In Oracle's Star Wars, a Wookey Falls
John Wookey, Oracle's senior vice president of applications, will leave the company as part of a reorganization of the product development group, according to reports circulating both in the media and in the analyst community. Oracle, as of Friday morning, has not yet publicly confirmed the reports, but according to the Wall Street Journal
and other media outlets, an internal email was circulated to Oracle employees on Monday announcing the news. An Oracle spokesperson, contacted by CRM
magazine Thursday evening, declined to comment.
According to reports, Thomas Kurian, who currently heads Oracle's middleware business, including Fusion Middleware, will replace Wookey as chief architect for the Fusion Applications. In addition, Ed Abbo, who has been reporting to Wookey as senior vice president of the business applications group, will now also lead application development outside of Fusion, in addition to his current responsibilities. Abbo would head the continued development of Oracle E-Business and the business applications that Oracle has acquired over the years -- JD Edwards, PeopleSoft, and Siebel Systems.
Industry pundits are taking several interesting angles to the rumored reorganization of the company's applications development group. The alleged reshuffling of the executive deck has generated significant questions regarding Oracle's much-discussed plans for Fusion, including whether Fusion Applications will be delayed past 2008 and whether Oracle is experiencing development woes in trying to integrate the technology from the disparate suites of its acquired applications.
"It must be taken as an indication of a lack of progress on Oracle's Fusion application strategy at the pace promised two years ago," says Bill Band, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. "The other clue is the fact that Oracle has not been promoting Fusion during the last 12 months with the same vigor as it did earlier."
"It's hard to determine what's delayed and what's not," says Ray Wang, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. When Oracle acquired PeopleSoft in 2005, Oracle announced that Fusion Applications would be ready sometime in 2008. "It's very unlikely Oracle would be able to deliver the entire Fusion suite in that amount of time -- if for no other reason, simply from a manpower shortage," Wang says. "They've never been entirely clear on the specific date, but as they keep enhancing all the other products, the final roadmap back to Fusion becomes increasingly difficult as a result."
Some have speculated that the timing of Wookey's supposed departure may indicate a connection with Oracle's bid to acquire middleware competitor BEA Systems, the news of which first became public a week ago, on October 12. (Oracle's $17-a-share offer, which BEA publicly spurned late last week, now trails BEA's share price by more than a dollar.)
The inclusion of BEA would almost certainly alter Oracle's middleware execution, which could have a direct effect on Fusion Applications, Wang says. "If Oracle were to follow the same model they did with applications, it's likely they would continue to support BEA software," he says, suggesting that Oracle would integrate BEA middleware software into the still-developing Fusion stack. But other possibilities, he says, are even more baroque: "If they decide to do something different, they could scrap Fusion and build all their applications on BEA middleware, or simply build all their future applications on Fusion. It's simply too early to tell."
Despite the potential distraction that a looming executive shuffle might pose, what is clear to Forrester's Wang is Oracle's acquisition strategy. "If you look at all the moves Oracle has made, it's about vertical expansion. By buying BEA, Oracle would get lots of high-end clients in telecom, financial services, and the public sector," he says, "and that would be in more direct competition with IBM, because that's IBM's core customer base: high-end, top-notch, blue-chip companies." Wang also says Oracle can expect a dogfight with competitors for BEA. "Other vendors like SAP, IBM, and HP need BEA more than Oracle does," he says, in a written note. He notes that SAP's middleware offering is the weakest of the bunch, citing system integrators that have told him that "NetWeaver is 20 to 30 percent harder to build and customize." He also wrote that he's heard from integrators that "SAP's NetWeaver is one of the weakest platforms out there [and that SAP] needs BEA more than Oracle does."
Another analyst who agrees that the BEA deal would represent yet another example of Oracle's de facto acquisition strategy is James Kobielus, a principal analyst with Current Analysis. "The BEA acquisition offer just indicates that Oracle is continuing to be Oracle, attempting to buy up established brands, products, market share -- even if they overlap entirely with its existing solutions -- and to hold [those] competing brands under their Oracle big top for an indefinite period," he says. "I suspect that Oracle, if they succeed in acquiring BEA, will gradually cherry-pick differentiated and/or promising technologies from BEA's larder for possible integration into Fusion."
One possibility that has heated up discussion boards this week is that BEA's Tuxedo software, which underpins much of Oracle's acquired PeopleSoft applications, may be a focus of the acquisition effort, either as a preventive move to keep Tuxedo from the hands of a competitor, or to more deeply embed Tuxedo in the underlying Fusion Middleware.
"One set of BEA technologies that strikes me as quite interesting are their mashup tools," Kobielus adds, noting that integration is one of Oracle's strong suits: "Oracle doesn't suffer from a not-invented-here syndrome -- possibly because, paradoxically, they tend to acquire 'there' and transform it into 'here' and then leverage it."
If the reports prove true, all of that transforming and leveraging will soon become someone else's headache, and not John Wookey's.
Wookey has been with Oracle since the mid-1990s, and at the helm of Oracle's application development since January 2005. At the time of that transition, Ray Lane, then a former Oracle president and chief operating officer, was quoted by CNET's News.com as having a strong opinion of Wookey's integrity. "John comes out of the applications world and is a guy who does the right thing," Lane told the Web site. "He believes you shouldn't ship a product until it's ready," he said.
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