Historically ERP vendors sold licences and left their partners to worry about the success, or otherwise, of the implementation thereof. In the old world, when projects took years to complete and value was an immeasurable notion, the relationship between vendor, partner and customer was disconnected and the idea of an equitable collaboration with accountability between all parties was inchoate, at best.

Customers bought a product from a vendor and a partner implemented that product, tailored to the customer’s specific needs. When things went wrong the customer was caught in the middle of a dynamic which benefitted the vendor and partner far more than it did the buyer. Projects were conceived and built around the need for technical upgrades and were rarely seated on a business case that clearly defined what, how and when, the project would deliver value.

That model existed for decades and rather suited both vendor and partner for obvious financial reasons. 

However, the emergence of cloud technologies has seen a dramatic shift in the expectations and tolerance levels of most ERP buyers. Having been burned several times in the past and wearing all the scars to prove it, CIOs simply won’t abide anything short of demonstrable value delivered co-operatively by both vendor and partner.

This shift in buyer expectations, coupled with a slightly more benevolent attitude from some vendors has seen huge strides taken to ameliorate the relationship between ERP purveyors and ERP buyers. And none more so than within the Oracle ecosystem.

The success of any vendor is most often determined by the strength and commitment of its partners and it’s important that this partnership is an equitable one from the start of the relationship in order to maximise the success of any project. 

Oracle has one of the richest pools of supporting partners made up of global system integrators, independent consultancies, ISVs, and a whole load of niche players that sell, implement, optimise and manage its products and services. 

It’s recently invested heavily in modernising its partner network that is focussed on certification and customer feedback and has put immense thought and effort behind supporting third party organisations that form the backbone of their customers’ successes. They’ve moved from a product-centric method of delivery to a customer-centric journey that aims to enhance the way they engage with their partners throughout their relationship.  

We support partners who build solutions and build IP that solves customer problems; we also support partners who sell those solutions”, Javier Torres

Everything in the world is different and now it’s anybody’s guess whether or not life will return to normal. The societal and financial repercussions of the pandemic will be felt for years to come and it’s imperative that businesses focus and refocus their plans as the surrounding environments change and adapt. Oracle’s deep investment in their partners’ successes and commitment to supporting their customers throughout every step of the transformation journey is a welcome change to the historically ‘hands off’ reputation of the ERP community. 

Paul Esherwood spoke to Javier Torres, the exec responsible for Oracle partners in EMEA and three key partners about the Oracle Partner Network and its focus on customer-centric solutions. 

He is joined by Paul Gillott, chairman at Symatrix, Richard Eltham, CTO at Namos, Andy Bird, CEO of Inoapps.

PE: What are the key things that Oracle has done to modernise its partner network? 

JT: We modernised our partner networks more than a year ago and it has the customer at the centre. We realised that in the new era of cloud and SaaS models, we had to put the customer at the centre of it all. We took customer feedback into consideration and realised we needed a modular approach about following the customer journey. We support partners who build solutions and build IP that solves customer problems; we also support partners who sell those solutions. And then also we support partners who provide services either to implement or to manage, operate and optimise those solutions. During the entire journey we will ask for customer feedback and look forward to getting it. 

PE: Andy, could you tell us what these changes have meant to you as a partner, and what your involvement has been from your position on the advisory board. 

AB: Fortunately being a partner of the advisory board, we learned about the programme quite early through workshops with Javier that Paul was involved in as well. We were able to give our input into the programme. 

One of the things I specifically like about the programme is the certification. That evolved from the specialisation from the last programme, but really ensuring that all of the consultants’ applications, technology, all the way through the services are certified. That really means quite a lot to the quality of the services that the global partner community deliver and a way of ensuring that the quality is there across the board going forward. That really is about putting the customer first.

What we appreciate about the modernised OPN is the fact that it does put the customer at the centre of the journey”, Paul Gillott

PE: Paul, you were involved in those early discussions as well. What do you feel the key changes in the new modernised partner network mean for customers?

PG: Symatrix has been an Oracle partner now for 21 years, so we’ve seen the certification and the partnership model change quite dramatically over the years. I’d very much echo Andy’s point. What we appreciate about the modernised Oracle Partner Network (OPN) is the fact that it does put the customer at the centre of the journey and gives them the confidence in knowing the organisations that they’re dealing with. But more importantly, the individuals that they’re going to be dealing with on their journey are genuinely certified, know the product and know the very latest capabilities of the product, and are therefore able to deliver the very best solution for the customer. So it really plays back to Javier’s point, which is putting the customer at the centre of the journey and ensuring that we, as Oracle partners, can enable and engage with the client on that journey and help them deliver success. 

PE: Andy, I know you were involved with those very early discussions, but from my understanding, Namos beat you to the punch and managed to become the first certified organisation globally. 

Richard, were you involved in that process and what does that mean to you? 

RE: Very much so, Paul. Working with Oracle on all the partner programmes and the requirements needed to implement the solution is very close to us. We were certified on the modernised partner programme back in November 2019, immediately as it came out. So we’ve already gone through the annual renewal. 

It is very customer-centric now rather than product-centric around specialisations, and certifications. I agree with Andy wholeheartedly, the certifications are so important, and the consultants want to do them as well. With Oracle Cloud the technology is changing so fast, the consultants need to keep up to speed with their training. And one point of that is ensuring the certifications are there, but that enables the customers to actually recognise that you do know what you’re doing and you’re trusted by Oracle to implement their solutions. But there’s a whole raft of other things available with the modernised programme to enable that specialisation. 

Oracle sends out surveys directly to your clients after every single go live and then annually after that for all managed service customers. Customer success is key and what we’re all talking about. It’s important to maintain that customer advocacy, and that makes sure that you’re always on top of your game.

It is very customer-centric now rather than product-centric around specialisations, and certifications” , Richard Eltham

PE: Do you think there’s much more accountability under the new framework than there was before?

AB: We’ve all talked about certification. One of the things that we have to be thinking about, especially at the speed of the growth that Oracle is achieving, is the skills gap that leaves behind. And one of the things that we have been working on at the advisory board is what to do about that across the EMEA region – because we can’t just have everybody stealing from each other’s resource pool. We have to find new ways of growing talent to meet the demands that are coming up. 

PE: I want to go back to the earlier point about putting customers at the centre of the journey. Do you think that is just a natural progression because the offering has changed? It’s gone from being product-orientated to being service-orientated and that just demands more customer centricity. Or do you think that customers are more demanding now and you’ve just got to take more notice of what they want? 

JT: I think customers are more demanding because the new technology allows them to be more demanding. We’ve moved from multi-year projects to deployments of big transformational projects in just a few months. Customers have big expectations. 

But for me, it’s also the speed of innovation, and that’s why it’s important for us to work closely with our partners, who are implementing the project and providing the managed services. 

PE: Those innovation cycles are an opportunity, but also a challenge, because the opportunity is there to have innovation updates at regular intervals. That puts more pressure on the partner ecosystem to ensure that the customers benefit from it. 

Paul, in your experience, how well-equipped do you think the partner ecosystem is to manage those quarterly cycles of innovation updates? Do you think that is a challenge that can be met?

PG: It’s a challenge that can be met, but I’d actually argue that it’s a challenge that has to be met. We all recognise that the customer has an opportunity to step away from the service on a typically three-yearly basis. So if we’re not driving value out of the service that’s being provided and if we’re not helping them drive value out of the services being provided, they have the opportunity to walk away and do something else. It’s beholden to us as Oracle partners and to Oracle to help the customers drive increasing amounts of value out of the service that they’re procuring.

The expression I’ve heard and I quite like is evergreening. It’s keeping the product permanently fresh, giving the customer the opportunity to take advantage of the new functionality that’s coming out, but also not losing sight of the fact that the customer may have adopted some manual work around because the solution didn’t fit exactly what they needed at the time. 

PE: Andy, you’ve been an Oracle partner for 15 years, do you think that there’s been a fundamental shift in the dynamic in the relationship between Oracle and its partners in general, aside from the new framework and the modernised partner network? Do you think partnerships are more equitable and really focus on that word ‘partnership’ rather than just being a partner?

AB: The entire outward focus of Oracle has changed in the last three years to customers and partners. On the partner journey, do I think that we are there yet? No, I don’t, but Oracle has made significant strides to get there and we’re on that journey to transform and to change. But there’s still more that we can do and we work with Oracle and Javier to do more and to better ourselves for our customers and to better the relationship with Oracle. Just like with the software changing every 90 days, the relationship’s going to evolve as the market evolves. 

PE: There is something slightly different about the OPN and Oracle partners. I’m not quite sure what it is, but if I look at the way the ecosystems around the other vendors work, it doesn’t seem to be quite as cohesive. 

AB: As Paul said, we’ve been friends, competitors, and with the same majority of the partners for 15 years. We also have good fun as well. Part of what we do has to be fun, and we’ve had a lot of fun over the years as partners. That helps build that relationship too. 

PE: Richard, we haven’t touched on the technology roadmap. In your capacity as a CTO, I’d like to understand how far you can influence Oracle. How close can you get to that technology roadmap and what kind of influence can partners leverage? 

RE: There are a few angles. I’m on the Oracle CTO Partner Advisory Board and we meet up once a quarter to discuss roadmaps among other things. 

There is also the centre of excellence course boards that we sit on and feedback from those boards is fed back into Oracle development. Then there is Customer Connect. Oracle customers and partners and even Oracle employees themselves can submit ideas on the portal to get voted on. Once 20 votes from different organisations are received, it gets sent off to product development. So 85 percent of new features in the SaaS products have actually come from customer ideas and requests. The products are always evolving based on what people need; it’s a very connected process. 

PE: Andy, you’ve said that there have been great strides made over recent years, but that there is still work to do. What is that going to mean for partners? But more importantly what does that mean for customers if the partner network advances even further than where it is today? 

AB: Obviously I don’t know exactly how things will evolve, but what I’m pushing for is a much closer go-to customer experience. Just as Javier said, to go back and listen to what the customer really wants, putting the right team together to get them exactly what they want first time round and ensuring that we are even better than the competition.

We also have good fun. Part of what we do has to be fun, and we’ve had a lot of fun over the years as partners” , Andy Bird

PE: Paul, historically the relationship was either owned by the vendor or owned by the consultancy, and that can sometimes create some difficulties. I know that the relationship is much more harmonised now, but do you see that as being a good evolution for the way that vendors and partners work together?

PG: We use the word ‘partner,’ we use the word ‘partnership,’ and it’s important that we don’t just use those words; we have to live by what they mean. And what that means is that we go hand in glove with Oracle, as Andy said, with the best solution for that particular client; that we’re joined at the hip for that client – because the solutions we’re offering these days are increasingly complicated. There are an increasing number of additional products and services that can sit round them and need to sit round the SaaS offering. Therefore Oracle understanding the power of their partner network, which has the capability to deliver the services that the client needs, is really key. It’s important that we can go together to the customer and deliver the best solution to them. And as Andy said, knock the competition out of the park. 

PE: Javier, what’s next on the partner network innovation? What are you working on and how can we expect to see the OPN evolve over the next 12 months?

JT: We’re becoming much more industry-focussed. And if you look at our partner network, all the customer expertise is around geographical location and the specific solution. We are working from a go-to-market perspective, and it’s better to include the industry expertise. We find a consistent go-to-market per region solution and then target the industry. For example, if Andy has a specialism  in construction or if Paul has the expertise on financial services or specific sub verticals within public sector, those skills we can really include as part of our go-to market strategy and further accelerate.  

Watch the full interview at erp.today/live