The rumor reached escape velocity, coincidently, on the same day that Oracle experienced a major outage of its voice mail system. So a call to this persons phone yielded a cryptic your request cannot be processed at this time message, only fanning the flames. The rumor was finally put to rest when a call to her cell phone confirmed that she still was on the job.
Many of us assumed that notice of this individuals premature demise was just the latest manifestation of Oracles increasingly closed-door policy when it comes to analysts and the press. Many of us in both communities lament the circle the wagons mentality that has overtaken Oracle as year two of its Fusion quest gets under way. Oracle is harder and harder to cover, and harder and harder to understand at a time when its message is more complex and craves more understanding than ever before.
Why is this a problem? Its simple. The precedent for grouping together limited coverage and hostile to outside criticism and long-term success when describing software companies is extremely narrow. For the most part, in my 20-plus years of covering the software industry, the opposite has been true. Baan, Computer Associates, and Siebel are just a few of the companies that have been noteworthy for both their closed-door policy and their fatal, or near fatal, flaws.
Conversely, more openness often coincides with more success: Microsoft circled the wagons for a number of years as its enterprise software division, MBS, laid one egg after the other. Coincidentally or not MBS is looking pretty good these days. And, for those of us trying to get inside to take a look, access to Microsofts enterprise software side has never been easier.
Even Oracle hasnt been immune to the effects of openness. Its last big turnaround in enterprise software, back in 2000, coincided with a massive opening up of access to Oracle executives and their thinking, as well as an influx of ideas, good and bad. This back and forth genuinely animated the discourse between Oracle and its customers and, I believe, made the company a sudden contender in a market that it largely had left for dead on a mountain of database revenues for many years.
Encouraging Negative Conclusions
The contrast with Oracles competitors, operating mostly in smother mode, is stark. Two recent conferences Ive attended, SAPs Sapphire and Microsofts Convergence, were noteworthy for the opportunities the companies afforded analysts and the press to talk to executives, customers, and partners. For anyone trying to answer the hard questions like which company has a better long-term strategy its much easier to have an opinion when youre given something to go on. Especially if that information is constantly updated and refined by access to the actual decision-makers.
In fact, one of the starkest results of limited access is what I call the going negative option. If youre being shut out of the information loop, its always easier to find the negative story than the positive one. This might look like bias, but its more about the intersection of information and human nature. If Oracle wont tell me and its customers whats really happening then we tend to assume the worst until proven otherwise.
Assuming the best is assuming too much when access is denied and dissenters are punished. Indeed, those three companies listed above that didnt like to talk to the press and analysts actually had good reasons for restricting access: Baan and Siebel were using bluster and disdain to cover up fatal problems with management and strategy, and Computer Associates (now CA) was covering up fatal problems involving cooked books.
I dont believe Oracle deserves to be seen in the same light as these three companies, though thats just a hunch. As long as the siege-masters at Oracle keep tight hold on the reins, hunches are going to be the best way to judge whats really going on. And history will force us to draw our own conclusions.
Come on Oracle, open up, you have nothing to lose but your credibility.