Oracle has put a fair amount of effort over the past few years into overhauling its customer-unfriendly reputation. Has it worked? I would say yes. There are many new avenues of communication, and the company clearly wants to build a relationship with its customers. But like any relationship, it takes two to tango—if you want to get the most out of the Oracle experience and products, it would behoove you to put some work into it. After all, if Oracle doesn't get good customer feedback, it's difficult to know what's really important. Here are my five favorite channels of communication. As a customer, I've found that using them has made a big difference in the value I get from Oracle's applications and technology.
1. User groups. I bang this drum a lot, but user groups provide a tremendous amount of value—an instant community of individuals with similar needs. There are special interest groups (SIGs) for nearly every industry vertical, and Oracle pays a lot of attention to the collective voice of the user community. It's easier to gain access to senior Oracle executives as well, because they attend many user group gatherings and participate in many SIG meetings at larger events such as Oracle OpenWorld.
2. Oracle communities. Oracle has a number of targeted user communities such as Oracle Technology Network (OTN) and Oracle Mix, and each provides great value to a specific audience. OTN has millions of members and is primarily for technical folks such as developers and DBAs. You can download software, read code and documentation, and share best practices with millions of customers and Oracle technical staff. It's terrific for troubleshooting, too. If you put in a request for help, you're likely to get a bunch of responses.
Oracle Mix allows customers, user groups, and Oracle employees to communicate online 24/7. Announced to general release in January, it already has more than 5,500 participants and is growing. Oracle Mix uses Web 2.0 technology to create social communities through which you can share ideas and join groups that are parsed by product, industry, technology, or some other interest. I especially like the online voting: Somebody can post an idea for a feature or enhancement, and users can vote on whether they like it. It's a great way for Oracle to see what customers are interested in. Oracle Mix is constantly monitored by Oracle employees—in the months that I've been using it, it's never taken more than 12 hours to get a response, and I usually hear back from someone within an hour or two.
3. User group events and Oracle Technology Day. There are literally hundreds of events that Oracle participates in or sponsors where customers can get local contact with Oracle people across all levels of the organization. For example, at an Oracle Applications Day event, it's not uncommon to hear from a vice president or general manager, and Oracle always has heavy representation at user group conferences such as COLLABORATE. The user group events are particularly useful for customers wanting to exchange ideas with colleagues as well as to converse with Oracle people.
4. Oracle OpenWorld. I list this conference separately simply because it's such a monster of a show. If you are looking for information on Oracle's product road maps and strategies, this is a terrific way to gather information. Oracle always makes a number of significant announcements during the event, and you can discuss product strategy with Oracle people as well.
5. Oracle Insight. This group of management strategy experts provides complimentary consultative advice, both strategic and practical, to qualified customers. The group will come to a customer's site to conduct interviews to understand your business processes and the capabilities you need, review your technology architecture, and provide a recommended go-forward plan. The City of Orlando just engaged the Oracle Insight team as we evaluate the direction of our human capital management (HCM) solution. They conducted interviews with executives, users, and other stakeholders to understand our functional and technical processes and will compare that information against best practices as it applies to the public sector. From the information they compile, they'll do a gap analysis based on a capability maturity model that they've developed. This analysis will show which capabilities are needed for us to accomplish our goals and whether the opportunity requires changes in people, process, or technology. I think it will really help us best leverage our HCM investment and assist in developing a longer-term strategy.
John Matelski is chairman of the International Oracle Users Group Community (IOUC) and a member of the board of directors of Quest International Users Group. He has been chief security officer and deputy CIO for the City of Orlando, Florida, for the past 10 years.