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Global CIO: Oracle's Phillips Says Standardizing On Oracle Is The IT Cure

Phillips says the mix-and-match approach is killing IT organizations, and the only salvation is standardization (on Oracle, of course).

Life is all about tradeoffs. Time with kids or answer a few more emails? Grab that airport cheeseburger or much on some carrots? Follow the Pittsburgh Pirates or decide to root for a real major-league team?

We assess our needs, evaluate our options, make decisions, and realize that some of those decisions are much more difficult and complex than others.

Well, in that category of difficult decisions, I've got a doozy: You know you're spending too much on infrastructure and maintenance versus growth projects and innovation, and you are committed to changing that. You know your current roster of global systems could serve as an archeological technology museum showcasing every type of hardware, software, and network, and you're determined to update all that. And you also know that all CIOs take a sacred oath vowing to love the one-stop-shop IT vendor in theory but to avoid it like the bubonic plague in practice.

And then you hear Oracle president Charles Phillips make a cogent and persuasive argument that provides the answer to all of your problems, including your overly strained budget, your brittle systems, your inability to get out ahead of the busywork, your aging and mismatched applications, and most of all your inability to meet the CEO's expectation that you become a full-time driver of growth and innovation.

Under Phillips' plan, your cost of internal operations plummet, your integration headaches vanish, your performance problems disappear, and your CEO views you as a business leader who's taken on and overcome a massive and seemingly intractable problem.

But here's the tradeoff: to get all that, you have to standardize on Oracle. The whole stack. Storage to applications. The thing you swore in blood you'd never do.

Phillips' solutions sound almost too good to be true and perhaps they are. Then again, Oracle's strategy and Oracle's technology are unlike anything else in the IT industry today due to their breadth and ability to extend from systems to storage to middleware to OLTP to databases and ERP and vertical-market expertise.

And yes, I realize that whole perceived asset can be logically flipped into a crushing liability by invoking the lock-in theory: by standardizing so extensively, you no longer run the relationship -- instead, Oracle runs you.

Tradeoffs -- they can be brutal. But before dismissing the idea out of hand, check out some of Phillips' perspectives below. As I've noted above and in other columns, Oracle's made itself into a company quite unlike any other IT vendor and maybe, just maybe -- depending on your situation and your needs -- you might decide that what he's recommending isn't as crazy as it sounds.

"What CIOs are struggling with right now," said Phillips in an interview Thursday in Manhattan, "is trying to find a way to get the opportunity and ability to manage the entire stack with a single management tool that's predictive about how that stack's going to behave, how the change-management around it is more prescriptive and planned and where they really know how to upgrade and patch the entire stack.

"All the dependencies between these layers -- the middleware, database, storage, software, systems -- they're all related but unpredictable," Phillips said. "And that's the cycle they're trying to get out of -- all that need to constantly provision and manage -- it's a huge cost and it's kinda boring and takes lots of people to do it and it's risky."

In New York for an Oracle CIO advisory board meeting and to introduce a broad new set of management tools, Phillips pressed the point that the industry has tried the mix-and-match for decades as a means of trying to keep vendors honest but the cost of running all that different stuff is turning out to be much greater than avoiding overdependency on any one IT company.

"The entertainment value or intellectual stimulation you get from tweaking every little thing up and down that stack is not the same as what it once was -- they're kind of bored with doing that. And the expense of doing that is apparent now -- and after going through the last two years of downturn, it kind of helped us in a way because people said, 'I've gotta find a way to change what I'm doing -- this is not working,' " Phillips said.

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"They're under pressure to reduce costs like everybody else, and the luxury of having unlimited flexibility and unlimited configuration and unlimited choice -- well, it's expensive. So I tell them, 'We know you like that unlimited choice -- that's kinda how we all grew up -- but it just doesn't make any engineering sense anymore, and if you're gonna keep doing it that way, your costs are gonna always be higher than someone who doesn't do that, and if you want to be successful and keep your job, you're gonna have to do things differently and just accept that the industry's becoming more standardized.

"You don't need 18 different vendors and 2,000 configurations to have competition -- you've got to limit it some. And I think we've convinced people that makes sense and beyond that we think the whole industry's just moving in that direction. And we can accelerate that by standardizing that entire stack and showing people how it's done -- people like that 'iPod for the enterprise' analogy" (my emphasis).

Too crazy to even think about? Well, what if you're also trying to lock down your long-term strategy for private clouds? Here's Phillips' view:

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