Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Oracle reaches out to the blogging community

Oh, and they made a rather significant announcement at the RSA Conference too. Both are tied together. Allow me to explain.

I was first contacted by a representative of Oracle's PR department about an invitation to attend an exclusive blogger luncheon with Oracle executives on April 10 in San Francisco around their impending RSA announcement. During the luncheon, Hasan Rizvi (Vice President of Identity Management and Security Products at Oracle) was to provide attendees with an exclusive preview of Oracle's keynote announcement at the RSA Conference.

My first thought was "Oooooooo, free lunch". Then it hit me. It was in San Francisco and I live in London. "D'oh". So I had to politely decline, despite being tempted to ask if Oracle would pay for my air ticket and accommodation.

That's not the end of the story though. They subsequently followed up by inviting me to an alternate event. A blogger exclusive call the morning of that same day (April 10) to be held by Amit Jasuja (Vice President of development for Oracle's Identity Management and Security products) with the caveat that information shared on the call was to be embargoed until noon PT that day. Those who read this blog regularly know that there's no risk of me talking about anything so soon after finding out about it because I just don't have the time nor the urgency to behave like a journalist...or Robert Scoble.

The announcement itself is not the main purpose of this post. I'm not a fan of regurgitating information that's available, so I'll just point you at what I've found so far (admittedly the links are very Oracle centric in terms of content, but most others out there have just been regurgitating the press release and not adding to it):
I will say a couple of things regarding the announcement (briefly). It didn't surprise me one bit. In fact, all it did was formalise what they've been evangelising and selling anyway. Oracle's been charging very aggressively into 2 particular areas over the past year or two. SOA, and security. Of course, they went out and bought most of their technologies. But there is no stronger indication that they believe in the SOA strategy than their acquisition of BEA Systems in January this year. Their security technologies have been built out very nicely through their acquisitions and it's also nice to see that they're starting to build out the emerging areas of fine grained authorisation (aka entitlement management), role management (through their acquisition of Bridgestream) and governance solutions. The suite is starting to round out nicely and they look to be running faster than their main competitors (IBM, Sun, CA) at the moment. Their marketing and PR departments are certainly earning their money.

Now I'll get to what I actually wanted to say. I applaud Oracle for reaching out to the blogging community because:
  • They've certainly understood the whole blogging thing for a lot longer than the other big vendors out there (just look at the large list of people working in key Oracle positions that actually blog about their technology).
  • They understand there's more than issuing a press release and hoping something happens that justifies the marketing costs.
  • They understand that it's about creating discussion and awareness. Multi-way discussions are much more interesting and have the added bonus that something well written and insightful can have a viral effect.
  • They know a lot of key decision makers read blogs.
  • An opinion written by a non-Oracle employee holds a lot more credibility (assuming the author is credible themselves) than something written by an internal Oracle person who has to "toe the line". And if something written turns out to be less than positive, that's fine too because Oracle's bloggers can respond to it in a very interactive and hopefully constructive manner that makes Oracle's products better in the long run (if product management listen).
  • Press releases are just boring and don't offer anything people couldn't otherwise find by looking on a company's website.
I agreed to attend the call fully aware of their agenda and am playing into Oracle's hands by talking about it. That's completely fine by me, because I'm just giving my honest opinion and they haven't influenced my comments in any way.

They did mention that this was the first time they had reached out formally to bloggers and they would like to continue doing so moving forward. Being the first time also meant that they didn't quite know how to conduct the call and generate some interactivity. Amit Jasuja basically gave a more detailed version of the press release and presented the rationale behind a lot of it. When it came time for questions, no one asked anything. I tried very hard to think of one, but I just couldn't. Not quite what they were hoping I'm guessing. They needed more stimulant material to get people's creative juices flowing. Also, it was an audio only call. Perhaps in future they could have some visual aspects. I'm not advocating slides, but at least that would be better than an audio only presentation. Hopefully they'll get better at these calls as they do more of them. But it was a nice first attempt at extending the olive branch to the community. They also followed up a few days after the call to see if I had any questions, which was a nice touch. In case you were wondering, I still had no questions :-)

The other large juggernauts of the software industry in the security space need to take note. Oracle's marketing is very good. If their products keep getting better and they keep rounding out their portfolio, they're going to be very tough to stop.

P.S. You may notice that the Oracle call I attended was almost 2 weeks ago. It's taken me this long to write about it because I've just moved apartments in London. What that means is that I've been very busy with the move and I don't have Internet connectivity in the new place yet. It's apparently going to take 3 weeks for my ISP to get my connection enabled again (even though I gave them advance warning and my new phone line was active for over a week prior to the move). When I asked why I had to pay for the 3 weeks of ABSOLUTELY NO SERVICE, they just said it wasn't their fault. I don't understand why ISPs in the UK are soooooooooooooooo bad at providing decent customer service. But that's another whole issue that I probably shouldn't get started on. I'm writing this from my hotel room in Prague (I have business meetings here over the next few days).


Anonymous said...

This is constructive (and valued) feedback. As we engage the community more often, we want to make sure we try to get the information to you in a way that's most useful. We plan to integrate your feedback and, hopefully, you’ll notice more interactivity next time...not promising perfection, but your feedback will help us improve as we do more with the community. BTW, you mentioned that you’re not advocating slides…we'd like to hear what would be more useful? …a demo?…not the 1s & 0s type of demo, but something more conceptual?…perhaps a combination of slides and an integrated demo? Let us know what you’d like to see. Thanks for the feedback. Letty, Oracle PR

Ian said...

Thanks for the comment Letty.

While I'm not advocating slides, even some slides would be better than none. Visual stimulus would probably help on top of the audio.

A demo is probably a good idea, but I'm also not sure that would generate a lot of questions. It will probably generate some and will be very dependent on the demo that is given.

What may help a little is sending out pre-announcement details at least a day in advance while reminding the recipients that they are still bound by the agreed embargo. This gives people more time to think up questions. I'm not sure about everyone else, but I only received the gist of the announcement half an hour or so before the actual call so didn't have time to really think about it.