From Alliance 2006 — Oracle Users Meeting

Set against a backdrop of high-tech, Hollywood glitz, and Hillbilly rock and roll Oracle opened Alliance 2006 in Nashville this week. Formerly known in higher education as the HEUG, the Higher Education User Group meeting has been folded into a larger event that includes several market segments. So with a big Southern, ‘Howdy Y’all!’ from HEUG President Joseph Moreau—clad in western garb, complete with boots and a 10-gallon cowboy hat—the conference began.

And while the theme for this year’s Opryland-based event is down-home country, the focus is clearly next-generation enterprise technology, customer service, and customer success.

The nearly 4,300 attendees from 15 countries in attendance at the opening keynote listened as President Moreau explained that now that the “dust has settled” following the PeopleSoft / Oracle consolidation, and that indeed the “earth did not stop turning,” it is time to get busy and move forward with their enterprise application programs.

But, before turning the microphone over to Oracle Senior Vice President John Wookey, outgoing President Moreau took a moment to reflect on the nine-year run HEUG enjoyed before being collapsed into this year’s Alliance 2006 event. In a simple goodbye to what had been an exclusively higher education event and hello to the broader audience, Moreau marveled that what began nearly a decade ago as a fledgling conference with some 500 attendees, a PowerPoint slide keynote, and four vendors sharing a single table had blossomed into a world-class technology event, featuring nearly as many sessions today as original attendees, 100 vendors in a massive exhibition hall, a star-studded country music event, and an expanded audience including higher education, federal, and state and local government organizations.

After Moreau’s comments, Oracle’s John Wookey spent an hour presenting what can best be described as the introduction to a softer, gentler, customer-centric Oracle, whose primary goal is making its customers the center of its world. Wookey admitted that after the PeopleSoft takeover, a climate of Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) hung over and shaped many conversations about the future and the way Oracle would mange its software and treat its customers. However, the FUD has been replaced with a commitment that “Oracle’s job is to make you (the customer) successful,” and that Oracle’s “success is tied to their customers’ successes and accomplishments.”

Next, Wookey took everyone through what at times was blue sky and at other times was a detailed roadmap of Oracle’s next-generation enterprise applications: dubbed Fusion, which is described as a blending of the best of PeopleSoft’s and Oracle’s products. However, while this is a good idea, more importantly these new Fusion products are being designed for the customer’s need to tune the application to their specific needs, something which today is unthinkable or at least unaffordable.

True to technologists, Wookey introduced everyone to a new term, “On Boarding,” and a new acronym, “BPEL (Business Process Execution Language).” On Boarding, formerly known as hiring, is a well thought-out approach to smoothly bringing someone onboard, which should save money, frustration, and hiring gaffs. Complementing On Boarding was BPEL, a pretty cool way of creating applications based on the way people do their jobs.

Later, during the demonstration, which was promised to be “as exciting as watching paint dry,” the audience was treated to a preview of a very customer-focused, business-processes-oriented product, which quite frankly was very thoughtful, insightful, and long overdue. If Oracle can deliver this to buyers, higher education will have what it has needed for a long time, namely an affordable way to conduct business in a manner that is adaptive to the school’s specific needs and processes instead of another round of the force-fit applications available today.

During the presentation Wookey asked the question, “Are we helping you run your business better?” Time will answer this question for Oracle, but for now the kickoff to Alliance 2006 set the tone for an attentive, engaged, and caring technology organization, intent on helping clients do their jobs better, smarter, and cheaper. D'es this new interest spell a cultural change for Oracle, or is it just a shift for the moment? Only time will tell, but for now, to use a business intelligence phrase, all dials are green.

John Webster, who contributed this story, is Executive Director of CRESH Inc. (www.cresh.net) and a professor of Computer Information Systems and PeopleSoft Programs Director at Dakota State University (SD). Webster will moderate a panel discussion, “How Will Market Consolidation Impact Your ERP Plans?” at the Campus Technology 2006 conference in Boston, July 31-August 3.

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