Ellison says customers should feel Oracle

Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison says businesses should build a single IT infrastructure, even though it took his own company five agonizing years to create one for itself.

In a keynote speech at OpenWorld, Oracle’s gathering for users held in San Francisco from Dec. 5 to 9, Ellison said it was difficult to wrest tech fiefdom power from country managers as his firm slowly migrated to a unified enterprise architecture. Ellison also said it wasn’t easy for Oracle to consolidate financial, human resources- and product information across the company. Various jurisdictions had their own ways of tagging data, for instance.

Bringing it all together was “tough,” said Ellison — “a very long and arduous path.” So why should Oracle customers put themselves through similar pain? Ellison said it saves money on database management, offers an integrated view of operations, and now country managers get to focus on strategic matters rather than tactical IT.

“I really don’t want my Canadian manager to worry about payroll,” Ellison said. “Don’t worry your pretty little head about that.”

But Ellison recognizes that many companies would rather avoid so laborious a process. That’s why Oracle came up with the Customer Data Hub, a repository that pulls information from myriad customer-related systems and presents it as a consolidated entity. Data hubs offer the unified view that a single information architecture would, but companies need not fuse their entire database infrastructures.

The Customer Data Hub gives “the 360-degree view of the customer…the promise of CRM, which, by the way, CRM couldn’t deliver,” Ellison said, noting that CRM programs don’t account for late deliveries, missed payments or other customer information socked away in other applications.

At OpenWorld, Oracle said it would unveil data hubs for financial consolidation, financial services accounting, and “citizens” accessing government services.

Ellison said he envisions data hubs for supply chain logistics and even a “terrorist data hub” for law enforcement agencies to share information about suspects. He said Oracle got the hub idea from the global credit database, which banks and similar money-minded firms tap to see if loan applicants have borrowed from other financial institutions.

Ellison advocated a grid-computing environment to support the single-view architecture. He said grid computing, which combines numerous small computers to create a powerful micro-processing substructure, is less expensive than large supercomputers and more resilient. Grids have no single point of failure, for example.

“If one of the machines fails, [the grid] just keeps on running.”

Ellison talked about PeopleSoft Inc., a competing software company that Oracle has been trying to take over for more than a year.

If Oracle wins the quarry it would continue the work PeopleSoft has already put into the next version of its software — “as good as we know how,” Ellison said. After that, Oracle would build “a successor product” for both PeopleSoft and Oracle users — “a dramatically better product.”

“We’re going to over-support customers,” he said, addressing concerns that Oracle would in fact under-support PeopleSoft’s user base in a bid to entice them away from PeopleSoft apps and over to Oracle software. Ellison said the combined Oracle-PeopleSoft business would “give SAP (AG) a good run for their money.”

Oracle users seemed to like what the CEO had to say.

“He’s always an entertaining speaker,” said Kristian Cookes, assistant director, database administration at Reader’s Digest in Pleasantville, N.Y. He was particularly keen on Ellison’s data hub future. “It’s going to be an interesting world if it turns out the way he portrays it…although it raises questions about privacy and security,” especially if an enterprise shares information across countries.

Jerry Hanley, CIO of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif., said Ellison’s speech suggests that Oracle is “very much on the right track” with the data hub message.

It’s not easy to attain the single enterprise viewpoint that Oracle managed. Data hubs are “a pragmatic response to something that could take 100 years to solve,” Hanley said.