by Thomas Wailgum

Carpe Diem SAP: Hit Oracle While It’s Dazed and Confused

Sep 10, 2010
Enterprise Applications

The Hurd hiring tempest is only the latest in a string of reasons why SAP should attack Oracle now, while the getting is good.

It’s amazing what several months, some high-profile executive departures and arrivals, a couple of acquisitions and a handful of nasty lawsuits have done to alter the enterprise software market.

Just think back to Super Bowl Sunday 2010: SAP was a mess. Its still new-ish CEO, Leo Apotheker, was forced out, followed by a thorough house-cleaning at the top. Employee dissatisfaction was running rampant at the German ERP giant.

Rather than SAP customers talking about apps, everyone was focused on SAP maintenance and support pricing, which is not a good thing. Competitors old and new were chipping away at its number-one spot in the enterprise apps universe. Revenues, profits and operating margins were all down year over year.

If we could have measured SAP’s influence at the start of 2010, the most accurate assessment would have been: waning.

Oracle, on the other hand, was humming right along: Its M&A machine had scooped up Sun (to the embarassment of SAP and delight of Larry Ellison). Unlike SAP, Oracle had become the Teflon Don of software maintenance thanks to its ability to deflect scrutiny by its customers. And Oracle’s revenues, profits and operating margins were all up year over year.

That was then. This is now.

It’s crazy to even contemplate, but it’s almost as if things got too comfortable for Larry & Co., and they needed a shot of tumult. Or did Oracle feel it was being upstaged by all the turmoil at SAP and needed a little corporate angst that would make even Alanis Morissette envious?

How else do you explain the ballooning, occasionally schizophrenic Oracle corporate focus: There’s “The Red Stack” mantra, and “Software. Hardware. Complete.” line, and Larry wanting Oracle to be “The Next IBM.” Never mind that CIOs and their companies aren’t necessarily looking for “one-stop shopping” from a vendor conglomerate anymore. The Sun purchase, of course, has delivered mixed results—Sun’s struggles are now Oracle’s to deal with, sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse.

Then there’s the circus sideshow that former HP CEO Mark Hurd has wrought upon Oracle since his tennis buddy Ellison hired him as Oracle co-president. What was supposed to have been a splashy hire has become a TMZ-like distraction. Tech industry watchers have begun examining “Mark’s Mystique,” and Hurd’s once-omnipotent managerial powers have been brought back down to mortal status.

No doubt, Oracle is going through an identity crisis, as analyst Josh Greenbaum writes in an aptly titled blog post: “Is Oracle An Apps Company that Sells Hardware, or a Hardware Company that Dabbles in Apps?”

Who knows?

What we do know is that King Larry and Oracle are as vulnerable as they are ever going to get.

The “new” SAP—with co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann-Snabe—has laid out its vision and has benefited from consistent messaging to customers, analysts and the media. That was evident at the Sapphire show in May when the SAP focus couldn’t have been more clear: Business applications for “on premise, on demand, and on device.”

Now is the time for SAP to attack and add distance between itself and Oracle in the enterprise applications space: No more way-too-subtle digs at Oracle and other competitors, and no more “no comments” to the media about its rivals’ blunders. It’s time to sweep the leg, if you know what I mean.

McDermott’s recent interview with the (“SAP Looks to Benefit from the Oracle Tempest”) is a start.

I’m not urging SAP to become the playground bully it is not. But it is time to stop being bullied by Oracle. Because that bully has been wounded.

Thomas Wailgum covers Enterprise Software, Data Management and Personal Productivity Apps for Follow Thomas on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Thomas at