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Ellison: No need for wall-to-wall Oracle

Oracle's chief executive says it's all right for companies to use Oracle's business system in conjunction with those from rivals Siebel Systems and SAP, and Oracle will even help them to do it.

SAN DIEGO--Relaxing his purist stance, Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison says it's all right for companies to use Oracle's business system in conjunction with those from rivals Siebel Systems and SAP--and Oracle will even help them to do it.

Ellison's message, which he delivered Wednesday during a keynote speech at Oracle's AppsWorld Conference here, built on the central theme of the conference: software interoperability. It's also a marked change from earlier speeches, in which Ellison routinely admonished businesses against stitching together applications never meant to work together.

"Go ahead and keep Siebel for sales (force automation) if you want to," he said.

Ellison used much of his time on stage to promote Oracle's Customer Data Hub product, a new program designed to pull data from numerous business systems and to furnish up-to-the-minute information about customers. He compared the product to the global consumer credit database used by banks and retailers around the world. That system can store vast amounts of incredibly detailed data, which it pulls from different companies' computers with nearly instantaneous updates, he said. It's also available around the clock.

"The model of the credit data hub is exactly the one we followed for the Customer Data Hub," Ellison said.

The Customer Data Hub is another way to achieve the efficiencies that Oracle has always touted could be achieved only with a single "suite" of application software--preferably Oracle's, he said.

"Our original dream has not changed one bit," Ellison said. "We're still trying to solve the worst problem in the information age--data fragmentation."

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Larry Ellison, CEO, Oracle

Fielding questions from the audience, Ellison admitted that one of the biggest challenges of building such a data hub is ensuring the integrity of data. The so-called data quality problem--an accumulation of outdated, overlapping and inaccurate information--is a big hurdle for many businesses to overcome. Oracle provides a tool called the data librarian, to help companies weed out data detritus, Ellison said.

Asked about the company's ongoing contest to acquire rival PeopleSoft, Ellison had little to offer. "You need to ask the Justice Department," he said. "I'm not in charge."

The Justice Department is reviewing Oracle's multibillion-dollar bid on anticompetitive grounds. Oracle expects a decision from the government in March.

On the topic of the economy and the state of the information technology industry, the chief executive offered a tempered response. "Things seem like they're continuing to get better," he said to a group of reporters and securities analysts following his keynote speech. "We hope to have a very good quarter. It's going very well, but I'm not ready to change our guidance at all."

Ellison said the company has identified a number of "interesting, high-caliber candidates" to replace Jeff Henley as the company's chief financial officer. Oracle announced earlier this month that it had promoted Henley to chairman, replacing Ellison, and that Henley would relinquish the CFO position. The company has not yet named a replacement.

The management changes should benefit Oracle's customers by freeing up Henley to spend more time with them, Ellison said. The company is trying to develop an "increased sensitivity to customers" to help steer management decisions, he added.