Oracle CEO Safra Catz took to the stage in London this week and delivered a keynote that reflected on the company’s own ‘transformation journey’ into cloud computing and data driven systems, setting a somewhat different tone to a traditional Oracle mainstage presentation.
Catz was keen to emphasise that Oracle has had to change not only its entire technology stack, but also the way that it operates - where its purpose is now to ‘serve’ its customers in the cloud. There was also a focus on - and an understanding of - complex organisational/people change within the enterprise, as opposed to just a reliance on Oracle purporting to have the best technology.
For those familiar with Oracle and its style, this feels like a marked difference to how it normally presents itself. There was no mention of competitors and the whole presentation felt less antagonistic, more conciliatory. And whilst Catz spoke at length about the capabilities of Oracle’s AI-enabled systems and ‘second generation cloud ’, it appeared that the speech delivered was intended to align Oracle’s own understanding of change with what customers are likely experiencing in the digital enterprise.
Catz, for example, spoke about how Oracle has had to change its entire product line over the past decade for the internet era. She said that when her and Larry Ellison decided the change was needed, they had many stakeholders saying to them “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”. Catz said this is likely the resistance many of Oracle’s customers are facing and that the hardest part of transformation isn’t the computers or the software, it’s the “rethinking of how to operate in a global, modern environment”.
You can’t waste those resources duplicating your effort, sub optimising your business. The truest transformation never ends. As new tech becomes available, it allows companies to bring them in and leverage them for greater strength - for better customer understanding, for better decisions. That’s really where we find ourselves now. We are at a position here at Oracle where we feel like an overnight success, 15 years in the making. Our ability to invest $6bn in R&D a year is only because of our own transformation. We know that we can’t sell you hardware and software and say good luck to you - we are here to serve you. That’s been a real change and I hope you feel it. I hope you can really see it. Ultimately for us, our greatest success is when we see you successful.
The second theme running through Catz’s keynote, perhaps unsurprisingly, was the theme of data - in particular the use of AI and machine learning throughout the enterprise.
Catz said that 20 years ago Oracle itself faced siloed systems and fragmented data, but has since brought its “true assets” together, and has been able stop duplicating effort, taking advantage of the data it holds throughout the entire stack. She said:
Whether that’s in the infrastructure, where AI is working through mountains of data, constantly keeping track of any hacks, constantly patching, constantly upgrading these systems, without human intervention. Or whether its data understanding our customers better, making sure they have what they need when they need it. True AI is driven by enormous amounts of data and it can bring company after company to their highest and most competitive use.
During her keynote, Catz also announced the availability of the Oracle Cloud Data Science Platform, which is aimed at helping enterprises to collaboratively build, train, manage and deploy machine learning models to “increase the success of data science projects”.
Oracle’s Data Science Platform claims to help improve the effectiveness of data science teams, using capabilities such as shared projects, model catalogs, team security policies, reproducibility and audit ability. Oracle states that the platform automatically selects the most optimal training datasets through AutoML algorithm selection and tuning, model evaluation and model expansion.
The Data Science Platform intends to sit alongside Oracle’s AI applications, which make use of machine learning and AI embedded throughout. Whilst AI apps offer a sort of standardisation of AI (putting it simply), the Data Science Platform is an offering to allow enterprises to differentiate with their own AI models.
Commenting on the importance of data, Catz said:
The true benefits of having a digital enterprise is being able to use the vast quantities of data to better support your customers. For us, this implementing AI and ML is not just a technology that just sits on the side for analysis - we have implemented ML throughout our tech stack. Our HCM allows us to understand which employees are doing a remarkable job and need to be rewarded. Our AI allows us to view expense accounts in a way that we could never do manually. Use data to make your business more competitive, more successful, whilst spending significantly less. The things that used to take days, are now instantaneous. We want you to devote your resources to the things that make you better.
As noted above, Catz’s keynote felt like a deliberate change in tone for Oracle. And, from my perspective, it’s a welcome one. Whilst Oracle’s keynotes - particularly Larry Ellison’s - can be a lot of fun and can keep you on your toes, I think it’s smart that Oracle is aligning itself with the challenges facing customers. I think that’s a message that will resonate more. Much of the product themes throughout the session were similar to those heard at Oracle OpenWorld in the US last year, which is to be expected. But it does seem that Oracle has recognised that business (and the world more broadly) has changed and that customers have different expectations. How deep does that run throughout the organisation? Time will tell. But it’s a good sign that the change in tone is coming from the top.