Oracle's new message to its channel partners: We love you, but please sell more of our product lines.
Sunday Oracle unveiled several initiatives, including expanded training services and enhancements to the Oracle PartnerNetwork (OPN) portal, all under the moniker Partner Enablement 2.0, designed to encourage the company's 20,000 solution providers to sell a broader range of its product portfolio.
Oracle's channel partners accounted for 40 percent of the company's total revenue in fiscal 2008, co-president Safra Catz said at the Oracle Partner Forum, the channel partner portion of the Oracle OpenWorld conference in San Francisco this week.
But a big chunk of those sales are Oracle's database software and closely-related products and Oracle executives want partners to sell more of the vendor's middleware and application software. Oracle is particularly keen to increase channel sales of what the company calls "edge" applications -- those outside core ERP and CRM applications -- including business intelligence, content management and application lifecycle management software.
Oracle has acquired 47 companies in a little over three years, among them business intelligence software vendor Hyperion Solutions, product lifecycle management (PLM) software supplier Agile and G-log, a developer of transportation logistics applications. Altogether the company's product portfolio has increased from about 1,000 products five years ago to nearly 9,000 today.
While Oracle has continued to increase direct sales of those products, the goal is for Oracle partners to "move up the stack" by selling more solutions that incorporate a broader range of Oracle software, said Judson Althoff, group vice president of worldwide channels and alliances, in an interview at the forum. Oracle will be looking to its partners to do more up-selling and cross-selling than they do today. "That skill set has to come from the partner community," he said.
Nevertheless, a parade of Oracle executives at the forum bent over backwards to show their appreciation for the company's channel partners. "It's not lost on anyone in Oracle management that you're critical to our success," co-president Charles Phillips said addressing channel partners at the forum. Oracle's emphasis on the channel is a big change from not so many years ago when the company's culture was very focused on direct sales.
Much of the Partner Enablement 2.0 effort revolves around improved education and training opportunities for channel partners with the goal of jump starting sales and implementation of Oracle's middleware and acquired applications.
Under the new "three-tiered" partner training initiative the Oracle University program will remain the company's premium education offering for live training and Oracle certification. But the company is adding a second tier of "boot camp" training delivered by third-party companies using content developed by Oracle Alliances and Channels.
Some boot camps are ready today, covering application integration infrastructure and such acquired products as BEA System's WebLogic Server and Agile PLM. Others are under development, including a boot camp for best practices for migrating customers to the Oracle database from Microsoft's SQL Server database. Oracle will also deliver the "second tier" training content via live Web classes. The boot camps will be free for implementation partners.
Chris Stanton, a partner with solution provider Capital Technology Partners in Ottawa, welcomed the new training course for Siebel CRM applications given that the company has a large Siebel application practice. He also said Oracle-developed product demonstration kits would reduce the amount of time his company's consultants have to devote to assembling sales and marketing materials. "Such pre-sales activities can get very costly," he said.
The other major aspect of Partner Enablement 2.0 is an overhaul of the OPN portal. A number of changes, such as the addition of a "most popular resource" page and RSS news feeds, make the revamped site easier to use. New social networking capabilities help solution providers form partnerships with each other. And "knowledge zones" content repositories provide information about key product areas and lines of business.
Bas Swuste, business intelligence vice president at Oracle partner Innoveer Solutions, based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, said he hopes the changes to the OPN portal make it easier to use by a company like Innoveer that has operations in multiple countries. "Right now it's just too confusing for us," he said. But he saw all of the Sunday announcements as a sign that Oracle is serious about the philosophy of partner enablement.
Oracle also upgraded its online OPN Competency Center by adding a dashboard channel partners use to evaluate their own skills and competencies. And Oracle is offering new channel-ready packages of marketing materials called "partner solution kits."
Oracle also has established a team to specifically work with larger national VARs to help them sell a broader range of Oracle products. Althoff said Oracle hasn't had an organization to work consistently with national VARs before, engaging with them instead on a more on a deal-by-deal basis.
While most other programs within OPN remain unchanged, Oracle is reviewing the "All Partner Territories" initiative begun two years ago to give channel partners exclusive rights to sell Oracle database, middleware and application software to new customers in designated geographies. John Gray, group vice president of technology North America alliances and channels, would only say the company is looking at whether the program is meeting expectations and whether it needs to be focused on specific product lines.