Who said that IT does not create economic value? Oracle proved differently this week at their OpenWorld 2009 conference in San Francisco. At least, so did the 40000 conference attendees that swarmed the city and almost single-handedly reanimated the financial position of the troubled state of California.
For the rest, I am not so sure.
The theme of this year’s conference was ‘powering innovation’, but the messaging turned out to be quite pragmatic and down-to-earth. Apparently – no, obviously – innovation in 2009 is about consolidation and making better use of what you already have. Oracle stipulated that its innovation budget is higher than ever. But the bulk of the money goes to rationalising and integrating the impressive portfolio of solutions that the company already possesses.
Nothing different really from the main challenges that most other organisations currently face. Their existing infrastructures and business application landscapes are simply too complex and absorb too much budget. And this sprawl has to be dealt with first. When done properly, it can save a lot of money. Which of course helps. It also provides the flexible platform to launch future innovations. Which not necessarily means already executing them.
It gives a new perspective on the slogan ‘powering innovation’. The focus might be more on creating a foundation for innovation than actually innovating.
Probably the best illustration of this was in they keynote of guest speaker Michael Dell. Not so long ago he was considered one of these breakthrough, paradigm-shifting visionaries that showed us how to reshape the fundamentals of a business model through the use of advanced technology. And maybe he still is. At least he stunned the audience with his promise that he would bring nothing less than 200 billion dollars of cost savings to the market.
How is he going to do that? Further build on his daring concept of the extended enterprise? Real-time collaboration embedded in a smart value chain? Self-optimising, RFID-enabled logistics? Complex event processing?
Not exactly.

Dell invited his CIO to the podium to illustrate how rationalisation of their own data centres saved them millions and millions of dollars, mainly on power consumption. The keywords of his journey towards the ‘effective enterprise’ are standardisation, simplification and automation. And it focuses on cost saving within the IT department. Like Larry Ellison, he confirmed that this is all to make headroom for innovation and new growth through technology. It’s just that he not even suggested where this new value will be made.
It is an ostensive sign of the times: Michael Dell claiming that virtualisation is really the coolest thing to do in the forthcoming year. And indeed, much of the upcoming work in technology will be done in the narrow, unoptimised trenches of day-to-day IT operations. Cleaning it up may prove to be the most formidable challenge of them all.
It will require all of our innovative powers. It just looks a bit differently.
p.s. Much more to tell about Oracle OpenWorld 2009. Any clouds in San Francisco, except for the monumental rain showers? Should we all be learning about Solaris and SPARC again? Are Fusion Apps still alive? Can you deploy a full CRM solution in 32 countries within 9 months (including summer holidays)? And… did Salesforce.com’s Marc Benioff – of all people – really rock the Yerba Buena theatre? Stay tuned, we will be back soon.<br