Retail Rocks Out at Oracle OpenWorld

By Joe Skorupa

Oracle is extremely deliberate in choosing messages conveyed at its massive OpenWorld conference, where I am right now. So, it is a telling sign when retailing is singled out and given a spotlight, which is what happened at yesterday's opening keynote presentation. Here's a report from Oracle OpenWorld, one of the largest technology events on the planet.

Interpreting messages at Oracle OpenWorld is a popular sport among the hundreds of analysts and journalists attending the annual tech jamboree in San Francisco. So, how do we interpret the appearance of Duncan Angove, senior vice president and general manager for retail, on stage during Monday's opening keynote session?

My best guess follows. Also, stick around to the end of the story (or skip ahead) to answer musical trivia about the rock and roll soundtrack played at the conference and why it matters. More later.

Oracle Retail Integrated Fashion Planning

On the surface, Angove's message during yesterday's session was that fast-fashion merchants are changing the rules of the game in retailing. He cited H & M and Zara as driving retailers to expand store sets to as many as 10 per year.

The problem with this acceleration is that retailers are forced to mix and match merchandise with such frequency that they stress IT systems and business processes to the breaking point. Disjointed merchandising applications are unable to effectively handle the increased speed in planning and execution.

To solve this problem, Angove spoke about a newly named initiative called Oracle Retail Integrated Fashion Planning. This integrated, end-to-end suite of applications has been in final development and client testing for some time, and was mentioned in Oracle announcements at the NRF Big Show and Oracle CrossTalk.

What's new about this integrated retail platform is that it is an integrated retail platform. By this I mean it goes a long way toward fulfilling the promise begun in early 2005 with the acquisition of Retek and a half dozen other retail software firms.

What's interesting about putting it on the big stage at OpenWorld is that it synchs with a theme CEO Larry Ellison and others touched upon the day before during the kickoff keynote presentation: commitment.

Oracle is making it clear it is committed to investing heavily in product development (including retail apps), a message that serves as a counter weight to some marketplace chatter about Oracle being distracted by massive acquisitions.

The first speaker to make this point was Scott McNealy, founder of Sun Microsystems, a leading hardware and software pioneer that Oracle is in the process of acquiring for $7.4 billion. McNealy is one of technology's most entertaining and wisecracking visionaries, but unfortunately he was muzzled by lawyers due to the pending acquisition.

Despite the muzzle, McNealy couldn't help take a few jabs at Microsoft and IBM, and it was notable that IBM has become the main target of Oracle's competitive zeal. In later presentations, both Ellison and President Charles Phillips also took some shots at IBM.

Wrapping up his presentation, McNealy seemed to be taking a final bow. He was clearly pleased he had found a home for Sun with Oracle, which he no doubt believes ensures the future of his company's innovative technologies. His final slide spelled it out: "We kicked butt, had fun, didn't cheat, loved our customers and changed computing forever."

McNealy then introduced Larry Ellison as "my hero." When Ellison took the stage he made it clear Oracle would not sell off Sun's hardware divisions, as "IBM has been telling clients." Instead, Ellison committed Oracle to investing more in innovation and development of Sun products than Sun was planning to invest. Overall, Ellison committed Oracle to spending $3 billion on product development

Oracle OpenWorld Soundtrack

Angove took the stage again at a session for retailers and re-emphasized Oracle's commitment to retailing. He noted it was the first industry vertical Oracle created, and the strategy then and now is to deliver a complete end-to-end suite of retail-specific applications.

Angove also emphasized a major theme at the conference that was initially spelled out by Ellison and Phillips, which is that Oracle is building a complete tech stack from hardware (once the Sun acquisition is complete) to the database layer to middleware to the application layer. The goal is to become "more of a systems company" and be "more accountable" for the smooth operation of the tech stack.

To further emphasize the importance of Sun's place in Oracle's vision of its future a soundtrack played at high volume before and after each general session. It featured the following four songs. Can you guess the recording artists?

1. "Keep on Rocking in the Real World" (Used as a theme for Scott McNealy.)
2. "Soak Up the Sun"
3. "Black Hole Sun"
4. "Island in the Sun"

There seems to be a clear message in there somewhere.
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