How to Make Enterprise Support a True Partnership
Cutting the cord
When a large US-based electronics and solutions provider decided to sever its support ties with Oracle support, they changed the way they managed their investments – for good. The company’s decision to pivot toward third-party vendor support was precipitated by the deteriorating value of Oracle as a partner. In their client’s eyes, Oracle was more interested in collecting revenue than delivering service excellence.
Moving away from Oracle support is a significant change that reverberates at every level of the organization. Transformation projects are often mired in fears and psychological barriers. No one wants to open the door to risk or vulnerability, especially when that risk involves mission-critical systems deeply ingrained in the business.
Preparing for a psychological journey
Overcoming the fears that people have concerning the impact change will have on the business, the IT department, and the professionals working with these business-critical solutions doesn’t have to be a hurdle. In our Escape Story series, you’ll learn how executives punched through the fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) to forge new relationships with third-party support vendors.
The advantages of transitioning to third-party vendor support far outweigh the perceived risks of leaving Oracle. Benefits include more control and freedom to manage the IT infrastructure, a partner that provides improved levels of service for at least 50% lower cost than they spend with the vendor today, and increased operational efficiency.
The Escape Story case studies offer valuable insight into how each trailblazer championed a move to third-party vendor support, what they did to prepare for success, and how they dispelled the fears associated with cutting the cord with Oracle.
A critical phase in the journey is distinguishing between the facts and the FUD from Oracle. Envisioning the unknown, understanding the current scenario from licensing needs through to security updates, mapping out a roadmap for when you finally break free; these are all phases of the journey.
Unique but not alone
Every organization’s situation is different; from the length of time until contracts change, the approach a business takes to growth, e.g., merger and acquisition versus organic growth, how the business will transform in the future and what it needs to do. These factors will influence a company’s ability to navigate its way to better service, for less.
The good news is that other organizations have crossed the chasm. And, even though these organizations’ situations feel unique, the rationalization and planning processes these executives experienced have some common elements.
Let’s take a look at how Tony Rogers (a pseudonym), Vice President of Enterprise Applications at a large US-based electronics and solutions provider, forged a value-driven partnership with Rimini Street, a third-party support vendor.
Replacing Oracle Support with a Value-added Partnership
Tony Rogers, Vice President of Enterprise Applications and Architecture at a large US-based electronics and solutions provider, describes the principle reasons why he pulled the plug on Oracle support.
Building a better partnership
Pulling the plug on Oracle support is a tough decision. Tony’s company had lost faith in Oracle’s ability to provide additional value. The relationship had turned into a sales engagement; Oracle operated like a self-interested vendor, not a partner.
In Tony’s view, not only was the support expensive, their approach to client engagement was focused on transactions and revenue, not service value.
Tony explains: “Oracle was operating as a vendor as opposed to a partner; their idea of engagement revolved around a sales pitch. They weren’t paying attention to improving the value we could get from our relationship, and it left a bad taste in my mouth. 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.”
Pain but no gain
Oracle wanted to move the company to continuous support which ties maintenance and upgrades together; you have to do one thing (upgrade) to receive the other (support). The problem was the support services were costly in time, resources, and money.
“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.”
In Tony’s case, the company didn’t use any Oracle applications, only Oracle database products including RAC F, Diagnostics and Tuning, Partitioning, and none of the advanced indexes.
“The value gap was even more significant when we looked at the database updates. The updates we received didn’t bring any value back to the business.
We didn’t decide to move away from Oracle databases. What we wanted was a better path forward. That’s when we started to broaden the exploration to include other individuals in the organization who might be impacted by our decision, e.g., the application and support teams, as well as the business.”
What fears did Tony encounter?
Fear of change
Any time you implement something new, whether that’s a change in direction and strategy or both, change management is required. Whatever it is, there’s always change management that you have to go through.
Tony’s company had been on Oracle support since the initial licenses were purchased.
With little understanding of what capabilities were available in the third-party vendor support market, Tony and his peers experienced a fear of change, especially in what they didn’t yet know.
Knowledge; the antidote to fear
The antidote to fear of change and the unknown is knowledge. Learning what the options were, how they compared, and the impact on the business was a vital step in the process of deconstructing the problem. Only by stripping the problem down to its bare bones were they able to comprehend what a move meant to the business.
Tony explains: “Our discovery process required looking at the options side-by-side and evaluating what each vendor brought to the table.
- How did what the company receive today compare with what they might receive in the future from either Oracle or a third-party support vendor?
- How did the options compare on cost and value?
- How would the changes affect how the business operated?
- How did any changes impact how the applications worked now and in the future?
“The answers to these questions needed to be weighed up. As a company, we had to go through all of these details, raising concerns and exploring how each concern could be addressed, with ease or difficulty,” notes Tony.
The stakeholders in Tony’s company navigated through their fear, using a side-by-side comparison of each vendor’s capabilities. They addressed each point of concern, assessing the level of ease and difficulty it would take to overcome every bump on the journey.
Overcoming Seven Deadly Objections
Conquer the fear
No one likes to lose an account, and Oracle is no different. Oracle doesn’t let organizations leave without a fight. Legally and tactically, you may often face hurdles Oracle attempts to introduce designed to dissuade you from switching to another support vendor.
Objection handling goes hand in hand with decision-making. Here are some of the more common fears Oracle wants you to believe.
- How can any other company provide better support than the vendor?
- How will the company manage security vulnerabilities that might emerge in the future?
- What happens down the line if the company wants to upgrade an application that is not certified to run on a legacy version of Oracle that hasn’t been upgraded?
- What do the new Service Level Agreement (SLA) response times mean for the business?
- How will the new support work globally? With databases and support personnel all over the world, would everything and everyone be tied in?
- Would paying less for support compromise service quality and access to support?
- Could a system go down because of something that’s changing and would the company be able to recover?
Objection 1: Support quality and access
How can any other company provide support equal to or better than Oracle?
Investing time up front discussing the level of support needed from their third-party support vendor helped Tony’s company not only understand the scope of service and support the company would receive after they made the switch, but enabled them to ensure the type of support they would get met all their needs.
“We had a lot of discussion with different individuals at the third-party support vendor to ensure our decision was sound. We had concerns about whether a new vendor could support our infrastructure in the way that the software developer, Oracle, would.
The objective was to ensure the appropriate people in our company felt comfortable and confident to move ahead with a different vendor. We wanted to have the assurance that the new vendor had the right calibre of people and could provide the type of support we needed, reactively and proactively. Any misgivings we had about competence were dispelled when we understood how qualified their people were; they had the in-depth knowledge, breadth of experience, bandwidth and capacity to handle anything that happened.
During our discussions, we also identified the two types of support we needed. For reactive support, when a problem arises and an issue is logged, somebody to help resolve the issue. We expected our partner to give us proactive support, too.
For example, if we’re going through a large upgrade that’s running on an Oracle database, we wanted to feel confident our support vendor would be on standby. We want them checking that certain things worked okay; or, perhaps having them prepare a readiness check that might identify potential problem areas in advance.”
Know precisely how the new partnership with your new third-party support vendor will operate, in advance. The cornerstone of a true partnership is trust. The capabilities, experience, and proactive approach to support Tony’s company’s activities fostered and sustained that trust.
Objection 2: Security vulnerability
How will we manage security vulnerability?
Not receiving future security updates from Oracle is a factor to consider in the near- and long-term. While the near-term security risk is concerning, the more pressing issue was how to manage vulnerability in the future. The risk encompasses the business, the ecosystem of partners, as well as any suppliers with which your company is or will transact.
Security is top of mind for any company, and Oracle will use your fear of vulnerability as a lever. They will show you data and statistics to support the risks, exposure and the impact of not receiving security patches and updates.
According to Tony, Oracle instills fear in the people with whom they engage; they use a surround strategy and work their way around to different players, bypassing whoever is advocating the decision to leave.
“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.
The solution gives us the ability to either enforce a harsh rule of immediately stopping any activity that we believe is exploiting a vulnerability, or take a more lax approach to handle an emerging situation. We could choose to monitor or dig deeper.
As a priority, if we took action to terminate our support maintenance from Oracle, moving forward with the third-party support vendor, we needed to implement this ADS tool immediately.
Frankly, the tool gave us more capabilities than we had currently. Not only was it addressing a concern that we had by moving away from Oracle and not having access to patches, but it also gave us visibility into an aspect of the databases that we hadn’t been monitoring. We solved two problems at the same time.”
Objection 3: Application upgrades and database incompatibility
What happens if we want to upgrade to an app that doesn’t run on an old version of the database?
“Both our internal DBA and managed services team have done an excellent job of keeping up to date on how our applications integrate with the back-level version of the Oracle database we’re using. Their efforts will ensure we can continue using our applications for several years.
We realize, however, if we do nothing, the scenario where incompatibility between our applications and the version of Oracle database we’re using will create limitations. It’s inevitable at some point an application we want to use will no longer run on the version of the database that we’re running.
Fortunately, we’re still a few years from that juncture; the stance we’ve taken is to wait until that time is nearer. In the meantime, we’ll be looking at our database management system strategy for the entire company, proactively making some decisions now that will help us down the line.
One option we may take in the future is to move away from Oracle, implementing an alternative database technology. When that strategy is evaluated, we’ll be reviewing the total cost of ownership, which includes the costs of maintenance and any license implications.
Whatever direction we take with our database decisions, will be one that doesn’t lead us into the same situation. No matter what technology we end up using, we still need to derive value from that investment without cornering ourselves into paying far more than what we’re paying now annually. We’ve already started down a less expensive path that will help us to avoid the scenario.”
Objection 4 : SLA response time
What do new Service Level Agreement (SLA) response times mean for the business?
“We didn’t have any faith in Oracle’s ability to respond to a support request quickly. We wanted timely support but never got it. When we logged something, regardless of the severity and importance of the incident, we weren’t satisfied that Oracle was responding to our requests with any sense of urgency.
When we had a pressing issue, we followed the process, logging the issue, but then always reached out to our account representative immediately to ask them to follow up to ensure our request was prioritized.
Conversely, the SLAs our third-party support vendor discussed, and for which we signed up, made us feel much more comfortable. Initially, we were sceptical. How could a vendor company provide timely support when Oracle couldn’t? We wondered if our requests would end up filtered through several people. The reality was the exact opposite. The commitments the support vendor signed up to have all been met, and it’s a breath of fresh air.”
Objection 5: How will the new support vendor work globally?
How will the new support work globally? With databases and support personnel all over the world, would everything and everyone be tied in?
Seek clarification around licensing restrictions and find out whether you have the legal right to cancel your support and maintenance contracts. For Tony’s company, licensing arrangements became a factor due to an acquisition.
“We operate around the world. Our teams provide support in major regions including the Americas, Asia Pacific, Japan, Europe and the Middle East. But beyond that, it was also, you know, we have operations across the globe. We have critical applications running on Oracle, and they exist in every region. We needed to ascertain how changes we made would impact these individuals if we had an issue. Would they be able to get support at any time, 24×7?
Posing the questions early, getting more information, having the answers helped us to develop the communication path to make sure we get that support and SLAs satisfied.”
The answers lay in getting clarity around what our entitlements were and the groups that those entitlements were grouped into from an Oracle perspective. For example, how does Oracle view database technologies; what’s within that category and what falls outside it?
“We also took a close look at our ordering documents to understand what’s grouped, what our capabilities were, and what potential concern there could be. We worked through those details carefully; we didn’t want to leave any room for Oracle to challenge us on anything or come back to chase the revenue we took away from them by terminating a contract.”
Part of Tony’s due diligence was to speak with other customers who had shifted their support contracts to the third-party support vendor they were evaluating. According to Tony, he never heard any of these references share a story where Oracle let them simply say, ‘we intend to terminate their support agreement’; it was never easy.
“Talking with other companies with experience leaving Oracle support provided invaluable insight that helped to quell our fear of reprisal. Our legal and procurement teams went through the ordering document and contracts from Oracle with a fine-toothed comb. We wanted to understand what Oracle’s comeback might look on both the contractual and tactical sides.
Initially, we had concerns about a potential audit; however, it had only been five years since the last Oracle audit. Since then, we’d kept a close watch on our entitlements and their usage and didn’t foresee any surprises.”
Objection 6: Fear of reprisal from Oracle
Would paying less for support compromise service quality and access to Oracle support?
When the IT department makes a statement they intend to move away from Oracle support, immediately eyebrows are raised, and questions are asked up the management chain to the executive level. The underlying impact of a decision to terminate a relationship with the vendor that owns the databases that run your operations is a board matter concern.
Preemptive communications are vital
The hard sell isn’t in the IT department; the battleground is the rest of the company. For Tony, constant internal communications with key individuals and senior leaders and executives created transparency, fostered trust, and built confidence.
“We took preemptive action with clear communications to the executive board and our senior management team. We explained that we would be exploring our options and lay out the reasons why.
Using a business-case approach, we described the situation, the amount we were paying, the value we derived from the service we received. We explained why we didn’t believe it was in the company’s best interest to stick with Oracle. Then, we outlined the options available.
The purpose of the communication was to inform and make them aware that no action had taken place yet. It was a heads up that we would be considering our options and taking a deeper dive to weigh up the pros and cons of the different options.
We communicated what we were doing and why. When we got closer to what we believed was a good business case for an alternate strategy, we provided an update.”
Objection 7: What if the database broke and we couldn’t fix it?
Could a system go down because of something that’s changing and would the company be able to recover?
Tony’s company was moving away from support from a very large vendor on which they had grown to rely. The databases were running the company’s critical business operations. What if something catastrophic went wrong?
Prepare for the worst
A catastrophic system down emergency was Tony’s biggest worry. The likelihood of a system failure was more of a future concern as the database aged. Tony’s company took a two-pronged approach to minimize the threat.
First, they made sure the quality of support provided in the near-term addressed problem-areas proactively. Second, they worked with the third-party support vendor to fully document and explain the backup process, how long backups were retained, and the minimum time expected to recover.
“Make sure you genuinely understand and talk through an exhaustive list of potential scenarios that includes what to do if the system goes down; what to do when you’re getting ready for a project where there’s a significant change to a system, and what happens if you move from one database technology to another.
To overcome fear, we had to examine all these pieces and the details of our engagement for every situation. It was this kind of in-depth discussion we had with the third-party vendor leading up to the switch that boosted our confidence in our ability to manage under any circumstance.”
Know your licensing capacity and status
The threat of non-compliance is a card Oracle plays. Regardless of contractual obligations, Oracle takes a hard line on pushing its customers to renew support contracts. You will be sent invoices and told you have no option. They will tell you you’re legally bound to renew.
“We certainly did consider what would happen in the future if we found ourselves in the situation where we needed to purchase additional Oracle licenses. It was an unlikely occasion, as we had already done a ton of consolidation that left us far below our entitlement with unused licenses. Nonetheless, we weighed the different options, and determined that we were in a good position. We knew that if we went back to Oracle, we’d have to back pay for the support on the licenses.”
Understand what the end-game is
Understand what your final destination is. Are you terminating support with Oracle, or are you severing your ties with Oracle as a technology partner?
Initially, Tony’s company was fearful that if they had to return to Oracle for support, they’d be asked to pay the missed support retroactively. A decision needed to be made in the first few years of the switch regarding the future roadmap.
“In our minds, when we decided to end the Oracle support for the database, we knew we were also severing a significant portion of our relationship with Oracle. Although we still had some of their products, and we paid maintenance on those products, we had no intention of increasing the Oracle technology footprint.
We didn’t have the appetite to remain partners with Oracle anymore. If we started to go down a technology decision path that was pointing toward Oracle, we would take a serious look at that decision, and consciously steer away from Oracle.”
Tips on Avoiding Gotchas on the Path to Freedom
Overcoming fear and uncertainty is a process of gaining a better understanding of what forms the core of the obstacles. Tony’s company conquered the FUD factors through research, communication, transparency, and crunching the numbers.
Tip 1: Maintain an open and honest dialogue
Transparency will foster trust and build confidence. At Tony’s company, the IT department doesn’t operate as a silo; they work in full partnership with the business. By maintaining open and honest communication, bringing the business in on the decisions the IT department was making, they avoided surprises.
“Once we knew we wanted to start going down this path and we engaged the broader IT team that needed to be involved, that’s the same point in time that we started engaging with the business. As we learned things, we would share that knowledge with them. It wasn’t that we got the entire IT organization comfortable with the idea and then told the business about it; we did it in a parallel manner.
When you’re making technology decisions, there’s always an impact on the business, whether it’s something visible or not. By bringing the business leaders along the journey, by the time we were ready to act on the information and knowledge we’d been gathering, many of the concerns had abated.
From the beginning, we involved the executives and board, educating them along the way, fostering trust that the IT department was making a sound decision in the interests of the business.”
Tip 2: Go slow and be thorough
Engaging in communication early on is a worthwhile investment. Tony’s company found success by taking the time to dig deep, ask a lot of questions, engage in lengthy discussions, and involve a cross-section of stakeholders.
“Our journey with the third-party vendor took several months of discovery and understanding. We had a lot of discussions with the new vendor about how long it could take to make the switch. Many of our conversations became redundant as we realized we were essentially talking about the same thing. We engaged different players at different times and other people to ensure we didn’t find ourselves in a surprising state.
Involving more people helped build out the bigger picture. Different vantage points helped raise additional concerns, less apparent scenarios, or situations they wanted to avoid. By the time we were ready to make a decision, we felt we’d exhausted all the what-if possibilities we might encounter.
Strive for transparency at every level. Ask the difficult questions; the answers are there, but you have to dig them out to make a move away from Oracle in a way that helps you.
In our case, proceeding with caution was more important than speed. We probably would have been fine if we had made our decision more quickly, but we gained a lot of comfort by taking the time over six months.”
Tip 3: Get your archiving process in order
If you’re considering a switch, archiving is something to do proactively to avoid any hiccups down the line. If an organization hasn’t been managing their archive process as thoroughly as Tony’s DBAs, then it’s a big undertaking to go through, one that sometimes requires an external consultant.
“One of the things the third-party support vendor stressed was the importance of the archive process, for example, making sure we had all versions of the products we were entitled to, installed.
Fortunately, our DBA team was very diligent and had already had a robust and comprehensive archive process in place. We made sure we had the versions of those products or installed versions of them. That way, if we decided to upgrade in the future, we could upgrade to the versions we were entitled to when we were a paying support customer.”
Tip 4: Meet regularly, think proactively
It wasn’t an accident that Tony’s company’s transition went smoothly.
“We worked on access. We worked on getting a monitoring tool implemented. We started a cadence of meetings to leverage the capabilities of our new third-party support partner fully.
The most challenging thing to manage was the culture change around how we interacted with the new vendor. We only contacted Oracle when we had an issue. The new vendor offers much more than that. For example, in the first few months, we only had a handful of incidents logged with the new vendor. They kept checking in to see if they could help with anything, the way you’d expect a partner to operate.
The engagement from the new vendor was more proactive; they reached out to make sure they were doing everything they could to help. Ongoing communication happened at multiple levels too; at the executive, the director level, and with the DBAs. We also had team members in different regions who were dialed into the conversations, too; they were aware of the support process and knew how to interact.”