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Oracle aims to please users

The software vendor lays out its plans to become a more customer responsive and less technology-focused firm.

SAN FRANCISCO--Oracle is turning over a new leaf, or at least trying to persuade its customers and potential customers that it has.

The Redwood Shores, California-based vendor laid out today at its Oracle Open World conference here its plans for the next few years--to become a more customer responsive and less technology-focused company as it tries to hold its ground in the increasingly competitive application, database, and tools businesses.

The firm has suffered sagging sales the past year in its applications division and flat sales in its database division. As a result, Oracle has reorganized its top management, revamped its sales unit, and launched plans such as Oracle 2000, the program announced today, to turn those numbers around. Its latest quarterly returns show some progress.

Oracle 2000 calls for Oracle to port all its products to an Internet platform, design all its products around specific industries, make all its customers so happy they will all be references for future customers, and expand its partner program threefold.

"Those become a set of values so that when we communicate to each other whether employee to employee or to customers or here at this conference that you understand what our values are," Ray Lane, Oracle's chief operating officer, said during his keynote speech this morning to about 18,000 conference attendees.

But those values will continue to be based around Oracle's push of the Internet as the ultimate platform. The event was a showcase for Oracle's new Oracle 8i database, an Internet-based database system, and for Oracle's new application package Release 11, which will only be available as an Internet deployed system.

"I see 8i being to the Internet what Windows was to the PC," Lane said. "We want to bring industrial strength to the Internet."

Oracle executives have been chanting their Internet mantra for nearly three years. Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison has made it the cornerstone of nearly every speech since then and the foundation for his firm's technology development efforts.

While Oracle in the past has been accused of being too technology focused and not focused enough on customer needs, Lane said that is now changing.

"We were what I consider a push technology company," Lane said. "We invent technology and push it out to customers. In the future, we have to live much more as a pull company and put ourselves in [the customer's] place" and figure out what the customer needs.

That plan is part of Oracle's aim to make all of its customers happy by the end of 1999 so that they will all be willing to talk to future customers about their success with Oracle.

Part of that initiative means putting a vertical spin on all of Oracle's products. Applications are already oriented around specific industry needs but Lane said Oracle also plans to put features and functions in its database and tools that are meant to support specific industries.

Oracle is also expanding its partnership program to give users more options for complimentary software systems. The plan is to expand the program by nearly 300 percent while simplifying the program to consist of only a handful of tiers. Lane said the idea is to create a vast network that will give customers a wide variety of software systems, be it an Oracle product or some other vendor's software that will meet their needs.

Newly announced enhancements to the Oracle Technical Network are part of that program. For the developer network, Oracle is pouring in $100 million and offering developers free developer licenses, free support, free technical information, and a training program if they build products to Oracle's Internet platform.

Oracle is also rolling out at the conference a beta version of its Jdeveloper 2.0, a Java programming language development tool. It is for building Java-based database applications. It is scheduled for general shipment in the spring.