Tuesday Jan 12, 2016

Live Conferences – Three Important Reasons to Keep Going

Guest post by Sten Vesterli

As the New Year kicks off, so does the 2016 industry conference season. The first four months are packed with events that range from global telecommunications and healthcare IT conferences to user group meetings, and even a series of Oracle CloudWorld events around the world. 

Last fall, when I returned from Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco, I reflected on whether such hallmark events remain relevant in a world where we increasingly expect all of the information we need to be available on demand and, literally at our fingertips.

My conclusion is that these events continue to be vital and vibrant opportunities for learning, and I offer three compelling reasons why:

    • Specific Answers
    • Knowledge Sharing
    • Serendipity

    Specific Answers

    Oracle, for example, has a very comprehensive technology stack, and there are often many possible ways to meet any specific business challenge. The collateral about each product cannot compare all the possibilities, but attending an overview session by an independent Oracle Ace director gives you an understanding of how each product fits into the overall picture.

    Events, such as Oracle OpenWorld, provide a unique opportunity to ask your specific questions and get the answers you need, either in a Q&A panel session or at the demo grounds, where you can meet senior developers and product managers.

    Knowledge Sharing

    Both at conference sessions and at the various social events around a conference, you have the option to meet other professionals and hear about their challenges and how they overcome them. Many people have interesting and innovative solutions but do not feel like standing up in front of an audience to talk about it. But over a beer in the bar, you might learn many useful tips.


    Serendipity means finding something useful that you were not looking for. The interesting word comes from an old fairytale, but the meaning is as relevant as ever.

    Have you ever browsed a physical bookstore and found a book you would never have thought to look for online? You will experience the same kind of happy coincidences at live conferences, where you are exposed to a concentrated barrage of technology, products and ideas. It is very likely that you will stumble upon technical possibilities you were unaware of, and which can make a difference for your organization.


    Oracle is working hard to make product information available through many channels, from documentation and tutorials to videos, podcasts and Virtual Technology Summits. but all of these have limitations in the amount of knowledge they can transfer. To increase your success with Oracle software, you should also attend live events like user group conferences, Oracle OpenWorld, or other specialized events, such as Oracle Industry Connect or Oracle CloudWorld programs. I know I'll continue to participate and benefit in the years ahead.

    Sten Vesterli is one of Europe's leading experts on successfully using Oracle technology. His special focus is Oracle ADF, and his book "Oracle ADF Enterprise Application Development - Made Simple" is out in 2nd edition. He has also written "Developing Web Applications with Oracle ADF Essentials" and several other books. He is recognized by Oracle with the title of Oracle ACE Director, is a Fusion User Experience Advocate for Oracle and sits on the Oracle Usability Advisory Board. Sten is an Ironman triathlete and lives in Denmark. Follow Sten on his blog at http://www.vesterli.com or on twitter @stenvesterli

    Tuesday Nov 17, 2015

    New Tools Foster Stronger Strategic Partnerships - (Part 2 of 2)

    In my last post, I provided an overview of Oracle's Joint Business Review process and how it's helping us to build more strategic business relationships with our customers. In this installment, I'll focus on a few tools and best practices that are essential to the Joint Business Review and how they are driving value for our customers.

    Account Satisfaction Dashboard

    At Oracle, we are committed to putting our innovative technology and solutions to work within our own organization. The Account Satisfaction Dashboard, built on our business intelligence platform, is one such example. We've created a dashboard for each of our largest 2,000 customers, providing real-time visibility into the overall health of the relationship. It evaluates customer satisfaction with their Oracle relationship across four core pillars - account team effectiveness, product quality, services and overall lifecycle performance - which contain 50 distinct metrics.

    The dashboard leverages the red/yellow/green buttons similar to many of our customers and enables us to aggregate across customers, as well as drill down into the specifics for greater insight. The dashboard is foundational to our ability to conduct a complete health assessment as part of the Joint Business Review. It is equally important for day-to-day relationship management, allowing us to rapidly address emerging issues, target areas for improvement, and monitor progress - all from a single location.

    In addition, related dashboards help strategic account program managers to focus on extending relationship reach with our customers. For example, they can visually map where we currently have strong relationships within a specific account, and which additional relationships we should pursue.

    Strategic Account Plan -- Outside-In Process

    The creation of the three-year strategic account plan is a significant undertaking. It is well worth the effort, however, as it enables us to collaborate more closely with customers, focus more intently on their key initiatives and business priorities, and ultimately provide greater value to our customers.

    Specifically, the plans are designed to answer several strategic questions during discussions with customer executives:

    • What are the customer's most pressing business issues?
    • What initiatives are in place or are being planned to address those issues?
    • How can Oracle technology help the customer progress the initiatives and resulting business outcomes?
    • What are the next steps?
    • How do we jointly measure success?

    To help jumpstart the process, we've developed an outside-in perspective in which we've chronicled, by industry, key initiatives that similar organizations have pursued. This helps account teams to begin thinking creatively in a way that provides new value to the customer.

    Customer perspective is foundational to the strategic review process. We convene ongoing focus groups, seek input from participants in our advisory boards, and incorporate these discussions into our quarterly business reviews. We also conduct detailed discussions with each customer as part of the strategic account plan process, focusing on their specific business, issues, and trends, as well as emerging requirements.

    Oracle has standardized the Strategic Account Plan development process around the globe so that we can deliver a consistent experience and optimize the value of the process for our customers. When we first began, we had some process variations across regions, as is often the case with new initiatives. We later assembled best practices to create a globally standardized account strategy playbook. For example, we found that our EMEA organization had a great way of mapping customer initiatives to our product roadmaps. Another region had a very strong relationship planning template. As you might imagine, standardizing these things globally has a particularly positive effect on our customers who operate and engage with Oracle on a global scale.

    The Value Book

    Recently, we launched a Value Book as part of our Joint Business Reviews. This document functions as a "yearbook" of sorts for the account. It chronicles the relationship and initiatives over the years - and highlights the outcomes and impact of each. It creates a powerful narrative for the success that customers and Oracle have achieved together. It is also a beneficial tool for our customers in documenting and promoting the impact of their IT initiatives internally within their organizations. Further, the book is helpful when meeting with a new contact within an existing customer to bring them up to speed quickly on the history and value of the relationship.

    Our quest to strengthen customer relationships and focus on building true strategic partnerships is a top priority for Oracle. I'm interested in what others are doing as well. If you've got ideas and opinions or can share your best practices, please post a comment.

    Tuesday Nov 03, 2015

    Building Stronger Strategic Partnerships with Joint Business Reviews - (Part 1 of 2)

    We are fanatical at Oracle about striving to continuously improve the strength of our customer relationships. This objective permeates every aspect of our business. We have many strategies for achieving this, and I'd like to focus today on the Joint Business Review - a process we've initiated among our largest 300 customers.

    It's important to first take a moment to define what we mean by the term "customer relationship." To us, customer relationships are managed at two distinct levels: with an overall perspective of how the two organizations work together to compliment respective business objectives and strategies; and how many different individuals within one organization work with their counterparts in the other. If the relationship between Oracle and the customer organization is working well, it's performing at both levels, with structure and governance in places as a bridge between the two organizations. The relationship has to be satisfying for the actual people involved and in keeping with mutual business. Corporations are clearly not people. But they're certainly made up of people. And people generally want to build relationships with other people where both parties benefit.

    The Joint Business Review provides a unique opportunity to explore the health of the customer relationship (along both dimensions) and determine concrete ways to strengthen it. As part of this process, we look to drive deeper long-term engagement with senior customer decision-makers and influencers.

    The core of the review is a deep analysis of the customer relationship in its current state. This process involves nearly every member of the account team. The group identifies and examines residual concerns as well as dormant or emerging issues that can be addressed proactively. Further, the team takes stock of where the relationship is strongest and why, and assesses areas that are showing improvement.

    As part of the Joint Business Review, we also look to extend the planning window from an annual process to a three-year horizon to foster a more sustained, longer-term partnership. This review provides an important opportunity to collaborate with customers, map their needs to emerging Oracle solutions, and conduct strategic, long-term planning that can yield more successful deployments and a better overall experience. To us, a better experience means the customer enjoys a successful business outcome because of our work together.

    We started doing these reviews for 300 strategic accounts three years ago and have conducted repeat reviews for more than two-thirds of them to date. The response from our customers has been overwhelmingly positive. They appreciate and recognize the value the review adds, and understand its important role in delivering real results. CIO's on Oracle's executive advisory boards have told us that Oracle demonstrates it's thought leadership by focusing first on their strategic initiatives and then bringing relevant product strategies that clearly map to business issues, competitive strategies, and desired business outcomes.

    While the Joint Business Review process is focused on the company's largest accounts, many of the lessons learned are shared and adopted across the organization. For example, we've taken account planning best practices developed for this initiative to the next segment of our largest 2,000 accounts. We've provided these account leads with turnkey resources for strategic account planning and have replicated our executive sponsorship model.

    We've developed a number of tools and best practices along the way that I'll share in my next post. The Joint Business Review is a dynamic process that we continually refine and hone as we learn from our program managers, customers, and other customer relationship professionals. We look forward to continuing to build on its success. A strong framework and attention to relationships leads to real business outcomes and true partnerships.

    Tuesday Oct 20, 2015

    Attracting and Retaining Referenceable Customers is a Team Sport

    In the cloud era, nearly all cycles spin faster. For example, the sales cycle for purchasing cloud-based solutions can be weeks instead of months or years. In turn, go-lives are faster and product updates more frequent. Cloud enterprises also have a heightened stake in their customers' business continuity. For example, at Oracle, we not only develop IT solutions for enterprises, we deliver them via the cloud -- where we're in charge of performance and security 24/7.

    This increased velocity and stake in the customer's business continuity also has a profound impact on customer reference programs. Issues can emerge faster and related news can spread more rapidly. As the pace of solution releases grows, so must the frequency and speed at which we identify and attract customers willing to share their journeys and successes.

    In this environment, teamwork is more important than ever -- when it comes to both offense and defense strategies. 

    Delighted customers who are willing to share their experiences are among the most precious assets of any company. This is especially true for an enterprise technology company, where customers literally trust their business to their vendors' IT solutions. Research consistently affirms that customer endorsements are among the strongest influences on purchasing decisions. As such, Oracle and many other technology companies are focused on cultivating customers who are willing to share their success stories and best practices. This process also provides reference program customers with a highly visible forum and platform for promoting their successes to their management as well as expanding their professional network.

    Today's enterprise cloud solution providers require real-time visibility into the "health" of every current reference. They also need similar dynamic insight into emerging potential reference customers. No single entity within an organization can deliver this visibility. Instead, many groups must collaborate and communicate in real time to make this a reality. This is easier said than done, especially in a large enterprise.

    On any championship sports team, each player has a critical role to play and depends on full support and 100 percent commitment from the rest of the team. Meanwhile, the coach at the center of it all needs an unobstructed and immediate view of the field of play. At Oracle, our cloud solutions customer references initiative represents just such a team -- and it is helping us to make our customer references program a competitive differentiator. 

    We integrate and align activities, and more importantly, knowledge from across sales, marketing, research and development, engineering, support and cloud operations to gain the accurate, complete, real-time visibility needed to keep customers happy and our program growing.

    Reaction to the integrated approach from customers and our internal teams has been very positive. In particular, audiences appreciate hearing directly from these customers at events such as HCM World 2015 where more than 25 customers -- including Colorado Permanente Medical Group (Kaiser), and Lyft -- presented their experiences.

    We rely on Oracle tools as the hub that provides the real-time, unobstructed view of the customer reference landscape. It enables global customer program managers, sales team members, customer success team members and others to gain role-based visibility into the complete experience of any reference customer, including support and issue reports and resolution, program engagement, survey information, purchasing history and more. As such, we know the minute that a customer reference moves from green to yellow on our dashboard, and can take immediate action to resolve any potential or emerging issue -- to the benefit of the customer and our company.

    For more information on our cloud service customer references, please visit us here.

    Tuesday Jul 14, 2015

    Best Practices Shine at EMEA User Group Leader Summit

    User groups are the voice of the customer and provide priceless insight that informs our strategies. In addition to Oracle’s ongoing interaction with user groups across the globe, we convene annual summits of user group leaders in each global region designed to capture concentrated feedback and explore new initiatives.

    Last month, 40 user group leaders from 27 countries spanning Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) gathered in Lisbon, Portugal, to share their experiences with Oracle solutions and best practices, and discuss how they’re leveraging the cloud, Internet of Things, big data and engineered systems to advance their enterprises. Participants also collaborated about how to attract the next generation of IT and business professionals to their communities.

    The leaders attending represented over 75,000 individual members ‒ almost half of the 200,000 Oracle user group members across EMEA, a community that continues to grow each year. The summit followed a similar event in Asia Pacific held in May and preceded Oracle World Brazil, where leaders of all Latin American User Groups met with Oracle in June. 

    “The Internet of Things and User Groups – Are We There Yet?,” which featured Antonio Murta, Digital Champion Portugal for the European Commission, was a highlight of the event. Antonio discussed his vision for a time when companies like Inditex (parent of Zara and other brands) will not only tag clothing for store inventory but for beyond the shop door too – to the point where one can interrogate a shirt to ask where it comes from. He also explored the future ramifications of the “digital divide,” which continues to grow as wealth and knowledge are increasingly concentrated.

    Other popular summit programs included:

    • Generation Y and Z are Your New Members ‒ a panel that presented strategies for attracting and engaging younger user group members
    • Harnessing Advocacy Throughout User Groups ‒ a lively discussion about how user groups can use social media to extend their reach and effectiveness
    • User Group Cloud Adoption & Best Practices ‒ a panel presentation that explored the many options of hybrid cloud that many users’ companies have adopted. Panelists highlighted best practices and things to watch for.

    The event also promoted the “Are You a Member Yet?” campaign, an initiative supported by Oracle to help user groups continue to grow their ranks. The program supports innovative user group initiatives to grow membership.

    For example, the Spain Oracle Users Group (SPOUG) has defined a horizontal community to provide best practices on migrating to the cloud and adapting to new technologies. SPOUG’s cloud community blog has become one of the group’s most popular forums, hosting more than 200 visitors and discussions a month. SPOUG also has a digital magazine supported by Oracle, addressing topics such as whether one should upgrade to a new release of on-premise or move to the cloud, and best practices for making the move. 

    The Danish Java Users group (Javagruppen), is pursuing a different approach to membership development. Its “Bring Your Own Teenager” initiative is a fun event where members and their children spend a day using Lego Mindstorms to build robots and learning Mine Craft modeling. The successful and popular program also features Raspberry Pi computers, dials displays and sensors - all using Java. In the future, the Danish group intends to provide free membership to universities. Once students have their diploma and enter the industry, they will receive a one-year free membership – encouraging them to get involved and engaged from the start of their career.

    Future-proofing membership is also on the agenda of the Higher Education Oracle Users Group (HEUG), which represents 1,000 institutions globally. The group's initiative focuses on developing the next generation of HEUG leaders. The group also has a reverse mentoring program designed to inform current leaders about what younger members want from their user group and how the organization can adapt to maintain that relevance.

    Oracle user group communities continue to thrive around the globe. It’s exciting to see the many innovative programs being launched to expand their ranks and deliver continuous value to members. Are you a user group member yet? Visit this
    site the find the right one near you.

    Tuesday Mar 10, 2015

    Avoiding the Customer Advocacy Trap

    We’ve heard “The customer is always right” a million times over. In the complexity of today’s business environment, it’s just not always true − especially in the B2B world.

    Make no mistake: we have to listen carefully and continually to what our customers are saying. The danger arises when, in the name of customer advocacy, we act on customer requests and address only symptoms − instead of digging deeper to understand underlying challenges and how the requests fit with the fundamentals of our own business. Doing whatever the customer asks of us is not a business model; bounds us to reactive, tactical responses;

    limits innovative ideas; and doesn’t truly serve the customer well.

    In short, declaring yourself to be a customer advocate suggests that you will basically do whatever your customers ask. This approach ultimately results in tactics that probably don’t mesh with strategy.

    Instead of customer advocacy, we propose that customer success should be the new mantra. To us, customer success means implementing a closed-loop process where corporate strategy drives customer engagement that thoughtfully supports the customer’s desired business outcomes, which in turn drives customer feedback, which then allows us to adjust our strategy.

    At Oracle, we have spent the last 10 years on transforming our business into a customer success-focused enterprise with an emphasis on:

    • Expanding customer feedback and engagement
    • Developing a deep understanding of our customers’ business
    • Making it easier to do business with us
    • Executing an R&D strategy rooted in customer needs
    • Enhancing employee engagement with our customers
    • Building on customer successes with loyalty

    Listening to our customers is fundamental to our focus on customer success at Oracle. We leverage myriad ways to gain a holistic view of the customer’s experience and perspective. This includes relationship surveys tied to three-year account strategies; continuous and ad hoc customer advisory panels; transactional surveys for point-in-time feedback across lines of business; executive advisory boards and focus groups; input from account teams and executive sponsors; social media harnessing unstructured and topical input; as well as user experience labs where customers help to define next-generation solutions.

    By analyzing this input with a particular eye toward what we need to do to assure customer success, we can identify root causes and trends that enable us to make changes and drive innovation to have the greatest possible impact on our customer base. Our Top Ten Program is designed to address company-wide and cross-line-of-business initiatives that have the largest impact to our customers as well as our business. We derive the programs’ list from feedback collected across multiple sources, as well as emerging trends highlighted by our most strategic customers. Key steps include identifying customer priorities, conducting business impact analysis, implementing corrective action, monitoring feedback channels, and communicating results and actions back to the company and customers.

    By limiting their focus to customer advocacy, enterprises curtail their potential for innovation. I’m reminded of the development of the Wii gaming system. Genyo Takeda spearheaded the team at Nintendo. Instead of simply looking to improve incrementally on gaming consoles by addressing specific customer demands for faster systems with more sophisticated graphics, Takeda and his team re-imagined the concept of a gaming system from the ground up, including how users interact with it. The team looked beyond what gamers said they wanted, digging deeper into how users interacted with games and what was holding back adoption in some segments. This way of looking at the problem put the customer’s experience at the center and examined what the customer really needed rather than what they simply said they wanted.

    An organization driven by a deeper understanding of the customer and long-term customer success, rather than more superficial customer advocacy, demands that enterprises stay (at least) one step ahead of their customers − applying market expertise and insight, analyzing customer input to identify issues and root causes, and thinking creatively to proactively identify needs, in some instances, even before the customer recognizes them.

    This is very much the approach that we take at Oracle. Incorporating customer feedback within the framework of our business strategy is critical in helping us to define new product direction and understand emerging needs – with a goal of getting ahead of the curve. Our Engineered Systems are a case in point. These innovative solutions – which include our Oracle Exadata, Oracle Exalogic and Oracle Exalytics solutions − combine hardware and software that are engineered and optimized to work together out of the box. They deliver extreme performance and install rapidly to accelerate return on investment, reduce IT complexity and cut total cost of ownership. This concept was entirely new and many customers looked askance until we convincingly demonstrated the benefits. Today, demand for these systems is strong, and we have developed a large, committed, engaged and enthusiastic user community.

    A strategy that puts a focus on customer success, allows this type of innovation. A customer success view, with customer feedback placed in the proper context and a deep understanding of what customers really need enables nuanced strategy, which has collaboration and innovation at its core.

    We are successful if and only if our customers are successful.


    Welcome to the Customers in the Know Blog. My name is Jeb Dasteel, I am Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer at Oracle. I am responsible for driving customer-focus into all aspects of the Oracle business. I advocate and work within Oracle to develop and deliver customer programs that increase customer retention, value delivered, satisfaction, and loyalty. This blog was designed to enhance our engagement and interaction with our customers, by providing them exclusive Oracle executive insights, ensuring they have the most up-to-date trends and news directly from Oracle, as well as guest blog submissions by some of our customers.



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