I've been clocking up the air miles recently travelling to San Francisco for Salesforce's Dreamforce and Oracle's OpenWorld events and was struck by how two firms that both insist they're cloud providers can be so far apart when it comes to throwing their annual user conferences.
The focus at Oracle's event in late October was totally on the cloud. And didn't we know it. Chairman and CTO Larry Ellison, CEOs Mark Hurd and Safra Catz and the myriad other Oracle executives who hosted keynotes and sessions were all fully on-message with the mantra that Oracle is now a cloud company - if not quite the cloud company yet.
Salesforce got a few name checks by Ellison, but didn't receive too much of his usual derision. This was retained for the likes of IBM and SAP which, according to the Oracle boss, aren't in the cloud business at all and therefore aren't even worth being on his radar. Microsoft is the only true competitor to Oracle in Ellison's mind as it competes in all three areas: infrastructure, platform and software-as-a-service.
A month earlier at Dreamforce, the SaaS pioneer was busy sharing its own vision of the kind of company Salesforce is today and where it's going. The established cloud player didn't need to waste time telling the assembled 100,000-plus delegates (seriously, reader, I thought the firm had added an extra zero by mistake/on purpose, but it really was that busy) that it really believed in the cloud and was on course to be a major cloud player. Salesforce has been there, made the T-shirt. Remember the ‘No Software' logo?
Instead Salesforce used the week-long event to establish its place as a technology community and charity leader. An entire day of the three main days at the event was given over to women in technology. This might be the hot topic du jour, but most technology vendors are happy to just pay lip service to the gender issue with a session or two, or by releasing a diversity report showing an incremental increase in female staff.
But just like its leader, Salesforce does things big and loud. So we were treated to CEO Mark Benioff and co-founder Parker Harris in a fireside chat, admitting how the two men wished they'd got the whole women in tech thing sooner, and how the firm now has a gender equal pay programme.
And on the main stage, we oohed and ahhed as YouTube boss Susan Wojcicki was praised for being a mum and a business woman, and was questioned about how many different fathers her five children had (one); while actress Jessica Alba (the decent Sin City to the dire Fantastic Four) was told how great she looked in a bikini.
I didn't find the tone of this interview helpful when it comes to promoting women as serious business women, but I also felt it was a shame that Salesforce missed the opportunity to showcase some of its own technical female staff.
Oracle, in comparison, ran its usual Oracle Women's Leadership summit, aimed at female executives wanting to network and find out about what Oracle does for its female workforce and how it's tackling broader diversity challenges.
Ellison sensibly decided to leave this one to Catz, who discussed why it's so important to get girls into technology early in the pipeline, the key reason Oracle has built a school to teach kids IT. I was really impressed by Catz's practical and inspiring approach to this area, coming from a maths background herself.
During the networking drinks afterwards, I got talking to three of the Oracle staff who were there, who had all completed their computer science degrees 20-odd years ago and were still working in the field. These are definitely the kind of women I'd love to see Oracle promoting on the main stage at future OpenWorlds, rather than keeping them hidden away in a separate event.
There was also a marked difference in the technology focus of the two shows. Oracle chose to use its main keynotes and executive sessions to discuss the importance of the cloud, of course, but also to go through technical advances like the latest Sparc M7 chip and numerous updated cloud services in incredibly fine detail (side note - Thomas Kurian's keynote is renowned among the OpenWorld alumni as being one to miss if you're not of a technical slant or can't face technology demos that early in the morning, although I've always found them helpful).
The guest appearances were by IT vendors Intel, with a technical overview of its 3D XPoint memory standard, Wipro and Infosys, AIG CTO Mike Brady and GE CIO Jim Fowler, with a bit of light relief from the Golden State Warriors.
Salesforce, by contrast, made little reference to its own technology during its keynotes aside from a brief appearance by Harris dressed as a lightning bolt. In fact, there was little focus on products during the week. The firm is, of course, catering to a different audience than Oracle, as while the latter's buyers tend to still be technology professionals, Salesforce needs to attract a broader base of sales and marketing staff as well as technicians.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella turned up for a chat, while Uber got a prime slot when Benioff interviewed CEO Travis Kalanick. Disruptors like Box and Stripe were also well represented.
Benioff also used his celebrity status to pull in a whole host of Hollywood and fashion glitterati. Goldie Hawn, Patricia Arquette and Donna Karan all took speaking slots, along with myriad other business and technology leaders, although Salesforce executives and old-school IT vendors were in short supply.
Both firms had hundreds of technical sessions across the course of the week, where developers, DBAs and technologists could get their fill of exactly how to integrate Software v11.5 with Middleware v39.2.
But the keynote stage is where you get the sense of what type of company this is. From this year's OpenWorld show, Oracle is firmly a technology company (sorry Oracle, but your hardware and on-premise software divisions account for far too much of your revenue to award you the title cloud company yet) and proud of it, with execs like Ellison and Kurian openly relishing their opportunity to demo what is a fairly niche element of one small product to the tens of thousands watching. And the audience lapped it up.
Dreamforce, on the other hand, highlights Salesforce's ambition to be much more than a cloud provider. Benioff has put the firm on course to be an extension of his life's plan, building a community of like-minded individuals, using technology as a platform to better the planet, connect great thinkers and seal business deals without bothering attendees with all that pesky technical business.
I'm sure this year Benioff and Ellison were thrilled with the success of their events, and how they mirrored their own ethos. But perhaps Benioff needs to be given a gentle reminder of the fact that Salesforce is a technology company first and foremost, and this will be how it improves its profit margins.
And Oracle has a hard task ahead in finding a suitable replacement for Ellison, who can't go on forever (although I suspect he's probably keenly looking into cryogenic freezing) and who is that extremely rare tech CEO who manages to balance charisma and stage presence with a real passion for technology.
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