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Is Oracle cooking its cloud books?

Is Oracle cooking its cloud books?

It has always had trouble getting customers to buy into its cloud, but the scope of the problem may have been badly underestimated

It wasn’t that long ago that Oracle’s lord and master, Larry Ellison, snarled that cloud computing was just hype. He said in 2008, “The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women’s fashion. Maybe I’m an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It’s complete gibberish. It’s insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?”

Fast forward to 2012 and you find Ellison proclaiming that Oracle was ready to offer “the most comprehensive cloud on the planet Earth.”

Yeah, about that.

Oracle senior cloud finance manager Svetlana Blackburn has told the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California that she was fired because her superiors told her “to add millions of dollars in accruals to financial reports, with no concrete or foreseeable billing to support the numbers, an act that Plaintiff warned was improper and suspect accounting.”

Further, Blackburn, a CPA, stated that executives were trying to fit “square data into round holes” in a bid to boost the financial reports of the cloud services business, which would be “paraded” before the company brass and investors. When she refused to fudge the numbers, she was fired.

I believe her.

Oracle, of course, denies these claims. And, as anyone who follows Oracle could have predicted, Oracle plans on suing her “for malicious prosecution.”

But I believe her.

Oracle claimed in 2015 that it made $1.5 billion from its cloud offerings. Dan Woods, CTO and editor of CITO Research, using data from Craig Gurante, CEO of Palisade Compliance and an Oracle licensing expert, claims that Oracle’s cloud revenue numbers are bogus.

Specifically, Woods claims that Oracle uses mechanisms such as “cloud credits” to move client revenue from traditional Oracle services to cloud computing without really achieving adoption. Sounds about right to me.

You see, Oracle’s old revenue plan of profiting from software licensing is getting a little long in the tooth. So Oracle has turned to the cloud. Unfortunately for Oracle, the cloud hasn’t turned to it.

As analyst Frank Scavo, president of Computer Economics, put it, “As Oracle’s traditional business in software licenses is under pressure, it needs to quickly ramp up cloud subscriptions to make up the difference. It’s much easier to buy those customers than it is to grow them organically with cloud apps newly developed internally.”

It may also be easier to move licensing fees into cloud fees without really growing the bottom line at all. Besides, the cloud is something of a smoke screen, so to speak. As Forrester analyst John Rymer observed, despite Oracle’s cloud rhetoric, “It’s all about the apps. It’s getting the apps into Oracle’s cloud that is the object of the game.” Competing with Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine, and Microsoft Azure? Nah. That’s not true,” Rymer said. “They’re competing with SAP, IBM and Salesforce.”

In other words, Oracle is just trying to pour its old licensing wine into new cloud bottles.

Oracle, however, isn't presenting it that way to its investors. If you buy Blackburn’s account, Oracle is pretending to have more cloud revenue than it really has by moving revenue from licensing streams into its cloud accounts. The net effect is to make Oracle sound like a bigger cloud player than it is.

It seems to me that Oracle is playing fast and loose with its accounting. Like so many other whistleblowers before her, Blackburn was caught in the crossfire between what a business is really doing and what it says it’s doing.

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