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Oracle faces skeptical BEA customer base

The good news for Oracle Corp. is it seems to have acquired a happy BEA Systems Inc. customer base. Yet the bad news for Oracle is that it seems to have acquired a happy BEA customer base that isn’t particularly thrilled with the Oracle purchase, according to a poll taken last week.

As Oracle prepares to announce its plans for the BEA acquisition tomorrow it may be facing a customer revolt if it’s not careful. What follows is a summary of the survey findings. The raw numbers are available here.

Who responded?

In all, we received 431 responses. Most of the respondents were BEA WebLogic Application Server and Oracle Database customers (94.90% in each case). Respondents also used a a healthy number of other BEA products (WebLogic, AquaLogic, Tuxedo, etc.), while only a small percentage used non-database Oracle products. Part of this is to be expected as the survey was geared toward the BEA user base. This group indicates that Oracle indeed bought itself a customer segment into which it had little penetration. Of particular note is that not many of the BEA customers were using Oracle’s packaged applications (e.g. financial, CRM, human resources).

Most (58.70%) came from IT shops with 250 or more employees.

Satisfaction levels

75.56 of respondents reported they were either somewhat or very satisfied with their BEA products. That confirms something this industry watcher has heard anecdotally over the years, namely that BEA customers, if not teeming in numbers, were a generally contented lot. 61.26% reported they were somewhat or very satisfied with their Oracle products. The main difference is that 24.83% reported they were neutral in regard to their Oracle products, which is perhaps understandable given that most were database customers and almost 75% of the respondents were either architects or developers, not the sort that falls overly in or out of love with a relational database.

Uneasy masses

87.94% reported they have not yet been contacted by Oracle concerning their BEA products and six months of relative radio silence has seemingly made them nervous. 29.47% reported that they lack confidence that Oracle will continue to support their BEA products and another 44.55% aren’t sure whether that will happen. Oracle has managed to allay similar fears when it has acquired packaged app vendors, but “support” in the development community will mean not only continuing service and support for existing products, but also making sure they keep pace with new advances in the marketplace. This brings us to where Oracle stands to alienate this new customer base if it doesn’t announce and follow through on aggressive plans to move the BEA product set forward (principally WebLogic Application Server).

Potential customer revolt

62.18% of respondents report they will not look to move to comparable Oracle products if their BEA products are discontinued. Another 25.06% report they are unsure on that matter. 77.26% say they do not feel Oracle has a strong offering in the areas where they are using BEA products. Additionally, 70.77% report they will look to replace their BEA installments rather than keep them as legacy if those products are discontinued. It creates a thorny situation for Oracle. It does not have a strong reputation with these, largely, app dev users and they have expressed a clear willingness to jump ship should they not like the course Oracle charts for them. While Oracle surely will look to allay these misgivings in the BEA user base, competitors just as surely will be looking to woo this potential pack of free agents.

Negative impression

Perhaps it can be chalked up to people not liking change or to unhappy customers being more likely to respond to a poll, but 52.43% of those polled reported they have a somewhat or very negative view of Oracle’s BEA acquisition. Another 32.48% voted neutral. The poll indicates that Oracle has a ton of work to do if it wants to win over these BEA customers. This is indeed a new market that Oracle could penetrate in its quest for global software domination, but these users are not rolling out a welcome mat. It may takes years of continuing and advancing key BEA product lines before Oracle can establish itself with these customers, making tomorrow’s announcement only the first step on a political tightrope that stretches beyond the horizon.

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There are an alarmingly large number of hypotheticals baked into this analysis; I suggest tuning into the July 1 Webcast to get the facts. Justin Kestelyn EIC, Oracle Technology Network
Justin, I suggest people do the same, but let's be honest here. Tomorrow's Webcast, which is going to be as much marketing as substance (and that's not a knock on marketing, just a recognition of how these things work), will hardly amount to the sum total of "fact" when it comes to this acquisition. We happen to believe strongly that user experience is what matters most. And it would seem that BEA users have some misgivings about the purchase. What we wanted to get was a good-sized sample of users six months after the initial news of the deal and prior to the July 1 announcement. What do you think users do when it's six months after a major vendor has been purchased and they aren't sure what direction the new owner intends to take? They plan contingencies. I think it's fair to say we got a good slice and that it indicates Oracle has got some skeptical BEA customers to convince, people who report their top contingency (should they need one) may not necessarily be Oracle. That doesn't mean Oracle's done anything wrong or that these users will go shopping for new vendors, but it certainly does indicate that unless you've got the Gettysburg Address of Webcasts planned for tomorrow then it will be the follow through that matters more than the mission statement. Michael Meehan
Michael, I agree with everything you said. My point was simply that the valid issues raised by these customers, which are hardly unique to this particular acquisition, will be answered in time (and much progress was made today). "Potential" is the most loaded word in the English language; to paraphrase Charles Bukowski, every baby in its crib has more "potential" than I. (I'd like to add for the record that I am not an Oracle spokesperson, this is only my personal opinion.)
As group leader for the Northeast BEA AquaLogic I've been paying close attention as to just what support will be available and so far I've been pleasantly surprised. There have been several outreach sessions and we have been introduced to several support and sharing opportunities. I am looking forward for our AquaLogic group to broaden our knowledge base with our new associates at Oracle. Evelyn Schichner User Group Leader, Northeast BEA AquaLogic Products