Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Ice Cream Truck

I've written this article in response to recent inquires from several executive-types who seem convinced that they must buy one of almost every Oracle product in order to maximize Oracle's value for their businesses. I hope this helps clear things up...

In the town I live in, we have a lot of ice cream trucks working our neighborhood. One after another rolling through, each playing some bells and chimes version of "Green Sleeves" or "Home On The Range", selling a plethora of ice cream treats and snacks. In fact, each one sells so many different products that I have a tough time keeping up with all the stuff they're selling. Some of the kids in the neighborhood trive are regular customers (hey, why would an ice cream truck work the neighborhood if we didn't have a truckload of kids?), while some only buy sporadically. The same holds true for the grown-ups, although most of us fall in the "sporadic customer" category. Many of the grown-ups also buy different products from those popular with the kids. Me, I prefer simple chocolate (fudge bars, chocolate ice cream, that kind of thing) while the kids argue about which yogberrytofflenut snack is best. One especially hefty kid in the neighborhood tried to settle the argument once and for all by eating one of each snack each of his buddies felt was the best one sitting. The only thing that got settled that day was that we all agreed he wound up as sick as anyone we'd ever seen.

I've been thinking lately that ERP software vendors have a lot in common with the ice cream trucks. Each rolls through with a nifty-sounding value proposition and a literal truck-load of components in their respective product lines. You listen to the music, you read the ads on the side of the truck, and listen to the other people in line to buy and soone you want to buy it fact, you get concerned about how your enterprise will survive otherwise. When you get to thinking like this, remember the kid who tried to eat one of everything from the ice cream truck...all he got was mighty sick.

I've come to believe that the trick with ERP software and software vendors is to figure out what your enterprise needs, and then buy only that software that meets those needs. Let's consider the products in Oracle's stable as an example. Oracle's "innovation through acquisition" strategy has turned the company's product lines into one huge, really well-stocked ice cream truck (especially in light of the recent BEA acquisition). Take a few minutes to explore just the Fusion Middleware products (which you can do through the Oracle Technology Network) and you'll be quickly overwhelmed by the volume of the offerings. However, I'm just not convinced that I need one of everything in order to run my enterprise successfully. I need to pick only those components that have value for my business. For example, because integration of multiple data sources and multiple technology stacks is important to my shop, the SOA Suite looks valuable to me. However, I already have a data warehouse and ad hoc database that together look an awful lot like the Oracle Master Data Management product, so I'm not so convinced I need MDM. An even more basic example: what value will JDeveloper bring to my development shop if my developers are already skilled with Eclipse? If I buy it all, I suspect my enterprise will wind up like the hefty kid who just got mighty sick...we'll have all this great software, but the licensing and maintenance costs will bleed our budget dry. The trick is to buy only what you need.

So the challenge for customers is to figure out which Oracle (or other ERP software vendor) components add value to their individual enterprises. That means you need to know what you do and what your needs are. Neither of these is an easy task. Once you've figured those things out, buy only the software that meets your needs...this will obviously vary between enterprises. The car wax manufacturer will have different needs from the company that builds satellites. The good news is the Oracle ice cream truck is full of great stuff. Just buy the treats and snacks you really like...unless you want to end up like the hefty sick kid.

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