Oracle's top man outside of the US doesn't pull his punches when it comes to Europe, which he thinks is still too far behind the US.
"Our chief executives are really part of the problem," says Pier Carlo Falotti, Oracle's executive vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "In Europe, people will produce objections to everything, and not opportunities. The chief executives listen to them as they always have. But those objections are now a pain in the neck.
"In Europe we need to jump into things more quickly. We always want to test things beforehand and be sure that things are going to work out. In the US, people will try things far more quickly and if they fail, they say it was experience and move on to the next thing."
What a difference 12 months have made in Europe. "This new economy is changing everything. Europe is in the process of transformation - it's proving too slow for many, but Europeans are moving and accelerating. Companies are in the process of reinventing the way they work, looking at the future and what the competition will look like. They have no choice but to reinvent themselves."
Reinvention is not the only task facing European companies. Falotti may be quick to praise, but he is equally swift to apply criticism.
It still takes far too long to make a decision in Europe. There has never been so much venture capital for European companies, particularly in France, Germany and Italy, where such funding was basically unknown. Now there's more money than most companies know how to spend and not just from US companies coming over here.
"We need to see decisions being made more quickly or that money is not going to be used in the best way."
It's not just the decision-making process that needs to speed up. Falotti believes that the whole infrastructure of Europe - the social system, the labour laws - also slow business growth and development.
"In California you can set up a company in 15 minutes. But in Europe, you get caught up in layers and layers of procedures, lawyers and contracts that then become major inhibitors", he says. "People get slowed down and become impatient and so they shut up and go somewhere else. That's not good for Europe. You have to question if the people who start up companies in the US would be so successful in Europe."
It's time to play down the time lag between technology adoption in the US and Europe, Falotti believes. "Recently I participated in a panel about how Europeans can close the gap and be true leaders in the IT race," he recalls. "This is a 20-year-old question, and it's irrelevant in today's world. It's not essential or important anymore. Europe is a leader in some areas like mobile phones.
"What we need to do is become a leader in the creative use of technology. Where are the most imaginative people in the world? For the last 2000 years, they've been in Europe."
Taking the lead
The dotcom revolution gives us Europeans a big break, he says. "The internet is not about owning the technology," he argues. "As long as you have the good ideas, you can take the lead in how you apply the technology that someone else owns or has invented.
"Maybe the US took the lead in the internet at first, but now that companies are applying the technology to their businesses, there's no reason why European companies can't be at the forefront of the revolution."
European businesses are thankfully being helped to take their place in the frontline. "The European Union is finally making a push. It's very easy to be negative, but there is a need now to continue the process of acceleration towards changing things for good."
What makes Falotti's overt enthusiasm for Europe all the more interesting is that Oracle has spent the last 12 months centralising its operational infrastructure in California. Such globalisation has been a long-standing ambition at the company whose senior executives have often spoken of their desire to see the concept of 'Oracle in the UK' replace the current set up of 'Oracle UK'.
But isn't globalisation a thinly veiled attempt to impose California values and approaches on non-US subsidiaries? Oracle UK, for example, has always had a strong sense of national identity, partly because it was the first non-US Oracle operation. Is this sense of nationality and individuality not threatened by uniform global approaches? If so, Falotti's pro-European stance is an attempt to redress the balance.
He denies this, but it's evident that Falotti takes the suggestion seriously.
"To the outside world, the changes we have made should not be important," he insists. "The customer didn't benefit from us having our human resource operations based in each country or having each international operation running its own accounting departments. Why have all those things in place in the countries when we can benefit from having a far bigger resource online and based in the US?"
Oracle has put its preaching about the internet into practice with a wholesale conversion of its business processes into a internet-enabled ebusiness model. All national data centres outside of the US have been shut down and consolidated into a single main centre in California - with a back-up centre in Colorado Springs just in case that one fateful day the 'big one' strikes Silicon Valley and knocks out the main data centre.
This shift has brought significant changes to Oracle staff at the national level outside of the US. Many have found that their positions and responsibilities have shifted to the US. "There are some cultural barriers," acknowledges Falotti. "But it is for the greater benefit of the company as a whole.
"We have taken $1bn off our operational costs. But it's easy for me to say that. If I was part of the data centre that was being closed down, it would not be the same.
"Fortunately most of our people have been easily retrainable, but then we are a technology company. There are other companies in other sectors which are less fortunate.
"One company I spoke to recently knows that it wants to make a similar move, but it is highly unionised, and its people are not going to be so easy to retrain. It's going to be more painful for it to complete the necessary changes. It'll be a challenge."
The Italian-born Falotti has had plenty of his own challenges during his career. Prior to joining Oracle, he was Digital's man in Europe, where he built up a highly successful business. He also worked for The ASK Group, where he was less successful at turning around a database and software company fatally holed below the waterline by a series of ill-judged acquisitions.
Of late, Falotti has concentrated on changing the way Oracle conducts its business in Europe. For too long, he believes, the company has focused on chasing sales at the end of a quarter rather than building sustained relations with customers and developing better working practices within Oracle itself. He is adamant that this had to change.
"We needed to orchestrate ourselves more," says Falotti. "I need to have the sales people and the consulting people working together, for example. We can't have a position where there is an emperor and the rest of the people are slaves. We had an issue. The sales people selling the database were not trained to work with the people who were selling customer relationship management applications. There needed to be more co-operation.
"It's entirely different to run a hundred metre race and to manage a basketball team. We were too good at running the hundred metres to close sales at the end of a quarter."
In the fast lane
But with his 60th birthday looming, are there many more races that Falotti feels inclined to run? "Well, my wife always says that I will never retire," he says with a mischievous twinkle in his eye that neither confirms nor denies possible speculation.
"As I get older, I tend to reflect a lot more upon the past. Today I genuinely believe that we are part of an evolution that is changing the nature of business, and that is exciting.
"I started working on mainframes in 1960. It was new and interesting and it gave you something to impress the girls with when you were dancing, but it did not revolutionise the way companies did business. It didn't change anyone's life.
"Then came the micro-computer and that didn't change the business world either, it just made computing cheaper and easier.
"Then the PC made it even faster and cheaper. But the internet has more to it: it really changes the way companies conduct their business. It's an amazing time."
Falotti is obviously excited by the business potential of the internet.
For someone who is celebrating 40 years in the IT industry, he retains a vigour and an enthusiasm that you would expect to be replaced with just a touch of cynicism.
"I have been working for over 40 years, and I have never seen a transformation like this one. I've never seen IT become such a driver of change."
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