Oracle Reassures JD Edwards Partners

In the applications front, the JD Edwards crowd essentially comprises Oracle's midmarket channel. Oracle Thursday invited those partners to its Redwood Shores, Calif., campus to learn how Oracle expects them to play in its SMB strategy.

"We've always been committed to these partners, but haven't communicated that as well as we could have," said Frank Prestipino, vice president of Oracle's Global Enterprise Applications Strategy. "We wanted them to hear about a number of resources we have to shine up the brand."

That brand, by the way, is JD Edwards -- as in Oracle JD Edwards EnterpriseOne, for example. "We'll stick with the product brand names in perpetuity as long as it makes sense," said Oracle President Charles Phillips. "We think JD Edwards has a bigger brand name in the midmarket. The customers were thrilled when we brought the name back. It has a high loyalty rate with customers."

Besides returning a well-loved brand, Oracle has also reinstated the marketing plans that PeopleSoft had put on hold while it focused on survival. These include Partner Enablement Kits that combine telemarketing and downloadable campaign material -- such as direct mail, sales collateral and product sheets -- that partners can customize. Initially, these kits will be focused on the hot disciplines of demand-driven manufacturing and lean-manufacturing.

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Perhaps most welcome of all, say partners, is Oracle's financing that allows midmarket customers to take out loans on any combination of software, hardware and implementation costs.

"For midmarket clients, that's a godsend," said Karen Mills, Co-CEO of Axion Solutions, a longtime JD Edwards partner in Irvine, Calif. "It's difficult to find financing if they don't have hardware bundled with it. And getting the services bundled is next to impossible. So the fact that Oracle will finance software and the services just makes life easier."

PeopleSoft's marketing plans aren't the only elements that Oracle is reinstating. Oracle also has begun to gradually rebuild the alliance PeopleSoft had with IBM. Oracle has become an IBM Strategic Alliance Partner, joining the likes of Siebel Systems and SAP. And both are creating joint marketing activities for the JD Edwards partner channel. "We now tell customers and partners this is not just Oracle. It's Oracle plus IBM," said Phillips.

Indeed IBM co-sponsored Oracle's partner conference. And Judy Smolski, vice president of marketing for IBM's Small and Medium Business in the Americas, told the audience about a range of programs that IBM offers its own partners.

Yet despite Oracle's pains to talk about IBM as a collaborator, IBM's executives tended to downplay the significance of being in the same room. "This came together quickly," said Larry Kener, IBM's vice president of Global Oracle Alliance. "We recognize the need to do more as we create a plan for the JD Edwards partners, who are very important to IBM."

"It's a mating dance," said Phillips when asked why IBM seemed to be making less of the relationship than Oracle is. "[IBM has] a natural hesitation to be too open about this, given the history. But slowly we're getting to know each other better at the executive levels."

As for Oracle's own partner programs, Mills said she'd rather the company improve how it markets itself to the midmarket. "I'd like to see them spend a significant portion of their money in reaching the SMB customers," she said.

"The message has to be there, that Oracle is a dominant player in that marketplace. We can capitalize on that effort, because many of us have our own telemarketing resources. But we need a message from Oracle that we can augment," said Mills.

Partners also need to count on Oracle's commitment to the channel. Many now worry that Phillips, who has come to embody that corporate pledge, will suffer the same fate as all of the other second-in-commands. Sacked. Is Phillips safe? What would happen if he leaves Oracle?

"There's an institutional knowledge now of knowing that the channel is important," Phillips told CRN. "It's not contingent on me. With over half of our revenue coming in through partners, we have no choice."

And will he be around for a while? "I hope so," said Phillips.