The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

Your Experience Platform: Oracle Progress Report

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Last year, Paula wrote about Oracle's retail strategy as presented at CrossTalk 2011. It was the debut of the strategy in large format, and Mike Webster's debut as the lead of Oracle's third-largest business unit. Paula said she always tries to put herself in the shoes of a retailer when writing up events - trying to focus on the important things that a retailer who did not attend the event would want to know. Fast forward to one year later, and it's me in the audience, wondering what has changed. Oracle's a very big company, so let's take the progress report in stages.

At the corporate level, Oracle still seems to be executing against a strategy they laid out several years ago. I remember getting a sneak peek during my Forrester days. At that time, they positioned mainly against IBM and Microsoft, though SAP was also on their radar. They defined their company strategy as "racks to apps" - wanting to be a company that owned the entire technology stack, up to and including industry-specific business applications and solutions.

That view of the world - "racks to apps" - still dominates the way that most companies look at the technology industry today. "The Cloud" has put an interesting twist in the stack, but it's still the stack. It just matters less today where the different layers of the stack actually live. From a marketing perspective, Oracle is in a great place because it is their vision of the technology stack that everyone else seems to be using to define their own position in the marketplace. IBM can no longer deny that they are in the application space. With HANA, SAP has delved deeper into the stack than ever before. And then there's Microsoft. Sigh.

At the retail level within Oracle, not much seems to have changed from last year to this year. And that's good news. Oracle Retail has settled on a vision and not only is sticking with it, they are delivering against that vision, with new solutions either here or on the way - Customer Analytics and mobile POS as just two that were highlighted at the conference.

Oracle's future retail focus includes an emphasis on optimized operations, connected interactions, and actionable insights, all delivered within the context of the company's larger technology stack strategy. The emphasis for retailers: looking at delivery and integration models that reduce customers' costs to implement and maintain their technology investments.

I don't know that I've seen any company really define the industry when it comes to how to divide up the retail enterprise in the midst of the transformation that is gripping the industry. The categories of optimized operations, connected interactions, and actionable insights have not really taken over how competitors define the industry, not like the tech stack strategy of Oracle corporate. And other vendors seem to be pushing harder on the total cost of ownership approach to customers - using that as the rallying cry for their technology strategies and even their own development approaches.

In the end, I'm not sure that it matters. Most important to me is that retailers seem to be talking more and more - and telling successful stories about - business transformation. At CrossTalk, that was more so the theme than I've seen at most other user conferences so far this year. From a major department store, to a large format hard goods specialty retailer, to a major hotel chain - some few are leading the charge in explaining to their peers that cross-channel and customer centricity only scratch the surface of the changes heading in retail's direction. And more so than at other events, I have always found Oracle's customers to be extremely engaged in learning from their peers, and in pushing the envelope of their own businesses.

Given the rough waters behind us, and the churn still ahead, that's definitely a good thing.

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Articles & Opinions July 3, 2012
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