This is my fifth time attending Oracle OpenWorld in as many years. The show, held on September 28-October 2 in San Francisco, drew a large crowd this year, topping 60,000 attendees from over 145 countries. I spent my time at the CX Central conference-within-a-conference, dedicated to Oracle's Sales, Service and Marketing cloud. I went to high-level vision sessions, road map sessions, and customer testimonials. I also spent a lot of time talking to systems integrators that have recently deployed these solutions. My impressions of this year are mixed. Here is why:

  • Oracle has deeply solidified its customer experience messaging. The vendor explains the importance on being focused on customer experiences that are in-line with customer expectations through the entire customer engagement journey, from researching to buying to using, and how few companies are doing a good job at delivering on expectations — a point that Forrester backs with a tremendous amount of research and data. Each session I attended led with a quick recap on the importance and value of delivering good CX, and this consistency was much appreciated.
  • There was an over-emphasis on technology as opposed to the business value that Oracle’s CRM solutions deliver. The banners and posters were about infrastructure, platform, cloud. Customer case studies were about “30% less customization; “20% greater efficiency; 40% faster.” What I found missing was the business value for the customer, articulated in better experiences that impacted top-line revenue.
  • For CRM, it’s all about the cloud. Oracle has finally embraced the cloud message, lagging behind others in the space. CRM is now sold “cloud first”.  I heard several times that Oracle sales reps are incentivized 6 times more when they sell cloud products.
  • Cloud CRM is not able to fulfill every customer’s needs – especially when deep industry-specific processes are required. Even through Oracle leads with cloud CRM, what they often end up selling are hybrid deployments of on-premise and cloud CRM; or even having system integrators host their on-premise products, such as Siebel, and license them via a subscription model. Many of the cloud CRM products are not at feature parity with Oracle’s on-premise products.
  • I didn’t see a tremendous amount of innovation in CRM. What I did see was a tactical emphasis on deeper integration between all the cloud properties that they have purchased to support different usage scenarios. This means that Oracle has put their cloud CRM framework in place by acquiring a set of disconnected vendor solutions, and is now trying to  knit them all together. Here is a partial list of cloud CRM solutions that Oracle has purchased in the last 3 years: TOA Technologies for cloud based field service (2014); LiveLOOK for cobrowsing (2014); Blue Kai a cloud big data platform for marketing personalization (2014); Responsys – cloud email marketing (2013); Compendium – cloud content marketing (2013); Eloqua – cloud marketing automation (2012); Collective Intelligence – cloud social intelligence (2012); RightNow – cloud customer service (2011)
  • Fusion CRM is dead. It was dead last year. And it is absolutely dead this year. I did not hear one word of Fusion. For example, it’s not Sales Fusion anymore; it’s the Sales Cloud.
  • The older CRM solutions (eBusiness Suite; CRM On Demand; Peoplesoft) are very much in the background. Sessions dedicated to these products were not part of CX Central. We know that Oracle will continue to support these products because of their Applications Unlimited policy. But this strategy comes at a price
  • One legacy CRM product that still gets a lot of attention is Siebel. Siebel is a mature product, and the road map that was presented is comprehensive and addresses some of the existing product’s shortcomings. For example, the Siebel UI has often been viewed as having usability issues. The new Siebel Open UI — released a year and a half ago, and reaching a point of wider adoption this year — addresses this pain point very well; demos and customer examples backed this up.

Net, net the show was good: the cloud messaging  for CRM was clear and consistent, even though Oracle has been late to the game. Some case studies were stellar. Roadmap sessions were mixed – some very detailed and others lacking depth. The product demos at CX Central were well done by knowledgeable sales engineers, Oracle has done a good job at acquiring a multitude of cloud CRM properties that uphold their CX strategy. Now the hard work starts in putting this ecosystem together.