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Oracle unveiled its Social Network at Open World, but it seems most in the industry weren’t aware of it – or maybe Oracle does not want  them to pay much attention to it. My synopsis is that Oracle Social Network is definitely a work in progress that, even by Oracle own yardsticks of marketing and accessibility, is not ready to for enterprise use.

I did a quick analysis of Oracle WebCenter Social, a cloud-based tool for building for building social enterprise systems and foundation for Oracle Social Network that is part of Oracle middleware and partly why it has challenges as business software. I have to wonder how well Oracle has thought this out; even its marketing collateral seems not to understand the dynamics of social media, and the screen shots provide the highlights of its user experience challenges. The demonstration of Oracle Social Network on an Apple iPad at Open World also introduce further challenges in understanding the dynamics of using a tablet and expectations well plowed by other applications available today.

I have reasons for this blunt assessment. The software is engaging and designed to flow well and does a poor job of providing the experience others already expect in other collaborative and social media applications like Facebook, LinkedIn and other consumer social networks. See for yourself atOracle Public Cloud and Oracle Social Network; there are no pictures, no trial download and nothing else that would impress someone enough to spend time on this product. And the Social Network YouTube video shows no product and has nothing to convince business users or even IT that Oracle should be on their list of collaborative and social enterprise software to consider. To engage business people in social media requires a product that they can access and experience, but this one is not even available for a trial or access from an iPhone or iPad; when I tried that, I got an interface suitable for IT specialists or DBAs, asking me to input data for host, port, context, etc. and no ability to try their existing software on the Apple application store.

The people behind Oracle Social Network seem to have limited social media engagement themselves on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other popular sites from my quick analysis. It should be obvious that if you do not experience and understand the consumer aspects of collaboration and social media, it will be a challenge to construct a business framework that will attract business users who are also consumers.

Part of my role as an analyst is to advise business professionals on technology that can help with what matters to them, and that includes warning them not to jump into something that has an uncertain future. I believe that collaboration and social media are two of the business technology innovations of the decade as I discussed earlier this year. But I have to conclude, at least at this early stage, Oracle does not get it when it comes to collaboration and social media for business. They have tried for some time through many generations of technology with the same results of something new in the future to replace its previous products. You can read for yourself an uninspiring white paper on Oracle Social Network and overview of it. This product might be useful if embedded in Oracle Fusion Applications, but as a stand-alone product it needs lots of work. The sad passing of Steve Jobs reminds us that Oracle could learn plenty from Apple about brand management and the user experience in marketing Oracle Social Network. The Oracle WebCenter technology makes a strong foundation, but the social collaborative framework on top of it needs more work. I have already reviewed Oracle’s archrival’s Salesforce Chatter, and while that product is not fully developed yet, it is engaging to users and accessible today on the Web and mobile devices.

This Social Network announcement is premature at best. It suggests that Oracle felt it had to respond to a trend but shows a lack of readiness to engage business. Even navigating on the Oracle website to collaboration on Oracle Fusion Middleware gets you to a 404 error – a social disconnect on its own website. If you are in IT, be sure you can demonstrate that this software will have relevance and get buy-in from business before even thinking about deploying it. Oracle could be heading down the same path Microsoft took over the last decade in developing enterprise software products that sound good but in the end are not the ones that business chooses to innovate with, which is really what it is all about. I suspect we are not going to hear much more about Oracle Social Network until Open World next year, but let’s see if Oracle can surprise us with major improvement before then.

Regards,

Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer

I did not go to Oracle OpenWorld this year because it seemed the company was fixated on appliances and technology with little  emphasize on its Fusion applications business, which the focus on business is a major interest of our firm. Based on the reports of my colleagues on its applications discussion (See: “Apps Hard to Find at Oracle Open World“) and Oracle Exalytics (See: “Oracle Unveils BI Appliance Called Exalytics“) and my review of Oracle’s online materials and keynotes, I was right to skip it. The week was full of diatribes about appliances and infrastructure, while applications played second fiddle. This is a longstanding imbalance for Oracle, perhaps understandable given its history and the need to build revenue from its expensive Sun Microsystems hardware acquisition.

I was a lot more bullish in my analyses of Oracle Fusion CRM and Fusion HCM at last year’s Oracle OpenWorld. This year Oracle made the expected announcements of cloud versions of Oracle Fusion CRM and Oracle Fusion HCM as part of Oracle Public Cloud, but it showed a serious lack of enthusiasm and understanding of its own customers’ dilemma when it comes to getting to Oracle Fusion in the cloud.

In Oracle Fusion HCM and what the company calls the Talent Management Cloud Service, Oracle has made a specific set of its applications available, including compensation, performance and analytics. You can access the cloud computing site for Oracle HCM and see that the developers are getting an onboarding experience started but still have some challenges to make it work. For instance, they provide little or no conversation about application and data migration from existing applications whether Oracle’s or someone else’s. No one can start from scratch anymore, so both preloading data and synchronizing it back across the enterprise are important issues. Workforce analytics are also weak, yet our research identified that 68 percent spent of HR organizations spend most of their time in data-related activities, so users need data integration that operates across and within cloud computing and enterprise environments. Oracle Fusion HCM provides little dialogue on how to address the dilemma of incorporating all employee data or promote the company’s own data-related technologies. Other providers that operate in the cloud might be a better choice.

My latest review of the talent management advancements and business technology innovations that were unveiled at the recent HR Technology Conference confirmed that Oracle is just one of dozens of providers in talent management and one of the newest in providing it in the cloud. But then its archrival SAP is just coming out with its HCM applications for the cloud computing environment, too. Oracle will have to work hard to get the growth that CEO Larry Ellison no doubt expects.

Oracle Fusion CRM and Sales Cloud Service show indications that the company is starting to understand that organizations need not simply SFA but a broad portfolio of applications designed for specific sales activities and processes. This should help Oracle advance in our assessment in our next Value Index for Sales. Oracle is already in a respectable position, but it can take a stronger one by getting more adoption of Oracle Fusion CRM.

You can access the cloud site for CRM and see the same type of information as you’ll find for HCM. Considering the number of iterations of Oracle CRM OnDemand that have been released, the company should be more ready to help organizations get up and running – especially if it wants to compete against the latest from Salesforce.com and newcomer to the cloud SAP and its new Sales OnDemand offering.

These Oracle Fusion Applications have promise, and though demonstrations are not accessible on the Internet, you can view some screen shots. Oracle has  considered usability, functionality and manageability by business. Now it’s addressing reliability and scalability across its public cloud environment, which remains to be proven. Oracle needs to better understand the existing cloud and enterprise data challenges to make its applications operational. Our business data in the cloud benchmark research found a significant challenge for organizations in their ability to use data across and within the cloud.

I am not sure that business applications are a high enough priority for Oracle, and that goes double for cloud-based apps, which customers can rent from other providers today. I hope Oracle puts more effort into Oracle Fusion and its applications, especially its cloud computing editions. I think they have potential, but the company is not good at communicating their value. This problem seems to be getting worse even as Oracle has improved the user experience of the applications. I also continue to hear Oracle is one of the most difficult technology companies to work with.

Oracle might consider adding an Oracle AppsWorld to get credibility and gain business attendance and attention; that could lead to customer and business growth. Once Oracle gets fully serious about business applications – and about its customers for them – it will find itself more often on the short list of vendors to evaluate. That won’t happen immediately, as in many cases Oracle is currently left off the list and rightfully so by potential customers evaluating HCM or talent management along with CRM and more specifically Sales in the cloud today.

Regards,

Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer

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