Another Oracle OpenWorld in the books, this time almost 65,000 strong! Regardless of one’s stated focus, there was a session on just about anything Oracle, across just about any industry. In my case, the focus was Supply Chain. I had an opportunity to attend keynote sessions, specific product sessions, customer-led panel discussions, and a number of 1:1 discussions with current Oracle customers. While many of the keynote presentations were interesting, they are typically quite general and often hardware-related; not always the best source of insights for supply chains, specifically. A far better source of information were the product roadmap sessions, product discussions, and both formal, and informal, discussions with customers. As IDC Manufacturing Insights has observed in past Oracle OpenWorld events, attending customers are generally happy with the direction Oracle is taking with the supply chain, and have positive experiences with various applications. If there is a challenge for Oracle, it is in managing a massive stable of supply chain applications (and versions of applications) so that both their existing customers and prospects fully understand what is available and what can help them solve their business problems. I do think Oracle does a good job with this, though the opportunity for greater clarity through roadmap sessions and product demonstrations is always there.
There are many topics of discussion that emerge when talking about the supply chain. This year, the manufacturing attendees that I had the opportunity to speak with seemed to want to talk about supply chain planning and about global trade management. That is not to suggest that supply chain execution isn't important, in fact global trade management is arguably the 'other side of the coin' to transportation management, just that things like demand and supply volatility and expanding into new markets seems uppermost in manufacturers minds these days. The following themes were evident in my conversations:
- Integrated planning - manufacturers are increasingly interested in a 'one stop shop' when it comes to the planning suite, both as a way to ease integration challenges, but also as a way to be as nimble as possible in terms of how they translate demand into supply. Oracle is well positioned to take advantage of this interest.
- Integrated execution - similarly, manufacturers are looking for a way to more closely tie the elements of supply chain execution together in order to make more seamless and informed decisions. This would include warehousing and transportation, clearly, but also spend management as it relates to transportation, and global trade management. More than one manufacturer I spoke with lamented recent experiences abroad with customs and legislative complexity. Again, Oracle is well positioned to take advantage of this interest.
- 'Omni-channel' commerce - while the notion of the omni-channel has been most frequently applied to the retail industry, a number of manufacturers I talked with were challenged with how to better manage across diverse business channels, and how to interact more productively with their end customer/consumer. For the consumer-facing businesses like Consumer Products and Electronics, it is about managing both traditional channels whilst exploring direct-to-consumer; for the equipment manufacturers, it is about understanding the right balance for their product and service sales, with the recognition that asset refresh cycles are being extended and the opportunities to sell services are growing.
- The convergence of IT and Line-of-Business (LoB) was never more apparent to me than in my discussions with manufacturers this year. We have written at IDC that the LoB is becoming more involved with technology decisions, and this is certainly the case, but my sense is that it is more than that - that the two groups are almost converging, and that the LoB has a much broader perspective on technology than ever before and IT has a much deeper appreciation for the key business challenges. I think this has been happening for a while, but it really struck me this year at Oracle OpenWorld. The challenge, and opportunity, for the major software vendors like Oracle will be to continue to be more targeted, and aware, of the duality of their audience.
In terms of the supply chain roadmap and product 'deep dive' sessions, Oracle did a good job and they were well-attended. There always seems to be a bottomless appetite from manufacturers for best-practice discussions, and while a 65,000 attendee conference is not the best forum for sharing best-practices, the panel discussions and informal networking sessions did as good a job as they could, of a least partially sating this appetite. One of the more interesting sessions I attended was the discussion, led by Jon Chorley (Chief Sustainability Officer & Group Vice President, SCM & PLM Product Strategy), of both the current and future state of the Oracle Fusion Applications in supply chain. While we have been hearing about Oracle Fusion Applications for some years now, it was really here at Oracle OpenWorld 2013 that I finally began to think that Oracle Fusion Applications has come of age. I am particularly intrigued by the potential, for manufacturers, of both the Oracle Fusion Distributed Order Orchestration and Oracle Fusion Product Hub tools. In both cases, these applications recognize the challenges that face supply chains today, and bring the full weight of Oracle's SCM expertise to bear in new and modern ways.
Bottom line, for me, is that Oracle continues to stake out a leadership position in supply chain management, with both a superb exiting portfolio and a clearly articulated (with 'Safe Harbor' forward-looking caveats) future vision and roadmap. Oracle is not perfect in supply chain, no company is, but their willingness to work with customers to resolve any issues that might emerge is the hallmark of a strong partner.