Channel Executive Of The Year: Rauline Ochs

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software Oracle

"In the past, we often found ourselves competing with the direct sales force and that competition pushed prices down," said Ron Zapar, CEO of Re-Quest, a Naperville, Ill.-based solution provider.

Year after year, those problems were reflected in Oracle's scores in the VARBusiness Annual Report Card survey, particularly in the vendor's grades for partnership and reseller support. Last year's scores were especially dismal in the categories of Data and Information Management Software and Infrastructure and Integration Software, where Oracle came in dead last to competitors IBM, Microsoft, BEA and Sybase.

"It was not our preferred performance," said Rauline Ochs, senior vice president for Oracle's North America Alliance and Channels organization, in an understatement.

The 2006 VARBusiness ARC showing prompted Ochs to call a meeting of managers from the company's product development, channel, and product and corporate marketing organizations to devise a plan to change course. Ochs, who joined Oracle in 2003, had already instituted major changes in Oracle's channel efforts, such as developing guidelines for how the company's salesforce should work with its channel partners.

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All one has to do is check out this year's grades to see that Ochs' strategy is paying off. Oracle comes out on top in the Data and Information Management Software category and ties for first with Sage Software in Business Software/Management, largely on the strength of its much-improved partnership and support scores.

In recognition of her efforts to put Oracle's channel back on track, Ochs was named Channel Executive of the Year at the XChange '07 conference in Orlando, Fla., in August. The award was presented on behalf of VARBusiness, CRN, the Institute for Partner Education & Development and the XChange Group--all part of CMP Technology's Channel Group. CMP Channel president Robert Faletra and vice president/editorial director Robert DeMarzo presented Ochs with the coveted award.

"She's a sincere advocate for the partners," said Rich Niemiec, CEO of TUSC, a Chicago-area solution provider that's been an Oracle business partner for nearly 20 years. "I think the support is spectacular."

"She's hearing us and she's been able to get senior management to support the channel," said Re-Quest's Zapar, adding that he's seen the most pronounced changes in the last 18 to 24 months. "All the stuff that was lip service for a long time isn't lip service anymore," he said, referring to earlier promises from Oracle executives to make nice with its channel partners.

Next: Major Challenges

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Major Challenges
In a recent interview, Ochs described her crusade to make Oracle more channel-friendly as "a four-year journey." In that time, she's faced some major challenges, including changing the company's culture to be more accommodating to the channel and integrating the hundreds of channel partners from Oracle's 30-plus acquisitions, including PeopleSoft, JD Edwards and Siebel Systems, into its own channel operations.

Ochs credits Oracle's partners with helping Oracle's top executives see the benefits of having a channel strategy. "The partners' own contribution had a big role in changing the culture because they were bringing in incremental revenue that our direct sales force knew they wouldn't be able to generate on their own," she said.

Ochs came to Oracle from BEA Systems, where, as senior vice president of worldwide alliances, she developed and launched the company's Star Partner Program and forged alliances with hardware, software and systems integration partners. Before that, Ochs worked at IBM for 15 years in various sales and marketing posts, including vice president of channel sales for the IBM Americas Software organization. She holds an M.B.A. in business administration from the University of Southern California and a B.A. in economics from the University of California at Irvine.

At Oracle, Ochs leads a team of managers responsible for sales through channel partners, including VARs, systems integrators, ISVs and hardware vendors. She's tasked with expanding Oracle's engagement with partners across all its commercial markets, and porting the company's sales methodology to the channel to ensure that everyone is speaking the same language to customers.

Ochs said that many of her early days at Oracle were devoted to writing guidelines for how Oracle--particularly its sales representatives--would engage with partners and avoid channel conflict, as well as developing infrastructure, such as co-selling tools and sales-training courses to support those policies.

As for changing the salesforce's mindset to work more closely with channel partners, Ochs credits support from Charles Phillips, who joined Oracle as executive vice president of strategy, partnerships and business development in May 2003 and was promoted to president in January 2004, and Keith Block, executive vice president of Oracle's North American sales and consulting organizations.

Next: More Work To Do

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More Work To Do
But the 2006 VARBusiness Annual Report Card scores showed that Ochs still had work to do. Following the meeting of channel, marketing and product development executives, Oracle launched several programs to give the company's solution provider partners a competitive advantage.

Perhaps most groundbreaking for Oracle has been the All-Partner Territories (APTs) strategy, under which most sales to new SMB customers (those with annual revenue under $100 million) in specific territories and markets are left to resellers willing to dedicate the needed resources and time to their Oracle business. After pilot efforts two years ago with several ERP application resellers, the program formally debuted in August 2006 and was expanded to its Siebel CRM software and other applications. This year, APTs were added for resellers of Oracle's flagship database software and middleware products, such as the Oracle application server, as well as territories built around higher education, and state and local government vertical markets.

"It was a commitment, it was the execution, and it was results," said Zapar, whose company participates in the APT program, covering Illinois and Wisconsin. "They've stuck by it," he said, referring to the program's rules of engagement. "We've had no issues of a [Oracle] direct-sales guy trying to come in and poach a deal." The result: ReQuest's Oracle-related sales increased 30 percent in its fiscal year ended June 30. And the lack of competition through channel conflict led to "a significant jump in [profit] margin for those sales," Zapar said.

At the one-year mark for the APT effort, Ochs said channel partners were bringing in an average of 1.2 deals for every deal Oracle handed over to its resellers--a 20 percent gain.

On the technology side, Oracle developed its Oracle Accelerate initiative that provides some 1,600 channel partners with industry-specific, preintegrated application bundles and rapid implementation tools (Oracle Business Accelerators) targeting small and midsize businesses. Oracle also expanded its educational opportunities for solution providers, including live training in Oracle's business intelligence technology for 350 partners in six cities, and online seminars for 5,000 partners on Oracle's Applications Unlimited strategy under which Oracle will continue to enhance its E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, Siebel and JD Edwards software after Oracle's next-generation Fusion applications hit the market.

Oracle also has stepped up its channel-marketing and demand-generation efforts, such as publishing 60 case studies of successful VAR implementations of Oracle products and, for the first time, adding vertical-industry solutions from 55 ISV partners to the collateral materials used by Oracle's salesforce.

Last month, Oracle reported that sales in its first fiscal quarter (ended Aug. 31) increased 26 percent to $4.5 billion, continuing a long stretch of growth for the software giant. Sales through the company's channel partners accounted for 41 percent of Oracle's fiscal 2007 global sales, and Ochs is determined to provide Oracle partners with what they need to be successful. "Because when our partners win, we win," Ochs said. Thanks to Ochs' efforts, Oracle's channel partners will continue to be a key factor in the company's growth.