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The OpenWorld Top Ten Things to Remember

14th Oct 2009
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Another year, another Oracle OpenWorld. Rather frighteningly it's about 20 years since I went to my first big Oracle user gathering. Since then it's grown into probably the best run, most interesting vendor conference on the circuit. Next year, once they've swallowed up Sun Microsystems, it'll be even bigger - maybe encompassing JavaOne?

As it is, the conference sprawls between all three of the vast wings of the Moscone Conference Centre in San Francisco with a kind of tent-based shanty town constructed across the main road between them to accommodate the 43,000 visitors. It's the final day today, so time for some random jottings on ten things I remember from this year's jamboree, mostly good, some not so good.

(1) Checking into the hotel in San Francisco after traveling for 13 hours and finding that there's a problem with the booking. It's sorted out quickly and the efficiently by the PR team so there's not real problem in the end, but the grim inevitability of it all is so tedious. I long ago realised that when dealing with US hotel customer service, the basic rule of thumb is that it's far more complicated to do things simply. And when they make a mistake, it will be very cleverly transferred onto you. "This would have been easier if it could have been done before you arrived," noted Travis, the receptionist as he carried out the instructions that the hotel had been sent in the first place. Indeed it would Travis, indeed it would...

(2) The Moscone Centre and its creeping sick building syndrome. When I lived in San Francisco, the Moscone was notorious for its sickness levels among the staff. It's easy to see why. It's a vast and superbly equipped facility, the likes of which we just don't have in the UK, but its interior architecture was clearly heavily influenced by the neo-brutalist approach to design. It's just one of the most unfriendly buildings you can imagine yourself being in for four days. Underground. With no natural light. The security staff can also be a pain. I was told off by one for having my name badge attached to my belt rather than round my neck. "That is not an authorised position for your identification" she bellowed. I did not respond particularly well to this, although I'm clearly getting better at dealing with these irritants as it was Day 3 this year before I called one of them a vacuous jobsworth! Ah well...

(3) The pleasant realisation that there was wi-fi on tap throughout the conference. It sounds like a such a minor thing, but I've been to so many conferences this year where no thought has been given to internet connectivity or where the event organisers have set out to make a killing by charging exorbitant fees for access to a local area wi-fi network. This is of course particularly embarrassing at technology conferences where they're busy telling us how great it is to do business on the internet...

(4) Scott McNealy's keynote. I've always blown a bit hot and cold over Scott. While admiring the way he shaped and drove Sun Microsystems, I did get vexed a few years ago when it became seemingly impossible for him to stand on a public stage without launching into some of the most over-the-top attacks on Microsoft. "It's a battle to save the planet!" he declared once I remember. "It's a battle to keep him on message and talking about Sun," one senior Sun marketing person told me. But on Sunday evening, as he prepared to step back and hand Sun over into Oracle's hands, he was undoubtedly amusing and gracious and eloquent and really rather touching. (When Larry Ellison came on stage and McNealy dubbed him "my hero", a wicked thought occurred to me that it was akin to someone giving a best man's speech at the wedding of his best friend who's just nicked his fiance.) But in the end, McNealy is a good man who has done many good things in and for the computer industry and I sincerely hope that we see more of him in other roles.

(5) Who's Michael Dell's best friend? The CEO of Dell Computer was set to talk at Salesforce.com's fringe meeting at OpenWorld where he would talk to Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff about all the good things that Dell and the Cloud CRM company are doing together. Benioff and Dell are extremely good friends as are Dell and Larry Ellison. In fact Larry made an unexpected appearance on stage during Dell's Oracle OpenWorld keynote to remind us of this and to run through a very long list of all the things that have made Dell and Oracle such very, very, very best friends. Could it be that Larry wanted to make a point before Dell ran off to play with those krazy 'too kool for skool' kids over at Salesforce.com?

(6) Ann Livermore's keynote. This one I remember for the wrong reasons. The Hewlett Packard executive was down to talk about Technology Mega Trends. What she gave us was a shopping list of things you can buy from HP. In fact, she ran out of things to sell us before the end of her allotted keynote slot so it ended early. Now Ann is not alone in this. I completely fail to understand why industry executives, when presented with a perfect opportunity to carve themselves an image as a thought leader and agenda setter in front of an interested target audience, revert to the role of corporate sales pimp. The keynotes people remember are the ones that combine vision and direction with a more subtle sales message. Larry Ellison does it effortlessly. Apple's Steve Jobs does it in spades. Marc Benioff does it almost evangelically at Salesforce.com, while Lars Dalgaard over at SuccessFactors makes a damn good stab at the same. We need more of that! (One of my esteemed colleagues did point out that my wish for IT execs to be thought leaders did always presume that they had a thought to lead with in the first place, but we'll leave such cynicism to one side...)

(7) Larry and the Terminator. Wednesday's keynote with Larry Ellison involved a chat with Arnold Schwarzenegger about technology innovation. Of course Arnie was there in his guise as Governor of California, but with John Connor - aka Christian Bale - staying over the road at the Four Seasons hotel, I was quietly hoping for Terminator 5 to unfold before our eyes. I was of course sadly disappointed. Shame...

(8) The rain! Day 3 saw a massive downpour as the skies darkened and thunder rumbled overhead. The weather people on the TV channels came up with all sorts of scientific explanations, but the truth was plain to see. That same day Marc Benioff set out his stall at the Oracle OpenWorld conference. Salesforce.com had entered Oracle's holy of holys and the gods of software were enraged. Still it gave Marc the chance to crack a gag about wanting lots of clouds at OpenWorld, just not this sort. Unfortunately most of us were too damp to appreciate the pun.

(9) The show party. Larry knows how to throw a party. Roger Daltry and Aerosmith are pretty darn classy entertainment. Makes the after dinner speakers at most industry events look a little shabby...But Larry can pull in the big names as his chat with Arnie proves. Anyone want to hazard a guess that after this summer's yachting break with Tony Blair, a certain former Prime Minister might be on the guest list for next year...?

(10) Number 10 is not a remembrance, more an exhortation. It's all over for this year, but there's always next. If you're an Oracle customer and you've never made the trip to OpenWorld, it's time to put that right. This is now one of the 'must do' events of the IT calendar. It's in my diary for next year...

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