Ellison gets it … I can’t believe I’m saying that

Larry Ellison spoke at OracleWorld last week, beaming in via satellite from New Zealand. He had a few things to say that are relevant to some of the points I’ve made recently. Rather than have you link, I’ll post the quotes I want to highlight:

He said the three biggest problems in information processing today are data fragmentation, incomplete software integration, and incomplete automation.

1. “You have so many separate databases all over your organization, all over your industry, that it’s very difficult for you to know where to look when you need some information.”

2. Customers have also bought too many software applications that don’t work properly together, he said, leading to poor integration.

3. “It turns out that as we sell you these general ledger systems, these ERP systems, these CRM systems that, historically, they haven’t been complete. By that I mean you couldn’t just take them and plug them into your business and operate your system.”

4. “We would like every one of our customers to run the same exact software configuration; that’s how you get software quality,” he said. Altering products too much makes them harder to support and maintain.

So … we have too many software products with too many databases, none of which integrate well, all of which have been customised. Well at last he realises. Of course, Oracle (just like every other company) has spent the last n years pitching us umpteen solutions for infinite requirements. Suppliers have not managed their customers to help create replicable solutions that could be widely deployed with minimal customisation and customers have not managed their suppliers to hone down the requirements and facilitate the deployment of simpler solutions. Today, we have a huge mess of systems and databases that we must now draw together. The graph I put up a few days ago showing my forecast for the trend in government website growth could equally apply to back end legacy systems and databases, although everything in me says that it will take longer to realise that vision.

So, Larry does get it. A bit. But he wants you to buy the next version of whatnotgadgetrelease that will make it all better. Right. But then, on the other channel, there’s Scott McNealy lamenting that buying products from one vendor alone is not a safe route either (he’s talking about Microsoft, but it doesn’t really matter who). One quote I’ve heard from Scott a few times is that Microsoft products are “integrated”, not “integratable”. Looks like Oracle wants to go the same route too. If it helps make implementation simpler, I’m all for it. No matter who sells it.

But then, on yet another channel, we have McNealy again saying something different … One of the first initiatives is to bundle Sun’s applications onto Solaris servers by June next year. “It’ll all work,” claimed McNealy. “It will all be integrated: you don’t have to assemble it; you don’t have to do all of that integration.” So just imagine … perhaps it doesn’t work today? But no need to worry whether that might be the case, Scott tells you it is … “I’ll let you into a dirty little secret,” he confided. “We’re not sure that all Sun’s software all running on one Solaris machine actually works, so we’re testing it.” What? Testing it? About time. And, as for Microsoft, some veiled praise … “The software is all welded together and welded shut,” he insisted. “You don’t get best of breed, [and] you can’t mix and match.”

Fascinating stuff. But the clear point is that the IT industry has had an epiphany. Having fallen over itself to sell us, the customer, endless upgrades, endless databases, endless incompatible systems, endless functionally incomplete solutions (and I use that last word in its loosest possible sense), they’ve woken up. Maybe the lack of money available for investment means that the customer is being forced to get intelligent; maybe the failures over the last 2 years have been the catalyst to get that intelligence; maybe the focus on accounting shambles and CEO accountability is giving us that intelligence. I don’t care where it’s coming from, stronger performance from customers backed up by commitment from suppliers will get us there. Anything less won’t.

I’m in the middle of compiling a “Seven Deadly Sins” article – seven for customers and seven for suppliers. Be interested in thoughts from anyone, either on your blog or by email to me at the Cabinet Office.

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