Sunday, 07 April 2019 21:42

How does AI fit into the Oracle/NetSuite strategy?

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At the recent SuiteWorld conference, Oracle's chief executive was quizzed on the company's attitude to AI.

On-stage at the first keynote of the SuiteWorld conference, Evan Goldberg, executive vice-president, Oracle NetSuite interviewed his boss, Mark Hurd, chief executive, Oracle. One of the topics of conversation was the growing use of AI in ERP applications.

To open, Goldberg asked something of a dorothy-dixer, "What is the role of creativity, even in very large companies? And how do you foster it?"

Hurd responded, "We only do two things in the company. Build products and sell products. We have a lot of other functions to help support those two things in the company, but if we don't get those two right, not much else matters. And I think for us, trying to get innovation into our products is at the core of it.

"Right now, we're going through a massive revamp of our products, not in the sense of the core code but implementing analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning. I think we're at the beginning of, in AI, what's going to be a massive move over the course of the next decade, that you and I don't even know how it's going to work out.

"Things like what's being done to applications – we're not a company that believes AI gets to become a separate application but it becomes a feature that's integrated into all the core applications. It's going to do everything from automating the way you communicate with people, all the user interfaces are going to change, all the analytic solutions are going to change. And so creativity for us is not only implementing and executing but not being fearful of what the outcome's going to be. So I think it's going to be a big opportunity for us."

This is key. Too many organisations believe that AI is an end unto itself, but Oracle (and NetSuite) prefer to use it simply to enhance the abilities of their software.

To continue, Goldberg asked, "When we think about AI, Machine Learning, we think of it not only within a company but also across companies – there's so much data out there. When you see companies trying to figure out how they fit into an industry, do you think there's a role for some aggregating of this data and looking at how the whole industry is performing?"

Hurd responded, "I think the first use-cases will be much more mundane. I'll give you an example. When I was CEO of HP, one of my big issues was - I'll give you an example - we used to sell $8B into China; [and] we exported $14B out of China in 2008/9... and we did it mostly out of Shanghai and [...] we'd load up a ship or two every day - it would take 28 days to cross the Atlantic [sic] with finished goods.

"What I wanted to do was get those goods on the ship as fast as they were made and I wanted to allocate them, dynamically, while they were on the water. I wanted to be able to integrate my order system directly into my supply-chain system. I wanted to get - I'd never heard the work 'blockchain' in 2008 - I wanted to securely align a transaction from my order system into my supply-chain system so that I could then dynamically allocate that good that was on the boat to somebody who was going to have it, perhaps, for whatever subset of 28 days that ship was still on the ocean.

"I used to tell our guys, 'this is what we're gonna do.' They would all say, 'there's no chance in hell that we're gonna be able to do all that. We don't have the systems to do that. Everything is siloed, we cannot do that.' So, the ability for us to now... I'll take something as simple as 'recruiting.' We recruit 20,000 people a year into the company, we recruit almost all of them through a 'recruiter' (Hurd used visual 'air-quotes' to emphasis this). Wouldn't it be nice to know, the 100,000 people we recruited over the last five years, all of the correlations between them and their success, or perhaps even lack of success, at Oracle?

"Well, it's hard for us to do – it's a lot of data, it's a lot of crunching; it requires standard practices – we cannot do that as part of a recruiting app. But if I told our head of HR to come to an AI presentation, she's not coming. If I told her "I've got a new recruiting app," she's coming! If I tell the head of Supply Chain, "how would you like to see this new AI capability in the sky?" He'd say, "I'm not going." But if I told him, "we at the same time now can dynamically allocate inventory," they're coming.

"So I think we're going to see these tens and tens and hundreds of use-cases that are really AI-integrated directly into the applications themselves."

This is a strong endorsement of embedding AI into everything. We await NetSuite's SuiteWorld in 12 months' time to see the progress being made.

The author travelled to SuiteWorld as a guest of NetSuite.

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