Q&A: Channel Partners Keynote Oracle’s Bob Evans

Bob Evans has taken on a newly created role at Oracle articulating the software giant’s strategy and business value to more than 100,000 customers around the globe. He reports directly to CEO Larry Ellison as senior vice president of communications. The job is one for which Evans is well prepared, having spent more than 30 years as a technology journalist most recently as editor of InformationWeek’s Global CIO covering the hot issues in enterprise IT.

Evans is a translator of sorts, helping businesses understand how technology can be a strategic advantage. He evangelizes ways of communicating with customers not only to address the new non-IT decision makers and the accelerated pace of decision making but also to engage them in a dialogue that accelerates product development and time to benefit.

He will discuss strategies for moving at the speed of the customer in his keynote address at the Fall 2012 Channel Partners Conference & Expo. Channel Partners Editor-in-Chief Khali Henderson interviewed Evans for this preview of his remarks. What follows is an edited transcript.

Channel Partners: What excites you most about the direction of the IT/communications industry?

Bob Evans: Endless innovation and opportunity improves quality of life and standard of living for hundreds of millions of people across the globe. … The power of the competitive market has forced better ideas to the top, more choices for consumers. All these consumer-oriented benefits are made possible by the business community that has harnessed technology, new ideas, new approaches, hard work [and] innovation to create these new sorts of goods and services that are improving the standard of living around the world, created jobs, sparked ideas for new companies [and] entrepreneurship.

CP: Conversely, what keeps you up at night?

BE: Intervention/regulation of the tech industry by governments and other bureaucrats. … Some government oversight is helpful, but there is a point at which it begins to blunt innovation. I think it becomes busybodies that want to get involved in things. [For example, there are proposals that] the United Nations should take over the Internet because it’s a global good, it’s a global entity that private enterprise shouldn’t have control of. It’s those sorts of things that I worry about. … I think what we want to do is create an era where the government does what it should do and gets the hell out of the way, so that entrepreneurs and business people with the best ideas and the best work ethic and creativity succeed.

What are the top three messages you hope to communicate in your keynote address?

BE: 1. Never stop asking what business you are in. … The world is changing faster than it ever has before. There are new technologies, new business models, new strategies, more engagement from customers in ways we haven’t seen before. Ten years ago, if I was in package delivery, why would I buy a copy store? [Kinko’s] became an extension of FedEx business, which was not delivering packages but engineering time. Kinko’s gave them a direct engagement with consumers and extended the brand. … The point I’m making is that you can be a variety of things and you can have a variety of different product and service lines. What you ultimately have to do is tie that up and say,  “In the eyes of the customers, what do they want me to be, what do they need me to be? And a year or two from now, as customer needs and desires and interests change, am I going to keep pace with them or am I going to be stuck making buggy whips in an era of automatic transmissions?”

      2. Never forget that you have to move as fast as your customers. … If the people you are buying from don’t move as fast as you do, if their interests and capabilities don’t map with yours, you are not going to do business with them. … Take social media: Two years ago if you didn’t have a social media presence, you were ignorant; it was a blind spot. Today, [if you don’t have a social media presence], you don’t know what’s going on and by not engaging in it, the message you are sending is, “I don’t care about communicating with you the way you want to communicate with me.”  … If you are not there, how aware can you be? I immediately say [you are] “backward,” “out of touch,” “what else are you not doing?”  … You know you are moving as fast as your customers if you are communicating with them in ways that allow you to keep touch with what’s going on without being intrusive. … It’s almost like the opt-in mentality. I want to be as close to you and as connected to you as I can be up to the point that you tell me it’s too much. It’s about speed. And, the only way to get that speed, I think, is through some level of intimacy and connectedness. And connectedness implies face-to-face when that’s necessary, but increasingly it’s about technology. … The ongoing, minute-to-minute [connection] is technology, not a salesperson sitting in someone’s office taking notes.

      3. Embrace disruption as a competitive advantage instead of fearing it as a source of uncertainty. For someone my age, middle-aged, technology change and disruption was on a three-, four- or five-year cycle and even then you could predict it. It would be a bigger, better version of this current thing we have a little faster, a little less expensive. It was the same fundamental setup; the business models didn’t change. Now you have stuff flying in here from all over the place, which is turning this stuff upside down. It’s not just  predictable, linear Newtonian progress. It’s coming from unexpected directions, unexpected competitors. They are not doing the same old thing for 50 percent less; their model is different, their approach is different and their processes are different. In every case, those are being driven by technology. Whether it’s VoIP or cloud or social media, you can’t sit back and just hope that if you pull the covers over your head, it will pass. That’s just suicide. … We have to … set up a culture that allows for this high-change sort of world and then get the right tools in there to move as quickly and confidently and with as much foresight as possible.

CP: In other words, partners need to use the technologies they are selling. I would venture a lot don’t.

BE: Then you get a wink and chuckle and, “It’s the cobbler’s kids go barefoot.” But, it’s not funny anymore. Ultimately what you are saying to the world is that, “I am not equipped to keep up with you.”


Hear more from Oracle’s Bob Evans in his Keynote Address, “Moving at the Speed of Your Customers,” at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo, Sept. 12-14, in Orlando.

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