Oracle and Collaboration

I was interested to read about Angela’s experience trying to secure a briefing from Oracle on its collaboration related offerings and activities. As Angela pointed out, the ‘Big O’ was the only large vendor that ‘should’ have a story in this space that declined to tell her what it was up to.

When I later commented on this (with a link to the above) via Twitter, someone else came back to me to say that they too had been having trouble getting Oracle to open up in this area.

I have to say that this doesn’t surprise me. It must be quite challenging for Oracle at the moment trying to figure out how to position in this space. The Oracle Collaboration Suite was launched a few years ago supposedly to save the world from flaky Microsoft Exchange installations and pretty much fell flat. Oracle believed its own rhetoric about the world hating Microsoft, so looked silly to most people when it aggressively launched an initiative that would only work if customers ditched their existing Microsoft messaging infrastructure, which was never going to happen.

In addition to some of the things Angela mentioned, we have also seen the portal wars in which Oracle has consistently been on the back foot, and lately, the march of Microsoft SharePoint and a range of collaboration and unified communications offerings from IBM under the Lotus and WebSphere brands that are largely messaging system agnostic.

Then most recently, we have seen the BEA collaboration offerings thrown into the mix, which before the acquisition, were beginning to look pretty good. BEA had a very sound grasp of the heterogeneous world in which customers live and was taking a very mature view of social media in the enterprise, for example. And, of course, it wasn’t encumbered by competitive obsession, which, as an aside, is arguably one of the biggest obstacles to Oracle being accepted as a truly strategic partner in many major accounts. Telling CIOs and business executives that they have been stupid over the years to waste their money on SAP, Microsoft and IBM, for example, is not the best way to win friends in high places. While competition is good, destructive messaging generally only appeals to junior level activists. It is a huge turn-off in senior management circles.

Coming back to the original question, we should probably continue to expect Oracle to be tight-lipped on not just collaboration, but middleware strategy in general for a little while yet. I have personally been told on a couple of occasions to refer to the ‘official line on’ when looking for clarity on open questions that we hear from Oracle’s customers (old or newly acquired). Irritating though this might be, and frustrating though it is to be fobbed off with ‘Mom and Apple Pie’ type feel-good policy statements, the truth is that there is little else Oracle can do until it gets its act together properly.

And to be fair, given some of the confusion than came about as a result of articulating nice sounding stories around work-in-progress plans associated its CRM and ERP acquisitions in the past (that later had to be ‘adjusted’), it is probably better for us to hang on until Oracle really has worked out what it is trying to do in collaboration as it has in the enterprise application space.

Oracle is undoubtedly already aware that needs to be careful that the collaboration and closely related unified communications markets do not slip away from it, and will be doing what it can to make sure it doesn’t get left behind again. In the meantime, it goes without saying that customers should challenge the company hard before making major commitments to it in these areas.

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