Oracle: you got a big friend in Big Red

Cormac Watters, executive vice president of applications for Oracle Europe, Middle East and Africa

Cormac Watters, Oracle‘s EVP applications for EMEA, speaks to Giacomo Lee and Paul Esherwood in Dublin about how Oracle is opening up and telling a new kind of story: the once fearsome Big Red has become best friends with some of the world’s most philanthropic organizations.

There’s a wind of change gently blowing across Texas and the flutters are being felt by ERP customers around the world. Just three years ago the murmur of transformation was so faint you could be forgiven for thinking it was in your imagination. However, despite the subtlety, the first shoots of an evolution began to surface as one of the most belligerent brands in enterprise tech started to show its softer side. There was no grand announcement, no billboard campaign and barely any change in narrative. But, if you paid attention and looked for the understated shifts in positioning, you could detect a move towards a new paradigm for Big Red.

Accelerated by the pandemic, those early signs grew from a gentle whisper into something more audible, and today they have assembled into a coherent narrative that signifies real change in one of the industry’s longest-toothed protagonists.

For forty years and more, Oracle Corporation has been selling databases, applications and cloud infrastructure. During that time it developed a fierce reputation as an aggressive corporate operator, striking fear into competitors and customers alike. Spearheaded by the irrepressible Larry Ellison, Oracle dominated the early database market, swooped in on SAP’s turf to grab a big chunk of ERP business and, more recently, went head-to-head with Google and AWS to belatedly tackle cloud infrastructure.

Today it is a $340bn monster and the fastest growing cloud business of all. Ellison, at the age of 79, still exerts a strong influence but its CEO, Safra Catz, is creating a new Oracle fit for the future with a softer, more reflective and customer-centric outlook.

Make no mistake, Oracle is still a cauldron of ambition and innovation, but it is evolving to become more than just a sales juggernaut – it’s now very active with ESG initiatives, has developed a completely reimagined partner program and is highly incentivized to deliver customer success. It has also found a stronghold within many of the world’s leading charities, NGOs and nonprofits – a seemingly odd pairing for Big Red but actually perfect bedfellows when you begin to understand the new Oracle.

Like with any good story that hasn’t yet been shouted from the tech trade rooftops, it’s best to go directly to where the source can be found. In this case it’s Cormac Watters, executive vice president of applications for Oracle Europe, Middle East and Africa. ERP Today has traveled to the heart of Dublin to interview Watters, at the rather grand Merrion Hotel. The five-star establishment comes bedecked with noble busts, vintage paintings and a courtyard garden resembling a classical Mediterranean villa. In other words, we’re hearing a new tale within a frozen snapshot of history.

Watters is a relatively new orator for Oracle. Prior to Big Red, he had various roles at Infor, with his last one as president for the company’s international markets. Before Infor he was SAP’s COO for the northern EMEA region, meaning he’s somewhat come full circle with the VP job for Oracle applications, only this time covering the whole of the EMEA landscape.

He’s also returned home, back to living and working in Dublin after his London-based turns for SAP and Infor. For this kind of role, Dublin may be the perfect base for Watters. Kicking off our chat with what being in the EU nation of Ireland means when overlooking the European market, we learn a little more about how Cormac was pulled into Oracle’s orbit.

When ERP Today covered his Oracle hiring all the way back in December 2020, a source told us that Safra Catz personally called Watters to make the approach, one “too good an opportunity to turn down”. While we didn’t bring up this fateful telephone exchange with Watters, it comes up naturally in his musings as he remembers Catz discovering where he called home and declaring Dublin the “perfect” base for Oracle EMEA. 

Watters goes on to remind us that Ireland has no global baggage, as such. The Irish aren’t known to be “overly confrontational”, as he says, there are no bitter football rivalries – and certainly none of that Brexit malarky to taint its name.

“By and large, most people don’t have a negative view of Ireland,” as he puts it. “The small country aspect makes a big difference to all the other small countries that we work with. We can communicate quite well.”

ormac Watters, executive vice president of applications for Oracle Europe, Middle East and AfricaSafra realized that people are interested in what big companies are doing, not just their quarterly results – Cormac Watters, Oracle 

The subtext here matches the new messaging coming out of Oracle – Big Red is getting close to its customers, whatever their size. For Watters, this change is all down to the pandemic, as he reminds us of Big Red’s footprint during the COVID era, working with governments around the world with the production and testing of vaccines, and the tracking of vaccination numbers. Catz began to talk about this work publicly and, lo and behold, it turns out people are more enraptured by the human aspect of software capabilities, rather than the usual “cloud and digital transformation” jargon.

“Safra realized that people are interested in what big companies are doing, not just their quarterly results and their technology stripes,” Watter says, before adding: “You can talk about it in a self-glorifying way, which we never do.”

Oracle’s charitable chapter

This is proved by the VP as he discusses Oracle’s work with charities and the third sector. Such a customer footprint would boost any tech brand, big or small, with their ESG credentials. But there’s none of that self-glory as he talks to us, and Watters reminds us that such clients, at the end of the day, remain corporate customers in essence. To truly understand how Oracle is becoming a “partner for good”, you need to listen to what the customers are saying and who is entering the Big Red fold from EMEA and elsewhere.

Third-sector customers for Oracle include UN affiliates such United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Other big names include Save the Children, with considerable – if not household-name status – bodies including the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria charity the Global Fund.

In other words, we’re talking about a broad church of charities, NGOs and nonprofits. Across the board, though, their needs are similar to any other big enterprise. As Watters tells us, these Oracle customers are very large organizations with many branch offices widely dispersed around the world. But the breadth of requirements is where the third sector differs from corporate. Some needs are focused on transportation management, in physically moving aid and supplies around the world. Others, like in the case of NRC, are focused on the HCM provision around staff and volunteers. 

But there is one need which defines the sector, and that comes to financials. Not in the earnings and sales sense, but in transparency around the money in their accounts: after all, every financial transaction for a charity needs to be fully audited due to the donation aspect. This can be complicated when money is being spent in places where there’s very little infrastructure. 

With Oracle, such bodies are exploring the best ways to track spend transparency in remote locations, considering lack of connectivity and that those using solutions may be a mixture of staff and volunteers (the latter freelancers, in some ways, with no company devices in their possessions).

“All of that stuff is what our applications do and gives that transparency they need,” says Watters. 

The VP also gives an insight beyond data transparency and into data security, reminding us that charities have “massive” security concerns. Looking to avoid a cybersec disaster, clients are “very, very concerned” if they were to be hacked or held to ransom. As such, there’s a real need to make sure their infrastructure comes with industrial-grade security of the sort available with Oracle.

Cormac Watters, executive vice president of applications for Oracle Europe, Middle East and AfricaThey’re looking at planning and trying to see how you can ‘forward look’ as far as you can to anticipate the next disaster.

And when it comes to disasters, Watters sees forecasting as another essential for the charity sector.

“They’re looking at planning and trying to see how you can ‘forward look’ as far as you can to anticipate the next disaster. What I often hear them say is, they don’t necessarily know where the next one will be. But they’re pretty sure there’s going to be one.”

Simulations come in useful here, made possible by that Oracle compute through AI, with massive data sets taken from past events and elsewhere. This helps simulate how organizations would react in certain situations: wars, coups, earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding, you name it. 

“They’re super innovative and forward thinking, and really, really good at managing stress,” says the VP of these clients. “They have to be able to react so quickly, to go from being professional business people to world-class athletes, to just having a great heart.”

Oracle the non-profit?

Watters’ lack of self-aggrandizement about Oracle’s charity partnerships holds true in our entire conversation, especially as what really emerges is a changing priority for Big Red in the 2020s. If you haven’t been paying attention, take Oracle’s big play in healthcare with the Cerner acquisition as a sign that Larry Ellison wants to “do good”, something Watters agrees with. 

There’s no point in being so sustainable that you’re not here in ten years.

One could see it as the Oracle co-founder’s intended legacy for his baby. The Oracle of the past arguably didn’t have that same “big heart” due to the chase for profits. But as said earlier, the times are a-changin’ for Big Red.

In this particular snapshot of history, Oracle seems to be in a halfway home between its hard-nosed past and an open, sustainability-focused future. So does Watters see full transformation coming a few years down the line?

“I know that sounds like a very grand ambition, but I genuinely can,” he begins. “You need to have the fundamentals of a very strong business that’s going to be around for the next 20 years. Because there’s no point in being so sustainable that you’re not here in ten years.”

What Watters is saying is don’t expect Oracle to become a non-profit anytime soon. If a big company wants to have a big influence on the world for the better, then it needs to stay big. But he does remind us that every tender request Oracle receives has a strong sustainability element.

Advancing from that, the VP expects in a half decade to a decade that every customer will expect tools from Big Red to help them measure their own sustainability. In other words, Big Red may very well become Big Green. Customers, the VP confirms, are saying it’s time to harvest sustainable data in the same way we mine financial data. All they need is for it to become “visible”.

With AI reporting and measuring the sustainability of enterprises with less bias, many businesses are waking up to the fact they may not be as “green” as they previously thought they were. Enter a need for third-party accreditation, and tools to track and trace sustainability on an enterprise level, bringing in that essential visibility.

All of this shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the vastly growing importance of ESG to modern enterprises. It’s this sign of the times which Oracle is responding to, a change which leaders like Watters are helping to make happen for the company. 

“Can we transform completely? I believe so,” Watters reaffirms on Oracle’s future, and I’m reminded of something said earlier in the conversation. When talking about the pandemic, Watters noted that after COVID, for young professionals, it’s no longer just about salary when it comes to where they work. These days, he reminds us, people want to work for organizations which are helping the sustainability cause. They want to feel good knowing that while they work, they are helping, in some small way, towards a greater good. And that’s even if they’re not working for the sort of nonprofits discussed earlier.

After the interview, ERP Today drops Oracle a line with this train of thought, wanting to go back to that initial phone call between Watters and Catz. What was it about the role which was too good to refuse, that led to Watters leaving a seasoned career at Infor for a new break at Oracle? 

“Speaking to Safra and the leadership team before I joined made it clear that there was a very clear vision from the outset,” Watters writes in response. “During and following COVID, there was no knee-jerk reaction; I got a real sense of calmness around mid-long-term planning and perspective. 

“At the time I joined, customer success was clearly our ‘North Star’. We couldn’t stand still, and again that message was clear from the top down. Now that we are closing my third year here I’m privileged to lead our EMEA applications operations delivering for our customers every day.”

Again, there is no self-glory here, no self-aggrandizement. Watters is working for the end user. With the third sector, he and Oracle are listening to its complicated needs and delivering tailored solutions. Within EMEA, he’s representing countries big and small, talking to them on their level. On an enterprise-wide level, he understands what customers are clamoring for to be genuinely sustainable.

The humble response he gives matches very well with Oracle’s modest new look – in other words, it looks like the wind of change is for real and enterprises have a big new friend in Big Red.