Oracle and applications user group resume feud

Oracle Corp. and the independent user group focused on its business applications have been talking about ending a year long feud and teaming up to again run joint conferences. But the two sides are now back at odds after Oracle publicized the talks and set a May 31 deadline for the user group to accept a proposal made by the company.

Those actions have leaders of the Atlanta-based Oracle Applications Users Group (OAUG) questioning whether the software vendor has been negotiating in good faith. Jeremy Young, the OAUG’s president, said in an interview last Friday that Oracle appears to be circumventing the negotiation process and trying to sell the deal directly to the user group’s members.

“We felt we were involved in a negotiation,” said Young, who works as a finance business process manager at DHL Worldwide Network NV in Brussels. “When you are discussing and trying to resolve a difference, you don’t walk out the door and … tell everyone what you discussed. Certainly, I don’t.”

Young said the OAUG’s board felt that a compromise could be reached if Oracle agreed to send about 60 developers to lead technical sessions at the user group’s next conference, which is due to take place in San Diego in September. The company, which held its own applications conference in February, didn’t make anyone available for the OAUG’s spring event last month.

But in a statement issued Friday, the OAUG rejected what it described as “Oracle’s request to control the content of user conferences.” It also asserted that the software vendor hasn’t responded to an OAUG offer under which the user group would work jointly with Oracle on its conferences in return for the company supporting the OAUG’s fall conference.

Mark Jarvis, Oracle’s chief marketing officer, vetoed the latter idea Friday. “One choice is that there is a joint conference,” he said. “The other is that there is an independent one. The choice not on the table is an independent conference [that’s] dependent on Oracle. So users need to make a choice [between the first two options].”

Jarvis also criticized the OAUG board and defended Oracle’s decision to go public with the talks. “I don’t know what [Young] means by private negotiations,” Jarvis said. “This is between Oracle and its users. The reason why we’re [going directly] to users is simply that, in the past, it has been clear to us the user group board has miscommunicated to [its members].”

Oracle and the OAUG first split over the control of applications-related conferences last spring, when the user group rejected a proposal to fold its two annual North American events into a single one that would be sponsored by the company. The OAUG said doing that would compromise the openness of its conferences and turn them more into marketing events for Oracle.

Shortly afterward, Oracle announced plans for its own AppsWorld conference. The company hosted the first two AppsWorld events earlier this year in Paris and New Orleans, while diverting resources and personnel from the OAUG’s conferences – a change that caused considerable friction between the two sides.

Company executives and OAUG officials had held preliminary discussions on a possible resolution. But the matter came to a head this week when Oracle posted details about its proposal to the OAUG on the company’s Web site, along with a copy of a letter sent to OAUG officials and an online poll seeking input on the matter from rank-and-file users.

The proposal by Oracle calls for it and the user group to run joint AppsWorld conferences in the North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region each year. The company included various sweeteners in the proposal, including an offer to designate an “OAUG Day” at each conference and to let the users manage the “user content” of the events.

But Oracle warned that the offer would only remain open until next Thursday. If that deadline passes without a deal, the company said, it plans to “enter contractual commitments that may result in a reduction of the type of joint effort which we can offer” for the conferences scheduled to take place over the next three years.

Jarvis Friday said the vendor wants to limit the number of conferences related to its applications, partly for economic reasons. “This is not just an Oracle issue,” he said. “It also involves Oracle’s [business] partners. These companies cannot afford to go to seven conferences. It’s just irrational to think we can run so many.”

But in a response posted on the OAUG’s Web site, Young said Oracle’s proposal is “largely similar” to the one rejected by the user group’s members last year. Young also claimed that the written version of the firm’s proposal contained a variety of “errors and omissions,” and he said OAUG officials “continue to be disappointed by Oracle’s inability to compromise.”

In addition, Young took Oracle to task for not giving the OAUG advance notice of its plans to go public with the proposal. “We had sought to avoid going into details on the discussions in public, as we felt that might jeopardize progress,” he wrote. “I am not clear what your purpose was in doing so … I am forced to wonder whether Oracle [is] really negotiating in good faith in this matter.”