Oracle UK User Group Conference 2007.

Written By:
Content Copyright © 2007 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

We’re in favour of User Groups generally; done well, we think that they help to level the playing field between end-users and vendors because a single organisation can speak with the voice of thousands and even influence a vendor with overwhelming market-share.

Of course, User Groups can go wrong too: at one end of the spectrum, they can be a home for malcontents sniping at the vendor (and, probably, with an egotist leadership and insufficient members to influence anything); at the other end, they can be a wholly owned subsidiary of Vendor Marketing. The trick, we suspect, is to be somewhere in the middle, respected by (not despised by) both sides. A user group needs to represent the opinions of the mass of the user community well enough for users to want to support it at the same time as it provides real feedback to the vendor on the issues it is, or will be, facing in the marketplace.

The Oracle UK User Group (UKOUG; currently headed by Ronan Miles, Chairman, and Debra Lilley, Deputy Chair) seems to have played it right, following a crucial early decision to sell itself to Oracle on the basis of the business value a truly independent UG could provide. The UKOUG sees itself as a business, albeit a not-for-profit business, and tends to justify its decisions with business-level ROI arguments. It is quite a reasonably sized business in its own right, representing a $10 million economy.

It certainly runs an excellent conference—this year, citing just one example for illustration, you could hear Tony Webb of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute give an even handed comparison of Oracle, MySQL and PostreSQL. Oversimplifying an interesting session shamelessly, if you want very big and reliable choose Oracle; if you want cheap and cheerful, but effective (e.g. for mostly-read web applications) choose MySQL; but if you want the power of Oracle but can’t afford it, choose PostgreSQL; in the middle (as usual) you have to make a reasoned choice.

We were at the UKOUG Conference 2007 in Birmingham to hear Ronan Miles (UKOUG chairman), Debra Lilley (UKOUG Deputy Chair) and Gary Pugh (VP Marketing, Oracle UK, Ireland and Israel) present the results of the annual UKOUG Survey for 2007.

One key message, in the context of the above discussion, is that satisfaction with the applications acquired by Oracle (notably PeopleSoft and Siebel) is now increasing—probably as a result of identifying this as an issue last year’s survey. So Oracle does, apparently, make use of the information the UKOUG collects and acts on it, which is good news for Oracle’s customers and should also strengthen support for the UKOUG amongst its members (and being seen as being responsive probably won’t do Oracle any harm either).

We largely have to rely on UKOUG interpretation of the survey (respondents are promised a degree of privacy; and, in particular, the often-revealing free-form comments were for UKOUG use only, unless respondents specifically allowed release to Oracle). However, we do believe that the UKOUG rigorously purged poor quality or unattributable responses, because we met the people who did the work!

One issue facing Oracle seems to be support—although only about 20% expressed active unhappiness with aspects of Oracle support, this is increasing. Concerns expressed included overseas support staff, poor response times, lack of product knowledge, lack of consistency across support staff and first line support not resolving problems but passing them on.

On the other hand, overall satisfaction with Oracle is increasing slightly (at 66%; but few respondents think it is any worse than its competition) and 81% of Oracle Server users are happy or very happy with it (which means that 19% aren’t, and this is increasing slightly; although some of these will be merely neutral). However, the take up of Oracle releases is much as expected: respondents in 2007 are most likely to be using 10g Enterprise Edition (45%), although 9i is still popular (38% respondents) and 3% are still on Oracle 8i or earlier, while just 2% have taken up 11g (newly released at the time of the survey).

Nearly two-thirds (63%) are happy with the overall function and features of the development tools. This isn’t much change from 2006, although some products are thought to have functional flaws and some people have issues with their support/support documentation.

On average, 63% of Oracle E-Business Suite users are happy or very happy with it (a slight increase on 2006) and no-one using them said they were very unhappy with the HCM, Financials and CRM modules. And, significantly, satisfaction with the big acquisitions (PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, Siebel) appears to be increasing, although not many JD Edwards customers responded.

Awareness of Oracle’s Fusion strategy hasn’t changed much (54% of respondents say they’re aware of Oracle’s plans) although Fusion may not be particularly relevant to the (Miles estimates) about 30% of respondents running Oracle or home-grown systems on .NET. Only about a third of respondents say they’re considering an upgrade to Fusion but, according to Miles, this is a good thing as he doubts if Oracle support could cope with everyone moving to Fusion tomorrow.

Finally, perhaps a note of warning is in order—there are many Oracle user groups and it is possible to get them confused. We know the UKOUG, which supports both Oracle technology and applications. Originally, it centred very much on just the technology and then made a strategic decision to expand its scope (in 2007, 20% of respondents didn’t use Oracle technology at all, up from 12% in 2006 and 15% in 2005). The UKOUG is both sophisticated and mature, and does oversee some international initiatives, but there are many other Oracle User Groups in the USA and worldwide, some with more limited scope; and the UKOUG tries not to step on their toes, as a matter of policy.

We have no particular opinions on the quality (or otherwise) of these other groups at this time but mention them because of the possibility of confusion. MySQL, for example, is promoting a Sept 2007 survey (Open Source in the Enterprise: New Software Disrupts the Technology Stack by Joe McKendrick) which it sponsored; and which uses survey data obtained from a list of Oracle users supplied by the US Independent Oracle User Group. One of this report’s conclusions, by the way, is that “Open source is prevalent at many levels of the enterprise, and most organizations intend to increase their use of open source over the coming year. However, adoption does not run deep. In most cases, fewer than 10 percent of enterprise application portfolios are supported or interact with open-source systems”; although it also finds that “a third of organizations use open source databases, mainly for dedicated systems, testing environments, or home-grown applications”.

Not surprising results, perhaps; but it is useful to get confirmation (even if sponsored by an open source database vendor) of our own opinions. Nevertheless, although the IOUG is a respectable Oracle user group (it claims to serve 20,000 plus Oracle professionals and liaises with the UKOUG), it should be distinguished from the UKOUG. They are different organisations.