Oracle's Channel Chief Tackles Acquisitions

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Judson Althoff, SVP of worldwide alliances and channels, talks to Channel Insider about the challenges of enabling a channel to sell the vast array of newly acquired products and solutions.

When Judson Althoff took on the role of senior vice president of Oracle’s worldwide alliances and channels business 18 months ago his first marching orders involved refocusing the direct-selling models of Oracle’s many new corporate acquisitions to a channel model.

Given Oracle’s massive buying spree over the past few years, this was and remains a tall order. Unlike the headline-grabbing acquisition of Sun Microsystems this summer, many of the companies in Oracle’s shopping cart have been small in size and relied almost entirely on a direct-sales approach to their business, Althoff told Channel Insider this week in a ranging interview about Oracle’s channel plans.
"We bought all of these products and their teams were off selling them direct, yet there was not enough core mass out there to implement and sell them properly," Althoff said.

Making matters worse, the downturn went into full gear as he started to put ideas on the table. "That meant no budget," he said.

That’s when the idea for Enablement 2.0 took shape. Althoff recognized that the company could not begin scale sales of all the new products through the channel until they mounted a massive training campaign. But because the technologies and solutions represented such a diverse mix -- everything from Conformia’s PLM software and Hyperion’s analytics to Advanced Visual Technology’s retail space planning products and BEA’s middleware – enablement posed a major resource issue.

To get around the lack of budget, Althoff tried a new approach. Rather than having Oracle take total ownership for developing training materials in-house for each solution and providing the educational sessions, Althoff’s team enlisted partners themselves to contribute training content.

The company leveraged its Beehive collaboration solution and Stellant content management product to establish a platform where partners could contribute specific training information about the products in which they were skilled, he said. The aim was to create a community of experts.

"We effectively open-sourced our training curriculum across sales, presales and implementation," he said. "Now we manage a community of contributors that write training material for all of our products."

The company established what it called "Boot Camps" around specific products from the various acquisitions. Oracle in-house developers contribute content, as well as external partners that are versed in the technology. Case studies are accepted. Oracle then vets the resulting content internally and taps a set of 50 "delivery partners" externally to disseminate the materials to the broader channel. Online Web classes based on the content are also made available, including during evening hours.

Oracle does not charge partners for training materials, but the delivery partners do wrap a nominal price around their deals, he explained.

"Overall, this model has decreased cost, increased availability and created viral groups of people around our product lines," Althoff said, adding that Oracle has rolled out 60 Boot Camps thus far and trained 2,000 partners using the contributed materials.

Oracle has not been known as the most channel-friendly company over the years, with a large chunk of its business – particularly in the applications and industry-specific markets – still sold direct. The flood of acquisitions has raised even more concerns that fashioning the various sales forces into something resembling one channel might be impossible.

Althoff admits it’s a challenge. Just reconciling what to do with Sun’s existing channel and its products alone is a major undertaking, he said.

"It’s been the summer of Sun here," he quipped. "We have our arms around the complexity of Sun’s channel and the change it brings to Oracle’s business and done tremendous work to assess incremental opportunity to existing partners."

Yet, he acknowledges that there are some product areas that don’t make sense for Oracle partners to resell. "We’ll be honest about where partners can focus."

Beyond enablement, Althoff has been focusing efforts on streamlining partner relationship management systems into a more unified infrastructure that makes it easier to do business with Oracle. Overall, his main goal is to increase the revenue derived from indirect selling. Last year, indirect sales grew at a faster rate than direct, he points out.




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