Now Comes Oracle's Real Challenge

By Scot Petersen  |  Posted 09-12-2005
I think anyone who has paid any attention to the enterprise applications space over the past four or five years knew that Oracle buying Siebel was not a matter of if, but when.

Siebel's performance during this extended period was at best lackluster, while upstarts like Salesforce.com took away mind share, if not market share.

It's also well known that Siebel's CRM (customer relationship management) products have been notoriously difficult to get up and running.

With IT executives watching their budgets like never before, sometimes no deal with Siebel was a better alternative.

And that's exactly what was going on earlier this year when former CEO Michael Lawrie blamed poor first-quarter earnings on several "delayed" customer deal closings, due in part by "poor execution" by Siebel's sales staff.

Read more here about Oracle's acquisition of Siebel.

A week later Lawrie was gone, forced out by the board and replaced by George Shaheen.

Given Oracle's voracious appetite for enterprise applications companies, Siebel was an obvious target, and cheap, given the company's stock price, which as been in the single digits most of the year.

Oracle still had to digest PeopleSoft, a deal which closed earlier this year, and since then has swallowed Retek, TimeTen, ProfitLogic and I-flex.

Yet buying Siebel and the rest was the easy part.

What are we to make of Oracle now? No longer just a database giant trying its best to compete in the applications market, it truly has become a one-stop shop, from the database on through the corporate back office, and now into the hands of sales staff in the front office.

Is this acquisition spree just about that, or is it Larry Ellison's single-minded strategy for growth when the prospects for IT spending are only meager at best?

If the former, then the challenge for Oracle will be to present its embarrassment of riches to corporate customers in an integrated way, yet modular, flexible and cost-effective enough for large and small businesses alike.

If the latter, then all those businesses should be worried about a potential runaway train of databases, apps and services coming their way that may not be what they want or need.

The deal should satisfy Oracle investors, and thrill Siebel's, but what about the customer?

One point of view has Oracle becoming Computer Assocates-West, after CA's longtime growth-by-acquisition strategy, which served CA's bottom line well—until the company got in trouble—but left a lot of customers disenfranchised and frustrated.

Larry and company have their work cut out if they want this new Oracle to rise up and make the company more than just the sum of its parts, and offer customers what they really need—value, flexibility and return on investment.

It's Ellison's biggest challenge yet.

eWEEK magazine editor Scot Petersen can be reached at scot_petersen@ziffdavis.com.

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