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Larry Ellison's right-hand man

Behind the scenes, Oracle Chief Marketing Officer Mark Jarvis plays a key role in setting the company's software strategy. Not bad for a former lightbulb maker.

    Larry Ellison captures the headlines, but behind the scenes, Mark Jarvis plays as vital a role as his boss in helping chart the future of Oracle.

    Jarvis, Oracle's 38-year-old chief marketing officer, caught the attention of Oracle's chief executive in 1994, when Jarvis--then a software developer--pitched the idea of tying the company's database management software to the Internet. More specifically, Jarvis' idea was to connect the database to Web servers, software that handles Web page requests that come in from Web surfers. It was a natural fit since the database can store vast amounts of data, from corporate to Web site information.

    "I showed it to the head of database development, who said, 'This is cool. You need to show it to Larry.' Larry and I had never met before. My first slide talked about the Internet and he clearly knew it and said, 'Next slide,'" Jarvis recalled. "When I showed my next slide connecting Web servers to the database, I saw Larry go from impatient and uninterested to animated. We've gone on well ever since. And from that point on, Larry looked at me as a marketing guy."

    Jarvis, a 12-year Oracle veteran who got his start at lightbulb maker Philips, now heads up all of Oracle's marketing, where he courts software developers to use Oracle's business software through advertising and a slew of Web site offerings that give customers access to software, news and tutorials.

    He also runs the company's events, including this week's Oracle OpenWorld conference in San Francisco, where the company is announcing new updates to its three main products: the 9i database; its application-server software, technology that runs e-business and Web site transactions; and its 11i eBusiness suite, Web-based software for managing a company's marketing efforts, sales force, manufacturing, financials and Internet business activities.

    In an interview with CNET News.com, Jarvis talked about Oracle's goals with this year's OpenWorld conference, the company's software strategy, and its rivalries with Microsoft, IBM and SAP.

    Q: What's the overall message you want to give your customers at the Oracle OpenWorld conference?
    Microsoft is so focused on the Xbox. We'll let them stick with that. A: We are coming up with a whole bunch of new products, from development tools to the application server. They are all rapidly becoming the de facto parts of the platform. So product-wise we feel very good. Obviously, the challenges are the economy and post-Sept. 11. We need to reassure our customers that we are still innovating. The adoption of 9i is greater than any other database (we've had) in terms of upgrades.

    How important is the application-server software market to Oracle's future? Your company is far behind BEA Systems and IBM in market share.
    The application server is absolutely vital. We virtually let BEA become a billion-dollar company. It's our goal to take customers back. Most of BEA's (application server) customers are really actually Oracle database customers.

    Microsoft and Sun Microsystems are in the midst of a marketing battle over Web services. What's your take on the vision of having software available as a service over the Web across multiple devices, from PCs to cell phones? What are Oracle's plans?
    We have to admit we've been sitting here and listening to what everyone says. We're looking for real-world examples. There aren't many out there. We think we've come up with strong Web services that link our eBusiness Suite. We have a lot of applications and a far better grasp of what Web services truly are. There's some interesting models.

    Imagine you are an antique store and you sell goods from a Web site. The way you sell is through eBay. Whenever you sell, it'd be great to have a Web service that populates the general ledger. Right now it's manually entered by hand. An interesting example of Web services is your general ledger shows the transaction took place and (automatically) updates the bank balance.

    Is the new battle between Microsoft and the Java supporters such as Oracle, IBM and Sun over Web services?
    Microsoft is so focused on the Xbox (game console). We'll let them stick with that. Java 2 Enterprise Edition (the Java standard for writing business software) is definitely the alternative to Microsoft's .Net. Even SAP has chosen J2EE. From talking to our customers, they're asking for J2EE and not asking for .Net.

    It certainly looks like Oracle.com and the business software hosted there is a good first step toward Web services. Do you plan to dive further and offer Web services to customers?
    Oracle.com evolves every day. What you see at Oracle.com is going to be completely different in a year's time. The end game that Oracle.com is hasn't been discussed or marketed. I don't want to give it away, but put it this way: A lot of people have seen Oracle.com as Oracle moving toward software as a service. They are completely wrong. The Oracle.com strategy is actually to have a new way of servicing your software. It's not software as a service. It's servicing your software.

    A lot of people have seen Oracle.com as Oracle moving toward software as a service. They are completely wrong. What do I mean by that? How about the next version of our database, for example. Hypothetically, how about whenever a database administrator gets a certain error, they have to call up Oracle, but we already know they have the error. We have it analyzed on their system. We call the database administrator rather than them calling us.

    The Internet helps us service our customers by proactively monitoring and managing their system. Another example is right now we have 1,000 customers running live on the eBusiness Suite, and another 4,000 customers in mid-implementation. Wouldn't it be nice if we used Oracle.com to do the maintenance and upgrading? The quality of support and quality of products are better, and customers are happier.

    How much revenue are you deriving from Oracle.com, and how important is it to the company's future?
    It's an incredible success. We have learned from it. We've evolved this thing every day. More customers are asking for it than we are prepared for. We're not biting off more customers than we can chew. We're going to scale it up and out. Larry predicted that within five years, more than 50 percent of our customers will use Oracle.com. We'll manage the computer systems for them.

    Any new markets Oracle plans to tackle?
    You are starting to see Oracle "verticalized," like the database is getting into the life sciences. We've never marketed to biotech before, and features (for that market) are going in now.

    Who does Oracle consider its main competition now?
    IBM first and SAP second. We think Microsoft is doing great in the games business, and we're not in that business. We are, however, far more aggressive with IBM. In some respects, they have a 180-degree difference in philosophy. We believe in integrated software that installs and works. They believe in best-of-breed software that IBM consultants will install and implement for you at a high cost. It's a detriment to your wallet and the coffee and doughnuts in your kitchen. And SAP (is our No. 2 competitor) simply because SAP and Oracle are applications companies.

    What are Oracle's goals in the coming year?
    The economy is impossible to predict. But we see plenty of demand for our technology. From a product standpoint we feel great. More importantly, we can weather this economy in great shape. We're looking for that economic upturn.