Keen to prove that a leopard can change its spots, Oracle has again restructured its business model to give greater focus to the channel.
Company officials concede solutions now drive the sales of Oracle's flagship database products, rather than the databases themselves. So it is not surprising the company chose to announce its new Oracle Partner Program (OPP) in conjunction with last week's launch of the Oracle8i "Internet database".
"Our [database] technology is for the most part like the ignition system of a car - people don't wake up in the morning and say 'I'd like to buy a database'," Nick Evered, Oracle's regional channels manager, admits. "They actually talk about wanting to buy solutions.
"So if our product is like the ignition, we need to work with partners and the channel to provide a complete car."
Key to Oracle's new partner program is accredi-tation. All of the company's partners will now be ranked as either an Oracle program member, Oracle certified solution partner (OCSP), or Oracle certified advantage partner (OCAP).
To qualify for the base-level Oracle program member accreditation, partners are required to have at least 30 per cent of their business devoted to IT services, applications sales or resales. That then entitles the partner to leverage Oracle's technology and gives them access to technical support.
But depending on the accreditation track they choose, partners will be required to have at least one certified sales person and one certified technical person to achieve OCSP level.
In return, they will enjoy a number of benefits from Oracle including exclusive partner branding, marketing support, access to market development funds, and discounts for Oracle training courses and events.
A number of OCSPs are then invited by Oracle to become OCAPs, meaning they receive additional discounts and priority access to Oracle sales and support.
"The certification is really a guarantee in two directions - it's a guarantee to the customer that the partner they're dealing with has significant skill, experience and professionalism in implementing Oracle solutions; and it is a guarantee to Oracle that the partner has the requisite level of skill and commitment," said Nick Aronson, Oracle's marketing manager, alliances and channels.
Consequently, OCSPs and OCAPs will be key to Oracle's channel sales model, according to Evered.
"The certified partners are the ones we're going to proactively go to market with and we actually have a channel sales force who are working with them to aggressively pursue campaigns within specific markets and within specific account opportunities," he said.
Aronson admits the reactive channel approach has been characteristic of Oracle's general dealings with the channel until now.
"Where a lot of our issues have come from in the past have been from working with partners on a deal-by-deal basis and we've had a lot of partner programs that have been very specific and reactive to partner requests or needs," he said.
"But the focus on individual business is now gone and this program is pulling all of those prior programs together and defining a consistent way that we can deal with our partners."
But bypassing all the hype, will Oracle really be able to redeem the conflict issues with the channel that have hounded it in the past?
Evered concedes Oracle is "still fundamentally a field sales organi-sation", but he argues that from managing director level down to account manager level there are now specific sales management processes and incentives to encourage its staff to work effectively with the company's partners.
"But can I say the channel conflict has totally gone? No, because vendors can't ever totally remove channel conflict," Evered claims. "But you can certainly manage it far better, working with a smaller number of partners, by being more honest and up-front with them."
Evered maintains the channel will be a crucial component of Oracle's future success.
"What we want to do is focus on our partners and their profitability and we're very confident Oracle's profitability will then flow from that."