What Partners Need To Know About Oracle's Channel Program Overhaul

Oracle is preparing to scrap the current Oracle PartnerNetwork program for a new one built from the ground-up to help partners meet rigorous and evolving customer demands.

Modernizing OPN

Oracle recently revealed plans for its most ambitious and impactful channel makeover in years.

The Redwood Shores, Calif.-based technology giant is preparing to scrap the current Oracle PartnerNetwork program just about in its entirety for a new one built from the ground-up to help partners meet rigorous and evolving customer demands in the cloud era.

As Camillo Speroni, Oracle's vice president for worldwide strategic alliances, put it simply to CRN: "Everything about Oracle PartnerNetwork is all gone."

The new program, in the works for more than a year, will introduce a cloud-first approach to channel engagement that eschews the industry's traditional tiered structure, which Oracle believes is no longer relevant in the market.

"We identified we needed to provide a simplified, streamlined, consistent framework that would allow partners to pick what they're good at, and accelerate from there," Speroni said.

That program should go live on Dec. 1, and while Oracle encourages partners to jump aboard as soon as possible, it is giving them a year to transition to the new requirements.

Market intelligence firm IDC sees the move to "re-evaluate and re-engineer" Oracle's partner program as "a big step to deeper engagement with its partner ecosystem."

But IDC's Steve White, program vice president for the channels and alliances team, cautions, "as always, the proof will be in the pudding."

Revamping the program could boost Oracle's market share across its cloud portfolio. Success, however, hinges on Oracle's ability to execute the new strategy, according to the IDC researcher.

Blunt Talk With Customers

When Oracle Vice President Julie Tung was tasked more than a year ago to begin transforming the OPN program, she was told the overarching goal was to accelerate cloud growth by fostering customer success.

To that end, Tung went to many Oracle customers and asked specifically what they viewed as a successful engagement with a channel partner.

"What does success mean for them and what are they looking for in terms of partner capability? How do they select the right partners?" she asked those companies.

Feedback flowed freely, she told CRN.

"Customers were very blunt in telling us what they thought, how they would want us to reshape our programmatic efforts and engagements," Tung said.

What customers overwhelmingly wanted, she learned, was a better way to identify the Oracle partner best-suited to satisfy their unique digital transformation needs.

That comes down to making it easier to evaluate a partner's ability to deliver business outcomes through their product expertise, geographic reach, relevant experience and industry alignment, she said.

Devaluing Precious Metals

Traditional channel programs are typically structured around tiers named after gemstones or precious metals.

Oracle's current OPN program follows that glitzy nomenclature, with Silver, Gold and Platinum levels for partners to ascend to.

But customers have "figured out the precious metals," Julie Tung, Oracle's vice president for alliances and channels, told CRN.

Specifically, enterprises understand those tiers have more to do with fees paid into the programs and volumes of revenue generated than how well-suited the partners are to help them achieve a business objective.

So Oracle is eliminating multi-tiering from its new program. As Tung explains, "You come in the door and you become an OPN member."

That's the starting point at which Oracle partners can focus on aligning their skills and capabilities with customer requirements, according to IDC.

Oracle identified a problem with its outgoing program was that "end-customers never understood or saw the value in the tiers because they were based on partner revenue attainment rather than capabilities," said IDC's Steve White.

But tiered structures aren't entirely without value—they provide an easy way for partners to gauge a partner's success and standing in the program.

In abandoning that legacy model, Oracle will face the challenge of "ensuring the tracking, measuring, and incentivizing of partners in the new program aligns to value, especially for partners that are active in more than one track," IDC concluded.

Tracking Progress

While OPN's precious metal tiers will go the way of the dodo, Oracle is reorganizing its program across four partner tracks—three of which are designed for cloud-focused business models.

A Cloud Build Track is for ISVs and technology partners that develop services on top of Oracle's cloud infrastructure.

There's a Cloud Sell Track for Oracle resellers, and a Cloud Service Track for implementation and ongoing managed services partners.

For legacy partners still dedicated to on-premises business, there's a License & Hardware Track that supports reselling, architecting and offering services around Oracle's software licenses and hardware.

Each track offers unique enablement opportunities, certifications, and incentives. Partners can engage with Oracle on as many of the four tracks as they'd like.

Oracle expects at least some of its partners to earn badges across all four tracks, according to IDC's analysis of the coming program.

"IDC has found that partners today increasingly have capabilities in all of these activities, allowing them to provide complete outcome generating solutions to their customers," the research firm noted.

Industry, Region, Expertise … And Experience

When searching for the best partner to guide their digital transformations and cloud-adoption initiatives, customers want to see credentials attesting to expertise in specific products, technologies and industries, as well as geographical presence and the ability to add value.

They also want to know those solution providers have done similar work before, Camillo Speroni, Oracle's vice president for worldwide strategic alliances, told CRN.

While most channel programs overlook experience in their accreditations, the new OPN program takes into account projects under the partner's belt, he said.

OPN accreditations across products and cloud services involve "completing a series of qualifiers such as Oracle Specialists, certified professionals, customer successes, and showcasing external commitment to Oracle, among others," according to an Oracle brief on the new program.

A "qualifier" based on successful past engagements adds the final piece of information enterprises are often looking for before engaging an Oracle partner, he said.

Badges Galore

While OPN tiers will be reduced to one, new certifications will abound.

Across its four channel program tracks, Oracle plans to introduce around 50 badges that individual professionals and partner firms can earn. They will be essential in how partners demonstrate their ability to deliver business outcomes, implement Oracle products and services, geographic reach, industry expertise and experience from previous engagements.

Of them, 26 new badges will be aligned with Oracle's massive Software-as-a-Service portfolio, and 20 demonstrating skills on the infrastructure and platform side.

Earning those badges not only showcases partner skills in specific fields, but also yields "incremental access to go to market benefits," according to Oracle.

Onboarding, Ongoing Enablement And Preserving Investments

The baseline entry point for partners into the new Oracle program is OPN Member, a status requiring an annual fee of $500 which bestows partners with a few benefits, such as discounted training.

Partners can then enter the build, sell, service, or license & hardware tracks, each at a $3,000 annual fee that Oracle says can be recouped in the form universal credits for testing and demo environments.

Once a partner transitions into the new program, Oracle will unroll learning paths, tools and examinations to shepherd their progress, as well as technical, financial and targeted go-to-market resources.

Partners entering those tracks can earn new badges when they're ready, all the while confident their current investments in Oracle weren't wasted, Julie Tung, Oracle's vice president for alliances and channels, told CRN.

"We're going to map previous investments onto the new expertise," she said, meaning new certifications will take into account previously earned relevant credentials.

Prepare Customers Now, Assess Success Later

Enterprises typically don’t perceive change as something positive, Camillo Speroni told CRN.

"Change causes risk," explained Oracle's vice president for worldwide strategic alliances.

That's why Oracle will be proactive in convincing its large base of enterprise customers that the overhaul of its longstanding partner program will serve their best interests without disrupting relationships with the systems integrators, cloud services resellers and managed services providers they trust, Speroni said.

But that doesn't mean Oracle will rush to validate the impact of those OPN changes on customers. It’s a mistake to gauge the success of a channel engagement in its immediate aftermath, said Julie Tung, Oracle's vice president for alliances and channels.

"Everyone's happy at go-live," Tung told CRN. The true measure of success comes some several months later, when a customer has lived with their new technology for a while and put it through its paces.

For valuable insights, it's a good idea to wait six months after a new system goes live to see if the happiness stemming from a completed project has been maintained, she said.

Oracle will be patient in evaluating the benefits of its OPN revamp on customers and partners, she said, as it continues to upgrade the program based on feedback from both.