Wherefore Art Thou Oracle Social Network

October 6 2012 07:00:00 PM Comments Disabled
Last week Oracle held their annual OpenWorld conference. You can watch many of the keynotes on Youtube and a great deal of additional footage on Oracle's media site.

Below are my key takeaways.

Oracle is delivering a good message around social software

The key message I heard at the show is that Oracle is focused on delivering social software features as core services within all of their applications. That means social capabilities will be available within the context of the applications where people do their work and not require them to go to a separate tool for conversations, status updates, Q&A, ideas, etc. Oracle also frequently boasted "No other vendor can provide the number of applications in the cloud that we can."

MyPOV
  • Oracle's portfolio claim could be true, as they offer CRM, ERP, HR/HCM, commerce/financial, resource planning, customer support, social media monitoring and several others applications. SAP also offers a broad application portfolio and they are telling the same story of "social as a core feature." Salesforce currently offers just CRM and HCM. Microsoft Dynamics offers CRM and ERP. IBM is not really in the application business, although they have recently acquired Kenexa to enter the HCM space.
  • Oracle is providing a lot of talk around social software, but so far are not delivering a lot of substance other then demos and screenshots. I was disappointed that OpenWorld attendees were not provided access to a OSN network for the show. At similar events IBM provides Connections, Salesforce provides Chatter, Cisco provides Webex Social, and Jive provides well Jive. This was a missed opportunity. So while the marketing hype is good, they now need to back it up with products and real customer stories.

Unfortunately Oracle Social Network Is Still Not Available

The biggest disappoint of the show for me was that OSN is still not generally available. Not only is it not available to the public, it's not even in private testing with customers. The only current deployment of OSN is Oracle's internal network, where approximately 20,000 of their employees are using it.

MyPOV
  • Oracle has had several failed attempts at collaboration in the past, such as Oracle Collaboration Suite and Oracle Beehive. Several executives explained the strategy to me, claiming Oracle wants to offer specific use-cases for OSN right out the door, not just provide a generic collaboration offering that could fail to get adoption. The first offering they have planned is with Oracle Fusion CRM. I think this is the wrong approach. The longer they wait, the larger number of customers will try out and potentially purchase from IBM, Jive, Yammer, Salesforce or other social software vendors. Once another platform is in place, getting people to move could prove difficult. Expecting customers to embrace a core business use-case such as collaboration around CRM objects is a great long term strategy and one I fully endorse, but letting customers/prospects get their feet wet with simple collaboration is better then them not trying it at all.
  • Oracle needs to forget (well, learn from) their past and dive in. Google failed miserably with Buzz and Wave, but now appears to have a really solid product in Google+. Not launching at OpenWorld was a big mistake, as in the next few weeks vendors like Jive, Yammer and SharePoint are having conferences which will generate market awareness for their social offerings which prospects can try today.

Oracle Social Network appears to be very full featured and well designed

For close to a year now I've been shown demos of OSN. From what I've seen, it appears to be a really nice collaboration platform.

MyPOV

One of the things I like about OSN is that the activity stream is condensed and appears more like an email inbox that a Facebook stream. Each entry represents a conversation which you then drill down into for more details. This conversation-centric approach is an important one and is something Oracle is extending to all their OSN integrations. For example, in the image below you can see OSN embedded within Oracle Fusion CRM. While a few other vendors are offering social features within their CRM tools, what Oracle is doing is slightly different. Instead of providing a single stream for each "social object" (i.e. CRM record) OSN supports multiple unique conversations. As Andy Kershaw, Senior Director for OSN explained it to me; at the start of a deal cycle you may have several conversations about closing an account. Months later different conversations could be taking place around that customer, such as support tickets, product upsells, marketing campaigns and more. Rather than mixing all these together in one stream each topic would have its own conversation associated with the record, making it much easier for people to follow.


target="_blank">Oracle Fusion CRM with OSN integration


Another thing I like is OSN's annotation feature. It enables people to easily add comments to specific areas of documents or images.  Either via web browser or iPad app, people can draw a shape around any text or part of an image and provide feedback. Not only do these annotations show up when looking at the file, but each annotation becomes an event in the conversation stream making it easy for people to discover the suggestions and discuss them. Since one of the most common collaboration tasks is reviewing a colleague's work and providing feedback, this could be a highly used feature. It's important to note that at this time there is no integrated editing of these file, just annotation. I'd love to try this with my own team when writing a research report preparing slides for an event.

Building a partner ecosystem

Even though OSN has not yet shipped, Oracle already has partners signed up to provide integration. Vendors announced include Cisco WebEx (for integrated web conferencing), Avaya (for unified communications), LingoTek (translation capabilities) and HarQen (record and annotate voice conversations).

MyPOV

One of the most important things for the success of a software platform is a strong partner ecosystem. Enabling 3rd party developers to build add-ons and extensions to a product is a powerful way to provide additional features that are not shipped as part of the core product. A vibrant partner ecosystem also shows customers that a product is viable.

Oracle appears to have had the foresight to invest a lot of time into their API. At OpenWorld they even had a Developer Challenge (or as devs like to say, hackathon) to see who could build the best new feature during the show. The product management team is going to follow up with me on what hacks were created. Regardless of what was done, I think it was a great idea and a good way to get developers interested in OSN.


Oracle is also planning on providing file-sharing and synchronisation services

During Executive Vice President Thomas Kurian's keynote, he announced that two new services will be available in preview by the end of this year. The first is "folder in the cloud" for sharing documents and synchronising between mobile and PC devices. The second is Team Workspaces.

MyPOV

File-sharing tools are "the new blogs and wikis" these days, with every social software vendor announcing their own offering. This makes sense as file-sharing is absolutely a critical component of collaboration, since creating and sharing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, images, videos and other files are core parts of many people's jobs. For more on my thoughts on this topic, please see here. As for Team Workspaces, at the moment I don't know enough about them to comment other than to say I am curious how they will relate to Oracle WebCenter.

OpenWorld is too big

This is a massive event which showcases both Oracle's hardware and software solutions.

MyPOV

OpenWorld should be broken into multiple events through the course of the year. That would be similar to IBM and Microsoft's approaches, where there are different conferences for different core divisions of the company. The way OpenWorld is currently run results in too many things to navigate that are not of interest to me. The current size makes it easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated. For example, I only wanted to hear about Oracle's collaboration story, yet I felt inundated with hardware, database and Java messages, especially in the conference keynotes.

Thank You

In closing, I want that thank the truly world class analyst relations team who took care of every last detail to ensure I had access to Oracle executives, customers and partners. Also, good luck to Oracle Team USA in the America's Cup!


Oracle Team USA Racing