User group is at odds with Oracle

The noticeably limited presence of Oracle Corp. at the recent Oracle Applications User Group conference in Honolulu had members upset by a lack of support and resources from the company and concerned this could weaken a major independent forum for users.

Oracle last spring offered to sponsor the OAUG conference, but members rejected the idea out of fear of losing their independence. So Oracle announced that it would launch its own user show in February, called Oracle ApplicationsWorld. CEO Larry Ellison rationalized the move by saying that “choice was a good thing.”

But choice is exactly what some OAUG members claim is being taken from them. They said they fear that the primary purpose of an Oracle-sponsored show is for sales and marketing and that there would be less open dialogue and criticism. Moreover, they said, such a show would be targeted at potential new users, sacrificing the needs of Oracle’s installed base.

“We are a captive audience to some extent,” said Dianne Waldman, financial system liaison director at DreamWorks SKG, a Glendale, Calif.-based entertainment company. “We spend millions to get up on Oracle. It’s not like I can pick up tomorrow and say, ‘See ya, Larry; I’m going to PeopleSoft.’ I feel they’re taking advantage of that. We feel trapped and captive and helpless.”

Ron Wohl, Oracle’s executive vice-president of applications development, said that users can choose which conference they want.

But, he added, ApplicationsWorld would be the “focus of Oracle’s attention, including development, support consulting and education.” He said Oracle is talking with the OAUG to come to some sort of agreement for a single show.

Not everyone has such a hostile view of ApplicationsWorld.

“I don’t see this as a shirking of the user group,” said Jeffrey Shepard, vice-president of Cap Gemini Ernst & Young U.S., a Cleveland-based consultancy and Oracle partner. ApplicationsWorld would exist as another forum for Oracle users, like the SAP AG-sponsored conference, Sapphire. He said some users are just nervous about change.

However, one software exhibitor at the OAUG conference who asked to remain anonymous said such change could be devastating. She said Oracle representatives indicated informally to her that the company preferred its partners’ allegiance be with ApplicationsWorld, and she doesn’t plan to attend the next OAUG conference.

“ApplicationsWorld could kill the OAUG conference,” she said.

At the recent show, there were significantly fewer Oracle employees present than in previous years – down from approximately 800 at last spring’s conference to 100 – and though Oracle did present a mini-theatre, missing were the technical panels, educational workshops and other support programs that Oracle had previously sponsored. Users faced with the thorny problems of migrating to Oracle’s new E-Business Suite 11i found this particularly unpleasant.

“They need to pay attention to the end user who flew all the way out here,” said Pamela Sheehan, an OAUG procurement committee co-chairman. “Oracle is delivering a product that is buggy, and [users] want answers to questions.”

Gail Wallin, senior business analyst at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., agreed, adding that the OAUG conference is different from ApplicationsWorld. “This [conference] is more geared for the user, not to the [vendor]. If I had no other choice, I would go [to ApplicationsWorld]. But it’s not the way I wanted it. They would be taking away the right for me to go where I want.”

However, Oracle claimed that it’s not in competition with the OAUG and has done nothing wrong.

Mark Jarvis, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer at Oracle, pointed out that the OAUG represents only about 15 per cent of Oracle’s installed base.

“You’re talking a small minority of our customers,” he said.

And while some users said they feel that the OAUG conference is in peril, the OAUG board is confident that the organization itself remains strong. Jeremy Young, president of the OAUG, said in the long run ApplicationsWorld isn’t going to be a threat. “OAUG has a value proposition in terms of independence and user-to-user networking which will continue into the future,” he said. “We look forward to working with Oracle.”