Oracle CEO: Centralizing data took 5 years

Oracle's recently completed consolidation to a single, global system for enterprise data took five years, Oracle Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison told OpenWorld attendees Wednesday during his keynote address at Oracle's user conference being held in San Francisco.

"It was a very long and arduous task to go to a single global instance," he said. Ellison acknowledged that if it took Oracle half a decade to streamline systems using its own products, customers are also likely to face a lengthy and daunting process.

He touted Oracle's data hub technology as the solution: By virtually aggregating their data, customers can take advantage of a shortcut to the benefits of centralized access to company information, Ellison said.

"We used to have several hundred financial systems. Now we have one. It's much cheaper operating one," he said. "The cost benefits won't come from a hub, but the informational benefits will."

Those cost benefits have been substantial at Oracle, Ellison said in a later discussion with reporters. Oracle's gross profit margin will reach 40 percent this year, he said, up from about 20 percent in the late 1990s. He attributed the increase to Oracle's internal work to connect its systems and streamline procedures.

Much of Ellison's keynote was a reprise of his speech at Oracle's last AppsWorld conference, in San Diego in January. As he did then, Ellison praised a global credit database created by worldwide banks as "the most interesting application in the world," and hailed it as an example of a data hub with far-reaching influence.

"It changed our economy. It's not just our government that can spend more money than we have. Each and every one of us can do the same thing," he said, drawing laughter from the standing-room-only crowd.

The liveliest part of Ellison's presentation was his Q&A with the audience, where the varied topics included questions on Oracle's hostile bid for PeopleSoft Inc. and on Ellison's interest in acquiring a sports team. The billionaire mogul deftly addressed both issues in answering a query about whether he'll buy the San Francisco 49ers football team.

"In order to have a purchase we need to have a willing seller and a willing buyer. In PeopleSoft we have willing sellers -- 61 percent of them -- and we're willing buyers. In the 49ers, you have the Yorks, who figure they've won one game this year, and that's pretty good for them," Ellison said. "Unfortunately, it's not a publicly held company. You can't vote them out of office."

Ellison indicated he's not thinking yet about vacating his own office. Now 60, he has been Oracle's CEO since he co-founded the company in 1977. Earlier this year, Oracle promoted two executives, Safra Catz and Charles Phillips, to company presidents and named Oracle veteran Jeff Henley to replace Ellison as the company's chairman. Oracle had been without a president since Ray Lane left in 2000.

Ellison brushed aside a question in his later press meeting about whether he's looking toward retirement and creating a succession plan. Ellison said he considers Oracle's current management team the strongest in the company's history, then avoided any further comment about how long he'll stick around as Oracle's head. "I'm still working. They can't get rid of me," he said.

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