Like the idea of having all your technology and infrastructure on a single platform, in a single box? Oracle thinks you will. But are they offering you the power without addressing the need for agility?

Want Enterprise IT In-a-Box?

Oracle is big. Increasingly, the name Oracle means big when it comes to almost every aspect of enterprise IT. Got lots and lots of content? Oracle ECM is big and can handle it. Got lots of people who set up teams, project groups and other collaborative communities of practice? WebCenter Suite is big and handles all that interaction. Got a large ERP, CRM or HRMS system for a giant multi-national organization? Oracle Exalogic is a big box that brings all those applications, content, collaboration and connectivity together. Want all those features, capabilities and capacity? Be prepared to pay big bucks.

The challenge is that while big enterprise-IT-in-a-box may seem like a compelling story at the top, it fails to elaborate on all the moving pieces, processes and cost-benefits that make up said big enterprise. CIOs are chartered to tool the organization while maintaining fiduciary responsibility. This means that enterprise IT systems must have an ability to justify their cost. Those justifications most often come from highly distributed and granular sets of business users. This is especially true where E2.0, content, collaboration and portal are concerned.

Defining the Business Case Won't Be Easy

So think about the business case for Oracle Exalogic -- their new middleware machine that includes rack slots for ECM Suite, WebCenter Servers and large storage arrays for content. Let’s think through an example:

The fact that the marketing group in your organization would like better teaming tools to share digital assets for web and print campaigns will not, by itself, justify an Exalogic spend. Many times it is not enough to justify a platform upgrade. So that marketing group finds a sponsor in IT who outlines the thresholds for big IT spends. IT talks to the R&D group which acknowledges that they too would like better collaboration tools but they have 4 different product teams, 2 of whom use open source solutions, 1 uses SharePoint and 1 uses a old version of Oracle UCM but doesn’t like it.

So now Marketing and R&D are allies on the spend through a shared-services cost-justification. But now the cost of implementation for IT has just gone way up. Services are required in order to bring those 4 different R&D and 1 Marketing team on board. Furthermore, in order to be feasible, some kind of implementation and engagement template must be set up.

Everyone Does Not Have the Same Requirements

The problem is that Marketing and R&D do not at all work like each other. They have different back end systems integration needs. They have different usage paradigms. The engineers in the R&D group produce and consume data while the staff in the Marketing group produce and consume rich media. One group cares strongly about file locking and version control while one group cares strongly about the UX and whether or not the solution will work on Mac.

Collaboration, content creation, information consumption and engagement with systems is a highly individual process. Collaboration is rife with idiosyncrasies. Those idiosyncrasies have a funny way of turning into requirements. Solutions must be nimble, not just big in order to deal with those requirements. Information and systems agility, not just capacity, is vitally important to consider and calculate. The more users, the more idiosyncrasies, the more requirements, the higher the cost, the tougher the justification for a big spend.

Is Oracle Missing the Point of Agility?

The point is that Oracle appears to be focusing on the big IT spend without addressing the need for agile solutions. Such agile solutions are the ones that will be built on that big IT infrastructure and are required to justify that big IT spend. With products like Exalogic, Exadata, WebCenter Suite, ECM Suite, SOA Suite, Oracle has top-notch technology. But they are also expensive. This is because the individual products are enterprise worthy and that means they are priced accordingly. Small to moderate projects and organizations risk being priced out of the market. I’m not talking about mom and pop shops either. 

Because the big IT spend for an E20 machine from Oracle (think WLS, WebCenter, SOA and ECM on Exalogic) will most likely be justified through a shared services model for many departments, cross-disciplinary groups and communities of practice throughout the enterprise, simply offering up sheer compute power and capacity without also helping to drive solutions architecture is a bad move. Customers don’t want to know that they can run their WCM project on Exalogic, they want to know when they should.

You Have the Power, Now What?

If you are considering going down the big box route from Oracle you can take comfort in the fact that it is good infrastructure technology. But make sure you outline and enumerate your solutions for all of the groups who will be using them, then develop the shared services model that will speed up the overall solution deployments while helping to control cost. The last thing you want to do is code yourself into a corner where you are unable to effectively leverage all the compute power that comes with a big IT spend.

Remember that Enterprise 2.0 is about enabling collaboration with a purpose. Having purposeless power is a risky proposition. But if you can channel that power, divert, share and distribute it you can radically transform employees, processes and the organization as a whole.

I guess it is up to the partners and customers to figure out how to do that.