Innovation and large-scale IT, with Mark Sunday, CIO, Oracle

Mark Sunday, Oracle CIO, discusses how the rise of digital technologies are creating opportunities for CIOs to assert new importance in the enterprise.

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And I know that you’re an executive sponsor to large car manufacturers, Internet of Things. You know, all of this incredible innovation around you, and you were for one of the most innovative companies in the world. What are some of the challenges that you face as a CIO when you obviously have a massive thirst for innovation and technology. What are some of the challenges that you face, and how do you overcome some of these challenges?

Mark:              (34:55) Okay, so first of all the challenge that we have is just our scale. So 140,000 end users in nearly 100 countries, we on board about 25,000-30,000 new people every year. And these aren’t people just doing kind of repetitive tasks, these are true knowledge workers, whether they are people in our engineering rounds, sales rounds, marketing, and other things like the finance and so forth.

(35:25) So how do we do not just deal with stuff at that scale. Now, the key strategy that we have I alluded to earlier that makes this all possible for us is simplify, standardize and centralize. So while I think you can appreciate how that can drive operational excellence, lower cost, help you increase your margins. But what I think often gets forgotten is that even perhaps more important than that is the No. 1 enabler for being fast is being the same.

For my team to implement some new capabilities, because we are the same around the world, we can do it very rapidly because it can then be layered on. We don’t have to worry about how are we going to make this work with 10 different telephony switchboards for example.

(36:18) Likewise if we want to change anything that we are currently doing, since we have one way of doing it it’s very easy for us to morph that on a global scale, and of course it helps to have a culture that’s just embedded to how we operate.

(36:37)In fact, just yesterday on CNBC, I saw an interview with Salim Ismail from Singularity University, who wrote the book, Exponential Organizations. So Oracle was recognized as one of the 10 Fortune 100 companies that are the top 10 in terms of being truly an exponential organization, of being agile, being flexible. So that is our culture from Larry (? Unclear 37:12) from Oracle, all the way through, every employee in the company is, what can we do to be agile? What can we do to be flexible? What can we do to be fast?

(37:21) So all of that you know certainly helps. But, when we talk about challenges the first thing is the scale. The second one I want to point out though is if you think about it, there is no IT organisation on the planet that has a bigger quiver of technology arrows than ours does here at Oracle. If you think about it, my team has access to every technology Oracle’s ever built. Every technology that Oracle’s ever bought, without having to pay for it. So I mean we just have unlimited access.

(38:00) So one of the biggest challenges is that my team every day has 1,000 great ideas, absolutely fabulous ideas. So just because we can doesn’t mean we should. So that’s actually one of the toughest things because my nature is to want to say yes, but we have to figure out where we should say yes.

(38:27) And equal to that is that if the dog doesn’t hunt, don’t feed it. We need to make sure that we are constantly looking at everything that we were doing, and being more than happy to kill something proudly in what seems like a good idea yesterday, might not seem such a good idea today.

(38:44) So those two things are the big challenges because of our scale and I think we standardize things and make things a whole lot easier. And then the second one is we have unlimited possibilities. How do we narrow down in what we are really going to do, and then once we commit to something be agile. You know, be able to you know change if we need to make course corrections, or in fact you know kill if it’s something that doesn’t make sense.

Michael:         (39:14) Do you have a formal innovation program in place? And by the way, I should mention we only have a few minutes left, and we have lots still to ask you. So, now maybe keep your answers on the shortish side and we’ll rush through an hour worth of questions in the next five minutes.

Mark:              (39:34) Okay, we don’t have a formal innovation process but we have an innovation culture. Starting with the people that are really creating our next generation services, to even those folks that are the equivalent masquerade of installing the tires, the culture is how do we do everything better, faster, cheaper.

(39:54) So that’s the continuous improvement, but also I really enjoy the transformational stuff, those team changers, a totally different way of doing things, so always looking for those opportunities as well.

Vala:               (40:09) Mark we have had startups, CEO’s and founders on our show. We’ve had lots of venture capital folks, so a good portion of our audience are startup folks, do you work with startups and if you do, what advice do you have for startups who are looking to approach your organization for potential partnerships?

Mark:              (40:33) So we work with startups on some level. First of all, I love engaging with startups because it always gets challenges me or gets me to think out of the box or to look at new ways of doing things. So, there is a lot of great ideas that we are able to get, but on a related note to be able to give input and feedback as to help them build their business.

(40:59) On occasion we’ve actually acquired startup technology. We’ve placed a large incumbent and we’ve got cases now where we’re fully deployed on a global basis and probably the most significant customer. On a personal level, I like to keep my ear to the what’s going on, and one of the great pleasures I have is that over the last couple of years I’ve been on the selection committee of the Utah Innovation Awards, so it’s been very cool to just say you know all this innovation, whether it is in my space, enterprise committee, or in other spaces like biomedical devices, other life sciences but consumer products and so forth. So you know at all levels.

Michael:         (41:49) So again we only have a few minutes, but we cannot leave without briefly talking about technical integration as Oracle acquires businesses. Can you very quickly, give us a sense of the number of businesses that Oracle has acquired, and what is your role in bringing those companies into the fold?

Mark:              (42:13) Okay, so first of all it’s been over 120 in the last decade and unlike other organizations, we have this playbook that we continuously refine in order to how we assimilate companies. Let me give you my quick version of the guidelines of which we follow.

(42:38) First of all as I’ve already mentioned, the No. 1 enabler for IT effectiveness is freedom from choice, so being incredibly standardized certainly helps. And then, you know the mantra we have relative to acquisitions is that we don’t integrate, we eliminate. So in other words we eliminate anything that’s duplicate, eliminate networks whatever. We go in and we literally rip and replace in the security communications, applications infrastructure. We’re like the board, you will be assimilated; resistance is futile.

(43:15) But beyond that, one of the things that we are really proud of, and this starts from my first day, and my first team at Oracle, when we were being acquired when I was at Siebel, and the first meeting we had is what do you do that we want to make sure doesn’t get lost along the way? Who do you have? So being the Californian Company, and I apologize for short answers, but I’m not good at that, being a Californian company, means that every one of my employees engaged with a major acquisition think of themselves as a prospector.

(43:48) I don’t want to hear about all of the blocks that you run into. I just want to hear about the nuggets of gold. In fact, I’m going to incentivize for you to find those nuggets. Who do they have, what do they do, what technology is employed that is better than what we do? So we not only retain it, we make it the standard across Oracle.

(44:08) So I’ve been unbelievably blessed for the last nine years because we’ve acquired a lot of real class technology companies that you think have a thing or two going within their IT department and we are able to absorb that.

(44:20) Another couple of ones is that I’m a huge believer of one team. On the day, on the very day of Legal Entities merged, for example which was February 15 of 2010 for Sun Microsystems, a very very big company. On that very day Sun IT ceased to exist. If you are a networking person, you’re part of the network team. If you’re a product manager, you’re part of the product management team, service desk etc.

(44:46) In fact, if you’re running data centers, I actually thought Sun was a strong incumbent I had at the time. For instance, from this day we now own Oracle data centers as well. So the next thing is focus on one team because teams, if you keep them separate, will find areas to disagree on.

(45:07) And then kind of the last thing is that I think is inherited across Oracle culture is the fundamental belief, ‘we can recover from a poor decision, there is no recovery from indecision.’ So make decisions very rapidly, but understand while the majority of them are going to be right, occasionally you need to make a new course direction and be ready to do so.

Michael:         (45:30) Okay, and what is the hardest part of acquiring all of these companies and integrating them?

Mark:              (45:38) Well where we run into challenges is the first 65 or so we did were software companies and our playbook – I have come from the semiconductor industry and I spent 20 years there, and it’s all about continuous improvement and cycles of learning. But we got really really good, and then we were thrown a horse with a different color and we acquired a hardware company, and so an entirely different paradigm, different processes and so forth. How do we stick with our mantra -- that was a big challenge for us.

(46:13) More recently cloud companies, there is a different aspect to them and then most recently, our last kind of sizeable acquisition was Micros. Which does the point-of-sales, terminals for hospitality and involves retail, and so once again there are new business models and things. But in each case we’ve stuck with our mantra of expanding our applications, involving our business processes, and expanding our infrastructure so it casts a net over everything we do at Oracle.

Vala:               (46:43) Mark my final question to you is tell me what you love most of all about Tesla.

Mark:              (46:50) It constantly is getting better. I mean if you think about automobiles for the last hundred years, what you bought is everything you could to try and keep it in that shape. But with the Tesla I received on Feb. 28, and so here we are June 5, I’ve received six updates. So some of those updates have been advancements and moving more and more towards semi-autonomous driving. Others have been to expand the ability to deal with long trips, relative to understanding your energy consumption. As you alluded to earlier from the update from about three or four weeks ago put 1.1 seconds on my 0 to 60 time. And over the next couple of months we’ll move from a kind of intelligent cruise control to truly semi-autonomous driving, so I love that it’s constantly getting better.

Michael:         (47:54) Okay well, we have been talking with the CIO of Oracle Corporation, Mark Sunday on episode number 114 of CXO-Talk. Mark, thank you so much for taking the time today for joining us.

Mark:              My pleasure

Michael:         (48:13) I am Michael Krigsman, my glorious co-host Vala Afshar and I hope everybody who’s watching does two things, No. 1 subscribe to our newsletter, and No. 2, come back next week and we’ll see you next time. Bye bye.

This story, "Innovation and large-scale IT, with Mark Sunday, CIO, Oracle" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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