Steve Miranda, executive vice-president of Oracle Applications product development, spoke to Computer Weekly at Oracle Cloud World 2022 in Las Vegas about the impact of the macroeconomic crisis on the supplier’s customers, and how Oracle cannot do everything on its own, and so has embarked on a strategy of greater openness. What follows is an edited and compressed version of that interview.
CW: The current economic and political “macro” is very turbulent. As if Covid-19 has not been bad enough, we’ve now got an energy crisis, connected with the war in Ukraine, and a cost-of-living crisis driven by inflation. Are your customers coming to you with questions, and saying, “How can you help us?” What are you seeing as trends?
Miranda: I would say that some customers are, in fact, accelerating. One of the lessons that Covid showed is that you can’t just sit where you are and expect to come out of it better. I think this downturn is showing inflation pressures, supply chain issues, still remnants from Covid.
What we’re hearing from our customers is they aren’t going to come out of it and operate in the same way as they did going into it, as with Covid. Almost nobody who’s been successful [in the pandemic] came out of it the same way. They’re working much more digitally with their customer base, they’re much more efficient in working their back office. they’re much more available to work from home or do hybrid types of work.
The very same thing is happening, coming into this downturn. They realise, “We can’t wait anymore, to modernise and to change”. It’s a do or die situation.
CW: Are you also hearing, “We need to save money, we need to cut our costs”?
Miranda: I wouldn’t say it’s about saving money, because it’s not like we’re seeing projects not starting. But I think they’re very mindful of where they’re spending money. I think we provide solutions which give you better visibility, so that when there is a sudden change, you’re aware of that and can react quickly. The recent inflationary pressures caught some folks off-guard, so the ability to see that early, see where it affects your business, see where the supply chain bottlenecks, is important. That’s what our products do.
“Companies that aren’t able to change and be nimble are not going to survive. It’s as simple as that”
Steve Miranda, Oracle
CW: At Cloud World, you announced an “application platform” on which customers and partners can build their own features or industry-specific capabilities. Talk us through what you see as the significance of this platform.
Miranda: We say we have the most complete solution available to any customer anywhere in the cloud. We strongly believe that, and analysts have confirmed that, and it is reasonably undisputed. But no vendor is ever going to have every last application that any customer needs. With the application platform, we provide customers the tools, both in a high-code and low-code option. We provide them with the code templates that our developers use, using our Redwood UX. We’ve externalised our developers do and made it available to others.
CW: But what’s driven it? Why are you delivering this platform? Have customers or partners come to you demanding it?
Miranda: We have around 10,000 customers live [on Oracle’s cloud Fusion applications suite]. The majority of those customers are moving on, they’re starting to see the benefits that we’ve been touting for a while – constant innovation, brand new features, expanded roll-outs – and it’s the maturity of that process that means everybody is now ready to take on their last-mile applications.
CW: And is there also more of a need for industry-specific systems?
Miranda: Larry [Ellison] spoke at length [in his keynote speech at Oracle Cloud World] about healthcare. There are really two dimensions of healthcare. One is extending into different areas, beyond the traditional boundaries around Cerner. [Oracle acquired the health information technology system provider Cerner in December 2021]. The other is connecting that hospital system to our ERP [enterprise resource planning] system, in a way that has never been done before.
Hospital systems are not as efficient as manufacturers in their supply chain planning and supply chain optimisation. They don’t have a tight integration between what nurses and doctors actually do, and the time-capture system, the payroll system, the HCM [human capital management] system and the learning management system. And what we’re doing is tying the Cerner EHR [electronic health record] system to what is going on in the hospital, to the HCM system, and to the supply chain planning system.
Now, while healthcare is the industry of most focus, because I think many of us feel a moral obligation to it, it’s not a pivot in that we’re not going to become a healthcare company. I would think of it more as an example of what we’re doing, and of how we have to look beyond what we’re doing to partner with others.
CW: Could you say the maturity of development of end-user companies to be almost like software companies themselves has reached a stage where you can synthesise that back with Oracle, using cloud?
Miranda: Take something very simplistic, just connecting your financial system to a banking system. If you are an on-premise customer, or a hosted customer, every one of your installations is in a different datacentre with different network protocols and different security mechanisms and so on.
Now, today, JP Morgan is effectively, in part, a software company. They have APIs [application programming interfaces], just like you might think a software company does. So, we can connect our single datacentre to their single cloud API and we’re done for 100% of our customers. To do that in an on-premise or hosted world, I don’t know how you would start.
CW: Coming back to the macro question we began with, what would you say to a CIO who was tempted to go down a third-party support route to save on maintenance costs?
Miranda: I don’t know of a single company that hasn’t had to modernise their business process. Forget about Covid. They’re threatened by – fill in the blank: Amazon, Uber, Google, Netflix, Apple. Us too. We’ve gone from being a product company to a services company.
Or if you are a single company that has had many acquisitions, and hasn’t had to digitise to deal with their customers, Covid put a huge magnifying glass on the digital interaction with customers, and it put a huge magnifying glass on your HR processes to make sure you could recruit and retain in the context of labour shortages, or quiet quitting.
Now, coming out of Covid, or at least to getting into some steady state, you’ve got your inflation pressures, you’ve got the war, you have a bunch of other economic uncertainty. So the notion of, “I’m going to get through this uncertainty by saving some money by going to a third party”, well, you may or may not save money, but I don’t think you’re addressing that you’re not going to come out of it as a better company. And again, it’s our belief, and I think we’ve seen this over the last two years, companies that aren’t able to change and be nimble are not going to survive. I think it’s as simple as that.