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Oracle OpenWorld 2012, Part 2

Welcome back to my assessment of this year’s Oracle extravaganza. Last time, I talked (wrote) about the crunchier products—hardware, databases, infrastructure—and how Oracle’s message seemed finally to unify around how it all supported the operational and customer-facing products like applications and analytics. Today, I’m going to dive into those components and what Big Red’s direction is for them.

As long as I’ve known the company, Oracle’s direction has been hard to pin down, largely because it keeps acquiring companies from widely diverse fields. The acquisitions have continued, but I believe they’ve become more focused. I’m happy to report said focus (at least what I’ve been paying attention to) has been social-powered CRM, analytics, and knowledge management. These acquisitions combine nicely with Oracle’s internal development to make a strong case for customers who want to strengthen their B2B and B2C capabilities with social tech.

That said, I can’t say there’s anything truly new on the applications side. New for Oracle, yes; new to me or customers of its new purchases, not so much. For example, the company put a big push behind the kickoff of Oracle CX (formerly RightNow CX) and rightly so—but I’ve seen it all before. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because I love RightNow and the people who work for it, and think its inclusion in the Oracle footprint will do wonders to humanize Oracle’s customer-facing capabilities.

RightNow/Oracle CX has made one notable change in Oracle’s approach to the topic of CRM. To paraphrase Anthony Lye, senior VP of cloud applications, CX is a larger strategy of which CRM is a component. Works for me. I don’t care what you call it—as long as the customer retains voice and agency in the relationship, it’s all good.

Lye illustrated the intersection of CX and CRM with an example from Starbucks. When McDonald’s launched its McCafes, a lower-cost option than Starbucks with good coffee and backed by a ubiquitous brand, Starbucks found itself having to deal with a major competitive force for the first time. It figured that out of every 10 people, 2 would always choose Starbucks and 2 would always choose a low cost option like McCafe. The question, then, was how to get the names of those other 6 people?

The solution was to extend the loyalty program. A free cup of coffee for every 15 purchases and some special direct offers in exchange for contact info. Oracle real-time analytics lets the customer know which local shop has the shortest lines, so they can minimize the wait, and order from home or smart phone and pick up their beverage where it’s most convenient. And the loyalty card has a failsafe policy; if the loyalty card POS fails on you for any reason, you get your drink free. Starbucks is not my favorite purveyor of earthy black goodness, but I have to give the company credit where due; using customer experience in a competitive way is something it’s always done well, and feeding the CRM system with it like this is beautiful.

One net new thing on display at OpenWorld was Fusion Tap, Oracle’s mobile framework for Fusion apps. This is not a dumbed-down mobile UI for tablets and smart phone—it is a mobile pathway direct to Fusion. If you can do it on your desktop, you can do it on your tablet with Tap. Native support is already available for some phones and tabs, with more on the way, supplementing its support of HTML5. Naturally, users can operate offline and cache their work for later upload. A report created in a Fusion application is available in Tap’s KPI area, and any fields changed in CRM are automatically updated in Tap, because it’s all the same data from the same source.

Fusion Tap is essentially free, in that it’s built into the license of whatever Fusion-enabled SaaS products you have. It’s SaaS-only for the moment, and includes recent acquisitions Taleo and RightNow. (No, you can’t have a discount if you don’t want Tap; I asked.)

Certain users, such as the C-suite, field personnel, and salesfolk, can potentially do all their work on a tablet thanks to Tap. An accountant or PR account executive could too, but it’s not likely to be very comfortable or efficient for them. If you have to attach a keyboard, you may as well be using a notebook, right?

In summary, this was the best Oracle OpenWorld I’ve attended in a few years. Critics will say the keynotes and briefings were light on specifics, and they are right. I don’t come here for that—I get deep-dive briefings with executives during the year that answer that need. No, I come to OpenWorld to take the pulse of the customers, see how the endless string of acquisitions are being integrated into the Oracle brand, and get a sense of whether the company knows where it’s going. Those needs have been satisfied.

Tune in next time when I devote an entire post to a company that piggybacked a couple of events onto the conference, and reminded me why they need to be considered in the big picture. NetSuite, I’m talking about you.

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