Questions & answers: Oracle Australia MD Ian White


interview Long-serving Oracle Australia managing director Ian White (check out his biography here) is one of the most senior figures in Australia’s technology industry, leading the local operations of a company whose technology has been involved at some level in virtually every major Australian IT Project. In this interview, we asked White a series of questions about the company’s local operations, the industry, and his time with the company.

You’ve been leading Oracle Australia and New Zealand for quite a few years now — six and a half by my count. What do you consider have been the most significant events or trends for Oracle locally in that period?

It will be seven years in June. During my tenure here at Oracle Australia, we have announced and delivered Oracle Fusion Applications, perhaps the most ambitious enterprise applications project ever undertaken.

When I took the helm as regional managing director for ANZ, we had just announced our plans to put the very best features from Oracle E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft and JD Edwards into the next generation of applications. Oracle Fusion Applications are built using industry standards-based Java middleware, and integrated with business intelligence, not just process automation. It has been a huge engineering project for us that had to be coded from the ground-up, but I’m extremely proud of what we have achieved with Oracle Fusion Applications – they are truly next-generation – the user experience is arguably modern, consistent, and productive, with Web 2.0, social networking, and collaboration built in.

The other significant milestone was the acquisition of Sun Microsystems, which marked a move from software to a parallel everywhere architecture where hardware and software are engineered to work together. Our engineered systems are optimised to enable enterprise performance levels that are arguably unmatched in the industry. This strategy is bearing fruit and we announced a number of exciting new appliances at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco in 2011 including Oracle Big Data Appliance, SPARC SuperCluster T4-4 and Sun ZFS Storage Appliance, Oracle Exalytics In-Memory Machine to name just a few.

What have been the changes in the broader Australian enterprise IT sector that have taken place over that period which you consider the most significant?

The rise of enterprise mobility is empowering organisations to dramatically improve business processes and workforce collaboration. Facilitating remote access to ERP applications is a growing trend and is becoming an immediate priority for organisations. In particular, tablets – such as the iPad – will support enterprises’ mobility initiatives, offering an effective option for field technicians and traveling workers.

At the same time, the volume of data itself has just exploded as unstructured data from social channels, mobile devices and the Internet of Things contribute to the exponential growth of information. IDC estimated the amount of information created and replicated would surpass almost 2 trillion gigabytes in 2011, growing by almost nine times in five years. As a result, we’re seeing unprecedented levels of complexity for IT executives, particularly as they realise that these massive data sets cannot be processed, managed and analysed using traditional systems and methods.

While data management requirements will only increase, organisations will continue to focus on data centre consolidation and building more efficiencies into their data centres, particularly with the introduction of the carbon tax in Australia.

The focus on the cloud has shifted from organisations trying to understand what it is and how it can work for them to deciding which of their workloads can be put into the cloud and what cloud computing model is best for them – private, public or hybrid. Gartner predicts that hybrid – a mix of private and public cloud infrastructures – will become the most popular model. Cloud computing is going to continue to change the way companies do business – whether it’s the provision of services internally to their employees or how they interact and engage with their customers.

What organisations or projects have you most enjoyed working with/on during that period, and why?

All our customers are important to us, but one customer that has the potential to transform many aspects of the average Australian’s daily life is the National Broadband Initiative undertaken by Oracle’s customer, NBN Co. We are proud to make a contribution to the largest infrastructure project in Australian history, which will foster innovation, economic growth and regional leadership. In addition to supporting high speed Internet powered services such as health, e-education, e-business, digital media, e-government, and smart meters, we expect the NBN to further encourage the adoption of cloud computing in general.

The NBN Co deal is also particularly exciting because it’s so rare to work on a greenfields project of that scale and importance, where the entire IT infrastructure, architecture and application portfolio has been designed and built from scratch. Selecting ‘off-the-shelf’ applications with minimum customisations and ‘best of suite’ systems to minimise integration, NBN has been able to quickly deploy a robust IT infrastructure with a focus on the total cost of ownership. This is a prime example of the value and ease of deployment of Oracle’s systems which are engineered to work together.

Which product areas within Oracle’s portfolio is the Australian organisation most focused on right now?

As Big Data and the need to analyse that data is becoming a reality for many data intense organisations, we’re seeing a lot of interest in our Exastack – comprised of Exadata, Exalogic and the latest addition, Exalytics.

In the data centre, advanced grid and virtualisation technologies are taking centre stage, as IT departments pay closer attention to energy efficiencies in carbon conscious economies around the world, and move to a hybrid cloud model. A number of new product releases take advantage of new hardware innovations such as the ground breaking Sun SPARC T4 server, and we’re seeing strong uptake for engineered systems such as Oracle Big Data Appliance, Sun ZFS Storage Appliance and the Oracle Database Appliance, the latter being exclusively marketed through the channel.

We’re also experiencing strong demand for our applications portfolio, with a number of Australian organisations among the early adopters of Oracle Fusion Applications, and our locally hosted CRM On Demand solution is arguably meeting the needs of public sector, financial institutions and other customers who wish to keep data on Australian shores.

With the carbon tax coming into effect later this year, we also anticipate elevated interest in our green house gas accounting software. Oracle Environmental Accounting and Reporting and Oracle’s JD Edwards EnterpriseOne Environmental Accounting and Reporting, based on the acquired assets of Australian company Ndevr, improve the accuracy of sustainability reports from a 20% error margin to 1-2% and enabled mining and construction project managers to generate energy consumption graphs and reports to help make informed decisions on how to reduce carbon emissions.

What product lines are seeing the most uptake at the moment?

See above

Oracle has recently had some early wins from its CRM on Demand product, which was recently launched through an Australia-hosted product. Given that Oracle has historically preferred an on-premise deployment model, can you go through some of the thinking which led to the CRM on Demand launch in Australia (in partnership with Harbour MSP)?

Oracle’s enterprise applications have been available for more than 12 years as SaaS systems. But while the market has been abuzz with news about the potential of the cloud, it is really more an evolution of sorts for most businesses. Early software-as-a-service (SaaS) systems were designed to service a single function or line of business, with little thought to how they would support an organisation’s broader business objectives. Today, the proprietary legacy architectures, immature integration technologies, and limited system footprints of niche SaaS vendors have generated multiple cloud silos that limit the ability of organisations to fully reap the benefits of cloud computing.

It can be argued that standalone SaaS systems found in the market ironically limit businesses rather than liberate them. They establish data silos, fragment business processes, and create integration complexities that introduce new long-term costs and risks and limit worker productivity. These problems can undermine any efficiencies gained through the cloud’s virtualised and shareable infrastructure.

At Oracle, our cloud strategy has always been to allow businesses to mix and match applications and deployment models based on unique business needs. As Oracle’s cloud systems are based on open standards, not a proprietary language, applications and data can easily move back and forth among public, virtual private and private clouds.

Oracle CRM On Demand has been available for more than nine years, and the decision to host Oracle CRM On Demand in a local data centre stems from the demand we’re seeing from our customers for onshore cloud systems. Local regulations around data sovereignty previously hindered some public and financial sector customers from moving ahead with cloud computing. With Oracle CRM On Demand available through the Oracle Data Centre hosted by Harbour MSP, customers have the ability to meet data sovereignty and regulation requirements which apply to them.

How would you characterise the maturity of the local cloud computing market?

Australia leads other Asian Pacific countries in the adoption of cloud computing. According to a recent report from Frost and Sullivan titled State of Cloud Computing in Australia: 2011, 43% of enterprises are now using cloud computing in some form and 41% of IT decision makers agreed that cloud computing will continue to be a top priority.

At the same time, many businesses realise that their data centres still have dedicated silos, where each application runs on its own middleware, database, servers and storage, and hence are moving from these silos to a grid or virtual environment with shared services, dynamic provisioning and standardised configurations or appliances.

The majority of the companies I talk to are engaged in some form of consolidation, though they may be doing this in only a portion of their data centre. Many organisations will further evolve to a self-service private cloud that offers the same flexibility and incremental cost advantages to end users as public clouds, but with less perceived risk and greater assurances of security and accountability. This idea is gaining increasing acceptance among large organisations.

Virtualisation is a key enabler of cloud computing, but the right management tools are also pivotal. Managing all virtual machines and clusters is quite complex, especially with self-service, multitenancy, metering for billing/chargeback and other requirements of cloud computing. To reap the full benefits of cloud computing, organisations need to choose the right management system.

Security is also critical to ensuring business continuity and managing risks for increased efficiency and strategic growth. In fact, security, privacy and regulatory compliance around the adoption of cloud computing technology is a serious concern among organisations today. It is imperative that enterprises deploy security solutions that help to mitigate threats across databases and applications to eliminate the risk of loss of data and ultimately, financial loss.

Oracle has also had some strong wins in the core banking sector (NAB and Suncorp). What is your impression of the level of investment which the banks and other financial services organisations are putting into technology revamps at the moment, and how strong do you believe that investment will be in the medium term (five years and more)?

The banking & finance sector is Australia’s fourth largest industry, and while IT spending might be more subdued in months to come due to the debt crisis in Europe, we still expect the sector to lead in technology investment, especially where it makes a direct impact on the bottom line.

Increased market competition means banks are becoming more customer-centric, to increase customer loyalty and reduce churn. While a better integration of CRM systems with backend data sources is critical to achieving this, technology spend will also further empower frontline channels such as the contact centre and social media. Consumer behaviour has been changing, and these days many Australians prefer to interact with their bank through online and mobile channels. For example, a recent report claimed that St George Bank customers using mobile devices for financial transactions already equal the activity level of 112 physical branches.

Secondly, compliance with new global financial regulation and liquidity requirements will drive investment in real-time analytics and Big Data technologies in the sector. Due to the increased focus on stress testing under Basel III, financial institutions will develop, if they haven’t already done so, a transparent and auditable stress testing process that provides them with the ability to rapidly respond on an on-demand basis to regulatory requirements and market events.

Last but not least, if the Federal Government moves ahead with the introduction of a National Emission Trading Scheme in 2013, as welcomed by the Australian Bankers’ Association, the creation of a carbon market will also be a driver of technology spend.

Oracle’s made some high-profile acquisitions over the past few years (Sun Microsystems, BEA, Hyperion, RightNow). Are you satisfied with how those acquisitions have played out in Australia, in terms of areas such as integrating the product offerings Oracle is taking to the market, the employee bases, customer reaction and so on?

Oracle has a proven track record in integrating acquired entities. Through our acquisition activities, Oracle seeks to strengthen its product offerings, accelerate innovation, meet customer demand more rapidly, and expand partner opportunities. An integral part of Oracle’s mergers and acquisitions philosophy is our consistent commitment to customer service and product support while achieving our financial return objectives and creating value for our shareholders.

What do you see as your priorities over the next calendar year?

We started into the new calendar year from a position of strength, with a truly innovative set of products and systems. I think there are still some misconceptions about Oracle in the market that we’re tackling, such as that we’re an advocate of on-premise applications over cloud computing when in fact we’ve been offering SaaS systems for more than a decade. We have a strong cloud proposition ranging from the infrastructure and platform levels all the way to enterprise and industry applications, which none of our competitors can match in depth and breadth, all based on open standards.

Our partners will continue playing a crucial role in our global and local growth strategy. In Asia Pacific, 80% of our business is driving through and with the channel. With products such as the Oracle Database Appliance we have given our partners a competitive edge in the hotly contested hardware and services market.

Do you have questions which you’d like to see Oracle Australia (or any other vendor) answer? Post them in the comments below and we’ll forward them to the company for a response.

Image credit: Oracle