Actually, most customers do not directly compare Oracle with, as organizations buy very different things from these two vendors. While Oracle has a diversified portfolio of middleware components and a bunch of business applications, Salesforce still clearly makes the majority of its revenue from its SaaS CRM products, delivered exclusively via a native public cloud. You are also welcome to read the blog of my colleague James Staten, who explored Oracle Oracle’s cloud announcements in detail.

Nevertheless, over the past few years, each vendor’s CEO has used his company’s big event — Oracle’s OpenWorld and Saleforce’s Dreamforce — to bash the other’s. The criticism was frequently very emotional, not always based on facts, and definitely more confusing to most customers than it was helpful or professional. Surprisingly, Marc Benioff held a bit back this year, whereas Larry Ellison stuck with his usual modus operandi. Although I think that the two companies have far less in common than their CEOs may believe, the simple fact that the events are similar in size and occur roughly at the same time and in the same city (San Francisco) motivates a direct comparison. To make this a bit more analytical, I looked at a couple of criteria that usually influence what CIOs take away from these events. Then I gave the vendor that left the better impression one point. Actually, both vendors have improved a lot since last year — so I also gave one point to the vendor whose 2012 event showed the most improvement compared with its 2011 event. Here are the criteria and the scores:

Platform innovation

Salesforce had a major shift in strategy last year. The acquisition of Heroku, the commitment to a multilanguage strategy that includes lightweight Java, and the announcement of coexistence of components with components of the new platforms — have really moved Salesforce from a SaaS CRM vendor with a nice ecosystem to a major market leader in the prospering platform-as-a-service (PaaS) space. However, Oracle’s platform message has been much more dominant at both OpenWorld 2011 and 2012. Oracle’s middleware and database revenues are simply twice as big as its business application revenues — a situation that is still years away for Salesforce, if it’s even a goal at all. With the announcement of new multitenancy features in Oracle Database 12c and the upcoming version of Enterprise Manager, Oracle has focused its strong platform message even more. Therefore, Oracle gets the points for its 2012 performance and its improvement over 2011 (Score after the first round: Oracle 2, Salesforce 0.)

Business application innovation

Oracle simply has a larger portfolio of many different applications — and it’s pretty difficult to beat the stream of application logic created by thousands of Oracle developers. So the point for 2012 goes to Oracle. However, Salesforce really made another amazing turnaround this year, reinventing itself as a multiproduct company. The firm added acquisitions like Ripple and BuddyMedia to the existing ones like Radian6. These applications have been set in the context of Salesforce’s social enterprise — integrated into Chatter and the canonical data model for CRM. They now form and Salesforce’s merged “Marketing Cloud.” In contrast, Oracle mainly just relabeled the RightNow and Taleo products to make the Fusion Application Family appear a bit more complete — not the most innovative move. Therefore, the point for improvement over 2011 goes to Salesforce. (This makes the score Oracle 3, Salesforce 1.)

Business momentum of keynote content

Oracle’s core focus is systems of record. Even Salesforce uses Oracle Financial, as there are not many choices other than SAP for internationally distributed companies with ambitions to reach $10 billion in revenue in the near term. But however exciting such mega-events are to heads of sales, marketing, and production lines of business, does this approach give CIOs ideas that they can take home and act upon? No. We believe that systems of engagement are the primary way that CIOs learn how they can contribute to their companies’ core business innovation.

Salesforce, on the other hand, changed the focus of Dreamforce: from 2011’s focus on platforms to 2012’s focus on business scenarios around these systems of engagement for customers, employees, and channel partners. The excellent Salesforce keynotes really demonstrated this year how customers, such as the ski manufacturer Rossignol, innovatively built their sales channels and consumer engagement models from the ground up. The Dreamforce keynotes were even as business-focused as SAP’s Sapphire keynotes were in SAP’s best years, when its founders were still in executive roles. Therefore, Salesforce clearly deserves the points for 2012 performance and improvement over 2011. (Score update: Oracle 3, Salesforce 3.)

Cloud commitment

Oracle has moved from Ellison’s legendary cloud embarrassment to an opportunistic private cloud message and then to a heterogeneous cloud message. This is good positioning given the fact that many Oracle customers will continue to run their systems of record, such as their core financial application, on premises for a very long time to come. A combined PaaS and SaaS portfolio with massive investments in Oracle’s public cloud is a good recovery from the vendor’s complete dismissal of cloud computing only three years ago — so Oracle earns the point for improvement over 2011. Customers will expect more than a “cloudwashing” of existing OnDemand offerings and actual new SaaS applications based on the Fusion Middleware stack by next year — expectations that Oracle must meet if it wants to maintain this momentum.

Salesforce’s cloud commitment is obviously 100% of its business. In addition to native SaaS software architectures, Salesforce is leveraging more and more of the network effects from its cloud, such as market insights from mining social data or crowdsourcing customer data on quality using its offering. Oracle is just at the conceptual beginning here. Therefore, the point for 2012 performance clearly goes to Salesforce. (So the score remains tied: Oracle 4, Salesforce 4.)

Clarity of keynote messages

Oracle was and is a technology and engineering firm; the keynotes devoted most of their attention to technology rather than business scenarios. This is not a problem per se! But unfortunately, very important technology messages, such as Oracle’s multitenancy approach, did not come across clearly. Ellison’s cloud keynote on Tuesday went very well — until he started bashing Salesforce’s architecture. Suddenly, the very senior and confident Ellison turned into an angry man who seemed to forget his script. So it’s no surprise that the explanation of Oracle’s multitenancy approach ended disastrously — leaving most of the audience confused rather than educated.

In contrast to Ellison’s keynotes, Benioff and his team made a complete shift toward the business value message of their social enterprise, reinforced with enlightening customer examples. These Salesforce customers did not simply say that runs 10 times faster and is a better partner than the competition. These customers actually told the audience a story about something totally different, such as social customer engagement — business scenarios that they could not have even contemplated previously. That’s what CIOs like to take home — they then have a coherent story to tell their CMOs, heads of sales, COOs, and other business units about the benefits of transforming IT into business technology (BT). Both points for clarity, then, go to Salesforce.

The winner of this “game” is Salesforce, by a final score of Salesforce 6, Oracle 4.


I’m sure there are many other criteria that one could use to compare the two annual shows in San Francisco. Simply leave a comment to suggest other criteria and give your scores for them.