Top picks from Oracle OpenWorld 2013: Leadership and customer focus

When I first signed up for Oracle’s massive OpenWorld, I had my doubts as to its value for the business and IT executive. As a first-time attendee, I assumed it would be too tactically and technically focused.  I stand pleasantly corrected. Here’s what I found to be valuable:

The Leaders Circle

My top pick: The Leaders Circle.  This is a one day invitation only event at OpenWorld for CIOs and senior IT executives.  400 people in attendance may not sound exclusive, but packed with high profile industry speakers and Oracle executives, it was.

Hosted by Jeb Dasteel, SVP and Chief Customer Officer of Oracle, it featured executives from large companies talking about innovation.  This included the CTO of Visa, the CIO of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the CIO of Schneider National. Refreshingly, they let the stories speak for themselves instead of pushing Oracle products. I found the session overall an oasis of ideas and the opportunity to reflect on how they may apply to my situation.

Larry Ellison was on our schedule, but we, like everyone else, took second place to the America’s Cup first place. 

Safra Catz, Co-President and CFO, did show up.  Her presentation emphasized how Oracle was simplifying their own business via focusing on the customer, including themselves as an Oracle user.  It was a bit formal, especially in light of the presentation she gave at the Oracle Women Leaders event the next day.  More on that shortly. 

All in all, the day was an educational respite of strategic insights. A welcome retreat with my peers from my day-to-day responsibilities.

Verdict: Time well spent.

Oracle Women’s Leadership (OWL) Event

Second pick:  the Oracle Women’s Leadership event. Moderated smartly by Sydnie Kohara, former CBS and CNBC anchor, OWL was an energetic collection of business women at the top of their game. 

The session was kicked off by Pamela Ryckman, the author of “Stiletto Network: Inside the Women’s Power Circles That Are Changing the Face of Business,” an intriguing treatise on women shaping their own “Old Girl’s Club.”   I shared a drink with her afterwards and learned that the book is under consideration as a television show. 

That is a show I’ll tune in to.

After her talk, she joined a distinguished panel of savvy women that discussed key learnings in their careers.

Safra Catz, as mentioned above, spoke in a very warm and relaxed manner during her “Fireside Chat.”  She discussed her love of talking with analysts (not), and how she’s had to tell a few, “step away from your spreadsheet or you’ll hurt yourself.”

She talked about trying to fit in with the guys early in her career, and evolving into her own leadership style.  She would quietly prove herself and demonstrate her value without being brash. 

And, speaking of brash, she spoke warmly of her relationship with Larry Ellison.  Mutually respectful and playfully combative, they often take opposite sides of issues for the fun of it.  She said she relished the “delicious terror” of their discussions. 

Verdict: Brava!

Customer Experience Topics

Third on my list:  a variety of sessions on the customer experience.  While I did spend time at more technical sessions, I also recognized via my agenda the trend of increasing technology dollars flowing to marketing.  Oracle capitalized on this shift by featuring CS throughout the conference.

Key messages from my customer experience sessions were:

  • The CMO is moving from marketing and sales to experience engineering, and from episodic campaigns to managing the entire customer experience with the company.
  • Customer experience is the only sustainable advantage that is left.   
  • B2B is the new B2C. Customer expectations are rising. Benchmarking against your industry isn’t enough. Your customer experience competitor is everyone.
  • Merge the back office and the front office into the office of the customer. The entire company should rally around the customer.
  • Think strategically and holistically. People, process and data are silo’d and the biggest impediment to improving the customer experience.
  • Engage in rapid, user involved experimentation.  Ensure you truly understand the problem before you commit to solving it.
  • Understand customer behaviors.  What people tell you they will do will be different than what they actually do.

While a customer focus is common sense, it isn’t always common practice.Listening to how technology impacts this was a reminder of what is important and how the landscape is changing.

Verdict: Time well spent.

Final Thoughts and Things I Learned

I know what you are thinking. My top picks were the exclusive events, but the general sessions were worth time, too.  Overall, though exhausting, it was worth interrupting my schedule and insisting I educate myself.  Face it, we are knowledge workers but we rarely have time to think.

My advice is to put this event on your calendar.  Focus your agenda strategically, and wear walking shoes!

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