisfaction, thus, also depends on their partners. At this show, customers had high praise for Accelalpha and Trinamix. Both of these are boutique consultants.
Oracle also, of course, has big global integrators. But one customer’s approach was interesting. For their end-to-end implementation, they selected a different boutique for each application they implemented. They were prioritizing depth of product knowledge and experience. This makes a lot of sense.