The Psychology of Overcoming the Fear of Ending Oracle Support
When it comes to charting an escape from a business relationship with Oracle, many of the barriers are psychological. Legitimate fears must be addressed as part of the transition.
This is understandable because Oracle applications and databases play a big role in many companies’ business operations. In addition, staff may have years of investment in learning about Oracle and how to work according to their processes and fear that their roles will change for the worse. Nobody wants to make a move that ends up causing problems.
Addressing the psychological barriers, the fear that may be associated with a move to third-party support, is a crucial part of a successful migration.
We interviewed several IT leaders who had successfully navigated an escape from a pathological relationship with Oracle about how to navigate the psychological barriers.
(Note, the quotes included in this story are pseudonyms to protect the anonymity of those quoted. The detailed accounts of all of the experiences of all of these executives in leaving Oracle can be found in the Escape Stories Episode of the Escape Hatch from Oracle Research Mission on EarlyAdopter.com)
Here are the fears they had to navigate as they executed their escape:
- Fear of Catastrophic Outage After Ending Support
- Fear of Cybersecurity Breaches
- Fear of Leaving the Oracle System
- Fear of Leaving Oracle Forever
- Fear of the Third-Party Support Model
Fear of Catastrophic Outage After Ending Support
One of the most common fears is that after you leave Oracle support is that your software will stop working and you won’t be able to fix it.
The Fear: The Unfixable Problem
This fear at first seems reasonable. This train of thinking goes like this:
- Oracle created the software. If something goes wrong, aren’t they the ones who can fix it?
- In fact, they are in complete control so they can do anything needed to fix it.
- What if the third-party support company runs into a problem they cannot solve?
- Will we be unable to run our business?
The Remedy: Education
This fear, like most we will discuss, must be dealt with by education.
First of all, most people are leaving Oracle because they are frustrated that they are paying ~20 percent of the original license fee for a stream of fixes and updates to the software. The first question to ask is, when was the last time you actually had a critical issue that required you engaging Oracle support, and did they fix the issue in a timely fashion (or at all)? This all of course assumes you’re running the latest release that is fully supported by the vendor. If for some reason you are not, then your access to new fixes and updates may be non-existent.
So, it is often the case for customers leaving Oracle support that they are several releases behind the current release and have been paying for full support without being fully supported.
Now, as part of the move to third-party support, companies can download all of the software upgrades ,updates, patches, fixes and documentation that are currently available at the time of their transition. These are their entitlements. So if any are needed after support ends, they are available.
In addition, software is incredibly stable after it has been used for several years. When software first comes out and is used by thousands of customers, in the first year all of the major and minor bugs are found and fixed.
The problems that stop software from working properly after it has operated for years tend to be related to problems with the data.
The ultimate remedy to this fear is to understand the low risk of a catastrophic outage, remind yourselves of how helpful or responsive vendor support has been historically, and then understand the ability of third-party support to resolve any issue. Third-party support companies are eager to explain how they provide support in any case and how they will handle all the situations that arise.
“Our database is a mission-critical application that we depend on 24×7. If we dropped Oracle support, would we be able to recover our systems and resolve the issue? At the end of the day, if the worst happened, we wanted to have the vendor with the best capability of working with us to resolve the issue. If Oracle’s past performance providing support was anything to go on, it begged the question, ‘how real was that safety net’?,” says Anna Stephens, Head of Applications Portfolio, supporting Enterprise Applications at a large manufacturing company.
“Our experience with Oracle support wasn’t great. Even though Oracle was the software provider, the quality of support we received was still lacking. I went as far as to start quoting our past experience facing catastrophic incidents, those times when Oracle was of no use. Gradually, people began to see how that false sense of security that had built up over time was just a veneer,” says Stephens.
|Stay Safe: Get to your long-term release before you drop Oracle
One executive reported that almost all priority one cases at his shop were related to repetitive upgrades. His strategy then became to get to the version he wanted to live with for several years while a migration away from Oracle was planned, and then switch to third-party support. This reduced the risk of any priority one problem.
Third-party support companies have hundreds of examples of companies being able to upgrade while on third party support, as well as accessing their archived next release, but this executive was upgrading to the last major release after a long journey of decades of forced upgrades, and felt it better to get to that release first and then move to third party support.
“We were never happy with Oracle support, so we developed a coping methodology. We’d stay current on the versions, upgrading every three or four years to try and avoid issues. However, we still ran into roadblocks due to customizations. But, who hasn’t customized their applications? We’d lose days going back and forth to prove the problem was with the PeopleSoft code, not the customization,” says the director of business applications at a large consumer products company.
One prime example of where third-party support companies can help during an upgrade is around customizations. The goal with third-party support is not to just support the Oracle software, but support the environment around it, such as customizations and extensions, and requires expert staff and processes which is why you often see the average tenure of third-party support engineers being 15 years or greater.
“Whatever we’re running, if it’s customized, if it’s a data problem, our new third-party support vendor will try to figure out what the problem is. It doesn’t matter if it’s customized code or any extensions we’ve written; they’re there to help. The starting position for Oracle is that we had to prove we had a problem before they’d fix it; that’s a huge difference in service quality,” explains Jeremy Smith, a Senior IT executive from a large U.S.-based food and beverage company.
In contrast, to get to the deep expertise in Oracle you often have to make your case that you really have a problem to level one and level two support, as Oracle often looks for reasons to avoid escalation to higher level support. For example, if you have a customization, you may have to do a lot of work to convince them that the problem is not related to the customization before they will work the issue.
“With Oracle, one of the first questions, and points of refusal, is about customizations. With our new support vendor, that’s not an issue. They’ll help us even if it’s customization or if we built a module in People code. Although they might not be as familiar with it, they won’t just toss us out of the support queue,” says the director.
Third-party support companies will generally work the issue right away with qualified people regardless of whether a customization is in place.
So, this rational fear can be taken care of by increasing understanding, and companies may realize they may be gaining more support for issue resolution than they had even under the vendor.
“Everyone is so much happier with the experiences they have with our third-party support vendor versus the Oracle support experience. Since we’ve gone live, I’ve had nothing but good reports. We get callbacks within an hour; the staff are experienced, and they keep you updated; no more black holes,” adds the director.
Fear of Cybersecurity Breaches
Another fear that Oracle has adeptly stoked in its customer base centers around cybersecurity threats. Oracle promotes the belief that customers that opt for third-party support are compromised from a security perspective. But, again, this just isn’t true.
The Fear: Your software will become less secure over time
Oracle argues that a move to third-party support means a loss of access to cybersecurity updates that will solve crucial problems with your software. Oracle asserts that if you don’t get those updates, then your software will become more vulnerable to attack.
The Remedy: Cybersecurity for Oracle Apps is about the Perimeter
Cybersecurity is a complex and challenging arena, one that is changing all the time.
But let’s make one thing clear, Oracle apps were built in the era of cybersecurity where the assumption was that there would be a strong security perimeter surrounding the software, and relying on critical patch updates (CPUs) alone can be viewed as creating a false sense of security. Patches by nature fix known issues after the fact, and that assumes the customer regularly applies them. Most organizations are 14-18 months behind on patching. So, much like the issue of software fixes, a critical exercise is to understand if and to what level of critical patch updates have been applied and what types of threats they are actually mitigating?
“To allay our fears around security, the third-party support vendor engaged specialists with whom they consulted regarding security, auditing and compliance. In this way, we had objective representation in some of our conversations with the support vendor. Ultimately, what we felt comfortable with was a product they resell called Advanced Database Security (ADS). The solution doesn’t apply security patches; it fixes vulnerability by monitoring the database for patterns of exploiting vulnerabilities,” says Tony Rogers, Vice President of Enterprise Applications and Architecture.
As an example, third-party providers offer virtual patching technologies which operate at the perimeter support to preemptively detect and mitigate threats to the environment and require little downtime or disruption to apply.
“For us, we needed to ensure our perimeter security was strong because whether we moved away from Oracle support or not, we weren’t going to receive any additional security updates once our maintenance rolled over to sustaining support status,” says the director.
But additionally, once companies are on outdated software and with Oracle’s sustaining support, they’re not even receiving security updates from Oracle anyway. So sticking with Oracle does nothing to prevent cybersecurity breaches. In fact, it may make companies more at risk because they may mistakenly think they are protected, when in reality, they’re not gaining any new patches. And it’s important to remember that the most common way for any system or software to be compromised is through a hacker acquiring a user’s password and then getting into the system. Oracle support can’t prevent this.
Fear of Leaving the Oracle Innovation Path
Too often, companies, and the staff within them who work directly on Oracle products, end up thinking they’re in the Oracle business rather than than in the business of using technology to improve and better their business — and bottom line.
The Fear: If we leave the Oracle System, we will lose out on what’s coming next
For many years there was a shared understanding between Oracle and its customers:
- Every few years a new major release of software would come out.
- As long as customers continued to pay maintenance and upgraded to that release, they would enjoy the use of new features and innovation.
However, as I’ve written about in other articles, all of this changed around 2018 when Oracle shifted away from having new major releases on their roadmap and instead simply extended support for the latest release.
Two things have happened since:
- First, nearly every release of the Oracle software, except the latest release, is no longer fully supported by the vendor; and
- Second, new features and fixes are delivered annually, sometimes quarterly depending on the application.
Oracle calls this “Continuous Innovation” but closer inspection has revealed the majority of these updates contain minor enhancements to existing features versus major new innovations that tangibly reduce cost or drive new revenue for the business.
Tony Rogers, Vice President of Enterprise Applications and Architecture, explains: “We had very few incidents and no appetite for being on the bleeding edge. Although we certainly looked at the capabilities available in new versions of software, we didn’t feel like we were getting any more value from them. We didn’t want to change everything by upgrading, which made our decision very easy. Constantly upgrading the software cost the business more than money; it took time to test whenever a new update was released. When we stepped back and asked the question, ‘Are we getting any additional value for the pain of upgrading’, we kept coming back to the same answer: no, not really. If the new functionality and changes in the upgrades don’t help my business, then why am I paying a lot for maintenance to get them? We were fine with where we were and didn’t want to make the changes.”
Each company needs to run this analysis for their particular set of applications, industry and needs, but the decision point should be to ask the business of what may come in the future, how much new value will it add to the business, and is it worth paying Oracle to wait for it?
Another factor to always keep is whether your organization has plans at some point to migrate their applications to a new solution in the next 3-5 years. This could be migrating to SaaS, which is a re-implementation of the software, or even migrating to a non-Oracle ERP solution.
If the future roadmap is to migrate off of your existing Oracle applications, then continuing to pay Oracle maintenance, organizations should consider avoiding what one customer called the “double bubble” where they were paying for SaaS and paying maintenance for their existing Oracle applications in the data center during the migration. This company decided to move to third-party support to free up funds and resources to allow more focus on the SaaS migration, knowing they were not going to be needing any of the vendor updates given their move to SaaS.
According to the director of business applications at a large consumer products company, “when you move to a new platform with Oracle, you hit the double bubble where you’ve got to pay a subscription to the SaaS model and pay Oracle for their maintenance. When you bank all that into the ROI, it’s tough to justify a major investment in a new ERP system. But, when you can go in with 45 percent of what you were spending with Oracle, that makes that first bubble significantly less, making the OPEX look a lot more attractive in those early years when you have to run both systems.”
The Remedy: Think of Oracle as a tool to help your business, not the business itself.
Oracle makes great software. That software is a tool to run your business, but it should not dictate how you run your business. Internal staff often will embrace the higher quality of response and service that often comes with third-party support as compared to the vendor, but may have questions around what this means for the future roadmap of the IT organization. With newly freed budget and less time spent on support issues, these teams often find themselves able to spend more focus on developing new solutions using the application tools, or even expanding their skill sets to deploy new technologies the business needs.
Fear of Leaving Oracle Forever
Another fear is that if companies adopt third-party support, they are then permanently leaving Oracle forever and can never go back.
The Fear: Oracle won’t allow you back into their system
One of the most commonly made threats during a migration to third-party support is that it will be impossible to come back to Oracle if you decide you have made a mistake or if there are other reasons for returning.
While this statement is often made, it has never been implemented. I have never been able to find a customer that was turned away when they wanted to return to Oracle.
The Remedy: Realize Oracle is always happy for more revenue
The first thing for companies is when they move to third-party support, they remain an Oracle customer. They own licenses, can add new licenses, add new users; Oracle is in the business of selling software and will gladly continue to do so.
But companies must also recognize they have the leverage, not Oracle. They have more power than they often recognize. For example, sometimes organizations will want to return to Oracle to get access to a new update or feature that was released but fear that Oracle will somehow punish them if they return. Oracle often threatens customers that they will have to pay back support if they leave, but they almost never actually enforce this. And think about it — what business sense would it make for Oracle to punish customers who wanted to come back? That would just drive away potential business in the short- and long-terms.
Ultimately, Oracle is like any other business that is trying to achieve higher revenue gains: it’s not in their interest to drive away customers, whether those are current or former ones. The truth is, customers can always go back to Oracle if they want — but most seldom do once they’ve seen the benefits of third-party support.
Fear of the Third-Party Support Model
The Fear: Third-party support doesn’t really work and will be stopped by Oracle
Oracle has never been happy that third-party companies have made a business out of supporting its products. As a result, Oracle has repeatedly taken legal action against these companies seeking to stop the model and protect its intellectual property. These suits have succeeded in garnering publicity, but they have never succeeded in stopping the third-party companies from offering support.
The Remedy: Do the homework and ask the hard questions
Years ago, third-party support was an innovative model, seeking to prove itself. But as comments from leading analysts like Garner confirm, the model is now proven and is here to stay. The benefits for everyone, except Oracle are too profound to ignore. Yet, because third-party support is a new idea to many companies, and because of Oracle’s dedication to spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the model, the fear of switching can be daunting.
Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind both how little support the company is receiving from Oracle now and how much better support it can gain by opting for the third-party option.
With Oracle support, the ability to call and quickly get issues resolved is not a viable option. Oracle’s system often requires companies to enter a ticket online and then wait an indeterminate amount of time to escalate through Oracle’s process until you reach a technician on their support team actually able to work the issue, and all this assumes Oracle will in fact even work the issue. This can take days or even weeks in some cases, and often, once Oracle does get around to addressing it, it’s only to tell the customer that the problem isn’t supported by their contract because the company has modified the software in some way. Over time, this process leaves companies trying to triage the problems themselves and avoiding calling Oracle at all costs. Again, that’s a huge waste of money and resources.
Jeremy Smith, a Senior IT executive from a large U.S.-based food and beverage company, explains: “Nine times out of 10, when a technician called back, the answer was the same; the software was modified and therefore not supported. In practice that meant the company spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was wrong before they ever called Oracle. We called Oracle support as a last resort because it was just too hard to get what we needed. With the new vendor, it takes one call, a ticket is generated, and a real person takes immediate action. If it’s a sev-1, it’s acted on; we don’t have to wait for somebody to get back to us.”
But companies don’t have to put up with the lack of support Oracle provides. Third-party support is so much more responsive. Providers offer 24/7/365 support that is focused specifically on resolving their issues. The leading third-party support providers offer 10 minute or less response times for critical P1 issues, and will work issues regardless of what release you’re running and even if it’s related to custom code. There’s no need to justify or prove the worthiness of the issue.
“Before the move to a third-party support vendor, the managed service team’s responsibility was front line-support; they chased down the tickets with Oracle. Now, our new support vendor does all the triage work from the get-go; my team doesn’t have to waste time on it,” adds Smith.
Third-party support thus leads to better results. Companies can break-free of the hamster wheel of upgrades and updates that Oracle requires to maintain access to full support, but still have the freedom to upgrade or update their software when they choose.
“Everything we were doing was just too much, and the software maintenance was the biggest piece of it. We had to find a way out of the hamster wheel,” notes Smith.
Again, leading third-party support providers are publicly measured on client satisfaction, even going so far as to tie company employee compensation to this metric. This creates a culture where the whole goal is to solve the client’s problems rather than to try to find ways to avoid them as is the case with Oracle. All of this comes with a guaranteed 50% or more hard cost savings in annual maintenance fees for Oracle compared to what companies pay today.
Why Were You So Fearful?
Oracle’s model creates a very transactional relationship with their customers, versus a partnership model. When customers resist the model, Oracle can get “cranky” as one customer put it. And just like with any relationship, at some point the party that is continually unhappy may make a decision to leave. The tipping points could be many: it could start with going to Oracle and pointing out they’re using only a small fraction of the amount of software for which they have licenses but Oracle doesn’t adjust their billing in response. It could start with customers growing tired of being forced to adopt new versions, upgrades, just to maintain full support. It could start after the threat of an audit if they don’t entertain buying more software.
“The total cost of acquisition (TCA) looked like a wonderful deal, but it wasn’t. Although the software was bought at an 80% discount, we were paying 20% maintenance with a 3% compounding increase on top of that. Within a few years, we’d more then paid 100% for software that was still sitting on a shelf,” says the director.
The option of paying for continued Oracle support when so little is received in return for it isn’t something customers have to endure any longer. Oracle support is super expensive and provides far less actual support than third-party support. Oracle is usually unwavering in charging customers their support fee, offering the option of moving to the cloud as the only option other than sticking with the subscription model. Oracle wants its customers to believe they don’t have a choice.
For years there was no real alternative to Oracle’s support model however, no better option, but now that third-party support is a proven option with Fortune 500 and Global 100 companies across the world, many Oracle customers are taking back control.
But customers do have a choice. And with third-party support, life after Oracle is better — even for those whose job it was to support. Companies often realize after leaving how much more support they can get than they received from sticking with Oracle rather than third-party support. Immediately, third-party support delivers hard cost savings to the business, and long-term these savings grow even higher as companies no longer need to upgrade or update at Oracle’s pace, support their own customizations or have their own staff self-supporting to fill gaps in Oracle support.
Ultimately, by shifting to third-party support, companies get three main benefits:
- the lower cost of the service itself
- not having to do all the upgrades, updates, patching and testing continuously
- not chasing support tickets.
But to make the shift to third-party support, companies need to be organized in their approach. That requires a lot of preparation and ensuring they have all their licenses in order. They should also understand the length and commitment required to making the change. But this pre-work is going to be worth it, and the third-party support provider has done it thousands of times and can help companies prepare for how to do it, what Oracle will say, and just how to respond.
Anna Stephens, Head of Applications Portfolio at a large manufacturing company explains: “We needed to assess what, if any, legal retaliation we’d face if we severed our support ties with Oracle. Had we been managing our licensing and entitlement correctly? If audited, would we be exposed? It’s not that we had been misusing or abusing our licensing, but over time, as people left the company, had they dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s?”
Poorly managed contracts are a potential pitfall. Fortunately, Anna knew exactly where the money went, and more critically, she knew what the contracts said. “We kept all the contracts in a central place; we understood how these contracts were written and their details,” adds Stephens.
Customers must recognize they are not prisoners to their relationship with Oracle and break away from the fears that keep them bound to a bad product and customer/client relationship. They are in control of their own destiny. The fears about adopting third-party support are not justified.