Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Oracle on BEA and SAP

Many companies' managers shy away from talking about their competitors during analyst conferences. The analysts follow suit, usually, though mostly everyone knows who is being talked about using terms like "the competition," and "the other guys."

Not Oracle. Following the lead of Larry Ellison, they name their competitors and openly discuss the game of competing. Take the recent (March 20, 2007) Oracle analyst conference on fiscal Q3 2007 results (see my summary). Oracle had a great quarter, but that was not crowing enough.

BEA makes "middleware" or application servers. Basically, this is complex software that sits on top of the operating system (usually Linux or Unix) and allows applications (Web services, for instance) to work efficiently for large numbers of users. Some say that it is unnecessary: a good operating system should handle the job. Still, billions of dollars worth of this software is sold every year. According to Oracle spokespeople, BEA's revenues from middleware grew 8% this last year. Oracle, a late-comer to the middleware game, had a growth rate of 82% and now has higher middleware revenues than BEA. Another big middleware competitor is IBM.

SAP, on the other hand, is known for its ERP (enterprise resource planning) software, and it makes related software like CRM (customer resource management). Oracle bought Seibel, the big CRM player. Combining Seibel's capabilities with Oracles database prowness and making a unified suite of ERP/CRM products, Oracle is now Number 1 in CRM market share, grew this segment by 57% over the year, and is looking to eventually take the number 1 ERP spot from SAP. Given the two-decades of grumbling I have heard about SAP, this is not impossible.

Oddly, there was little mention of Microsoft, a favored recipient of Oracle bashing. In the CRM/ERP market Microsoft is a relatively new entrant and is mainly targetting businesses smaller than Oracle and SAP provide services for. Of course that has usually been Microsoft's manner of entry: start with very small businesses, improve and learn, migrate up the gravy train as those small businesses grow.

It is also notable that Oracle is targetting specific industries (like finance and oil) with ERP/CRM products designed for those industries. Many small players like CDC Corporation (CHINA) have been successful with this strategy, but Oracle can immediately go after the largest corporations.

Oracle, once just a database company, has clearly succeeded in building a suite of products that work well together and meet the needs of medium to large businesses.

I do not currently own Oracle stock (or BEAS or SAP), but I do own a bit of Microsoft (MSFT).

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