Larry Ellison, Safra Catz Kick Off Oracle OpenWorld Sunday Night

The conference also promises some real benefits for partners. With solution providers now accounting for more than 40 percent of Oracle's software license revenue, channel partners will find themselves getting a little more of the red carpet treatment at the upcoming Oracle OpenWorld conference in San Francisco.

Oracle is expanding the range of partner-related sessions and activities at this year's conference that runs from Nov. 11 to 15. In addition to new partner solution pavilions and more "how-to" sessions for working with Oracle and its products, solution providers will hear details on channel initiatives for the upcoming year, including plans for a new partner-to-partner networking system and a partner survey effort called the Oracle Partner Leadership Program to help channel partners assess their sales and leadership skills.

"Over the last several years Oracle has expanded both the partner track content as well as partner participation in marketing initiatives, product direction and launch discussions, and other strategic activities during OpenWorld," said Ron Zapar, CEO of Re-Quest, a Naperville, Ill., Oracle channel partner, in an e-mail. Nevertheless, the activities and sessions specifically directed towards partners at this year's conference "have increased dramatically over previous years," he says.

In the past Oracle and its aggressive direct sales force gained a reputation for being less than channel friendly. But that's been changing in recent years: Oracle's scores for its channel efforts in this year's VARBusiness Annual Report Card improved markedly over previous years. That's been spurred by such initiatives as the All Partner Territories (APT) program that leaves many sales to new customers in designated geographies and markets to the channel.

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"There is no question we are seeing a fundamental change in Oracle's philosophy and engagement with the channel," said Mike Thompson, president and CEO of Groupware Technology, a Campbell, Calif.-based solution provider and Oracle partner, in an e-mail. Noting that efforts like the APT program have increased the "level of engagement" between Oracle and channel partner managers and sales representatives, he added: "I believe that you will see changes at OpenWorld that are consistent with our experiences."

In a Web presentation this week Doug Kennedy, Oracle senior vice president of worldwide alliances and channels, said software license sales through Oracle's 19,500 partners increased 10 percent in Oracle's fiscal 2007 ended May 31, accounting for 40 percent of all such sales. He said this year's Oracle OpenWorld "is especially designed with partners in mind."

Kennedy is slated to lead the Oracle PartnerNetwork (OPN) Forum general session at the conference on Nov. 11, outlining objectives for the current fiscal year and briefing solution providers on such topics as the OPN solutions catalog, according to a conference agenda. In this week's Webcast Kennedy said he will provide details about a "social networking platform" Oracle is developing for OPN that will help Oracle channel partners interact with each other. Rauline Ochs, Oracle senior vice president of North America alliances and channels, is slated to provide an update on the Oracle Accelerate program to sell Oracle applications to midsize customers through the channel.

Ochs will brief channel partners on the Oracle Partner Leadership Program, a survey to measure partner sales skills and leadership attributes that will help partner executives benchmark their companies against other solution providers in the OPN program. Oracle also intends to use the results to gauge the leadership skills and readiness of its partner population.

This week Oracle announced the global availability of its OPN Competency Center, a tool available through the OPN portal that individual employees of Oracle channel partners use to assess their management, sales and technical skills and determine what online and classroom training courses they should take. Before now the OPN Competency Center has been available only to channel partners in Europe.

Oracle will also offer a series of coaching sessions during the conference, covering how channel partners can get into the Oracle PartnerNetwork solutions catalog, what the Oracle Accelerate initiative means for resellers and how best to reach the Oracle customer base. Some will introduce channel partners to Oracle's educational and support services, while many will focus on how partners can leverage Oracle technology, including the vendor's data warehouse and Linux software, to build solutions. One session will even provide advice on how resellers can take advantage of Oracle's aggressive acquisition strategy to grow their business.

And on Nov. 11 Oracle will hand out its Oracle Titan Awards to channel partners who have achieved excellence in solution development and business achievements.