Lane Hiring Is Key
Many observers agree that a key factor in Oracle's recovery was Ellison's 1992 hiring of Raymond Lane as president of Oracle USA. Since then, Ellison has relied on Lane, now Oracle's president and chief operating officer, to run internal operations. "I think they are very good for each other," said Curt Monash, president and chief executive of Monash Information Services, Lexington, Mass. "Ray brings a lot [to the table] that Larry doesn't have, and Larry is a smart enough man to recognize that, and vice versa. I think Larry Ellison is one of the great public speakers and showmen of the era," said Monash.
Except for a year-long hiccup the company blamed on the Asian crisis
during parts of 1997 and 1998, Oracle has mostly thrived since Lane
arrived from consulting firm Booz-Allen & Hamilton, where he headed
the Information Systems Group that specialized in IT consulting. Annual
revenue had been stagnating at about $1 billion when he arrived and
has grown to more than $8 billion today -- making Oracle the second
largest independent software maker after Microsoft. Oracle has seen
the fall of the non-relational database business through the 1980s,
and the decline of traditional relational competitors Ingres Corp.,
Sybase Inc. and Informix Corp. in this decade. At the same time, Oracle
has become a major player in the packaged ERP applications business,
generally seen as the number two player behind German giant SAP AG and
ahead of PeopleSoft and Baan.
While relying on his genius, Oracle has also been forced to overcome
Ellison's penchant for championing new ideas at inopportune times. Ellison
has long pushed video technology, which has yet to find mainstream use.
Also witness his push for the so-called Network Computer in the mid-1990s
that slowed Oracle's momentum when the technology failed to take off
as he predicted. And for years, Ellison gloated that the so-called Sedona
client/server development environment was going to change the way applications
were built. Development of that toolset was unceremoniously stopped
before its formal introduction by Ellison a couple of years ago with
the acknowledgment it was already hopelessly out of date with the emergence
of the Internet. And Ellison had championed Oracle's object-relational
database technology long before Oracle built it due to a perceived threat
from an emerging group of object database makers a decade ago.
There is also the constant talk that Lane is looking at opportunities
to become CEO at other technology giants. Lane was said to be a candidate
for the Novell Inc. post filled by Eric Schmidt, as well as the recently
filled CEO positions at Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp.
Some observers add that Ellison's apparent pre-occupation with beating
Microsoft Corp. could cause the firm to make some unsound strategic
decisions. Finally, Ellison has even shown an interest in running for
governor of California.
Java, Internet decisions
Nevertheless, Oracle has made decisions over the past year or so that
should help it establish a strong beachhead in the Internet wars. The
company has embraced Java in both its database and tools products. Oracle
8i incorporates an application server in addition to its Java Virtual
Machine code. And officials say XML has become a key technology for
each of Oracle's businesses over the past year or so. Oracle's embrace
of standards represents a radical shift from the old Oracle and is garnering
high marks from analysts. Many observers say the firm's Internet strategy
is giving Oracle an edge in a hotly contested applications business
in which most suppliers are struggling to maintain flat revenues.
Oracle is on a crusade to attract new developers to its platform.
A traveling iDeveloper show has circled the globe this year to convince
developers that the Oracle tools are competitive with others on the
market. "We need to build a strong relationship with developers," said
Jeremy Burton, vice president of Internet platform marketing. "We need
to make developers successful. The thing that impresses developers is
a tool that has all the latest and greatest features. If they can use
the tools to learn Java, to learn XML, they can make a lot of money."
"We want to leverage the platform," said Vince Casarez, vice president
of tools product marketing. "The new systems programmers want Java.
We've got to make it easy for them." Casarez said Oracle plans to expand
its effort to sell tool-database combinations into the ISV channel,
taking on suppliers like Bedford, Mass.-based Progress Software Inc.
Java is the centerpiece of Oracle's Internet strategy to not only
boost the firm's challenge to Microsoft and attract a new generation
of developers, but "because it's the most productive development environment
we've seen," said John Magee, Java tools product marketing manager.
The Oracle implementation of Java can "overcome any concerns about [Java's]
performance and scalability," he said. Magee said Oracle will continue
to support its proprietary PL SQL language, and does not expect it to
be replaced by Java, at least in the short term. "Java is an Internet
language," added Sara Gardner, director of tools product marketing.
"There are still a significant number of people interested in PL SQL,
but the number of Java programmers out there is increasing quickly."
Oracle has also made moves to expand its component-based development
offerings. The ambitious Business Components for Java toolset began
shipping to beta sites in June with general availability slated for
this fall, Gardner said. Business Components for Java is described as
a framework for building EJB-based business components and will target
both corporate development units and value-added resellers.
The firm's Burton maintains that corporate developers are impressed
that Oracle builds its packaged ERP applications using its own tools.
"Our core products, the database and the application solutions were
all built using our tools," he said.
The Oracle tools include the Designer 2000 and Developer
2000 software engineering tools; the JDeveloper Java development tools
based on technology licensed from Inprise Corp., Scotts Valley, Calif.;
and the new low-end WebDB offering aimed at corporate users. Some observers
say the standalone tools are competitive, but wonder whether the whole
is less than the sum of its parts.
Mike Bucken is former Editor-in-Chief of Application Development Trends magazine.