Ellison preaches network computer gospel

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison Wednesday used a keynote speech at the Customer Relationship Management conference here to tout the upcoming relaunch of the network computer, and to put an enterprise spin on the phrase, "Think globally, act locally."

Ellison provided an update on his most familiar theme, the network computer. Responding to a statement from an audience member that the network computer is, in fact, dead, Ellison reiterated his claim that the number of alternative devices connected to the Internet would outpace the number of connected personal computers by the year 2000.

As a proof point, Ellison offered up the revelation that Oracle will soon launch a new company under the once failed moniker of the Network Computer, this time selling a super-thin client for $199. According to Ellison the box, which will run on an Intel processor and have 64MB of memory, will work much like a video game machine, allowing users to simply load a CD to install the Linux operating system and Netscape Navigator. The goal: simplicity.

"Emachines has the price [of a personal computer] down to $400 already, so its not price that's an issue anymore, it's just that their so incredibly hard to use," said Ellison. "We're really focused on making [using a computer] easier."

In addition to the Network Computer spin-off, Ellison hinted that the company is working on a similar deal with a European telephone company that would see the companies pushing telephones closer in functionality to network computers.

Pointing to the Internet as the foundation for future business practice, Ellison devoted most of his speech to discussing the cost and efficiency advantages of deploying a single, global-application infrastructure that can tie together front and back office business processes across geographic regions and application disciplines.

Companies that can successfully pull that off, Ellison said, will quickly realise an increase in operational efficiency and in the knowledge they have of their customers and their own internal business.

"The biggest problem with the way we build applications today is that we fragment our information," said Ellison. "You don't want to chop your data up into lots and lots of little pieces such that you have no idea what's going on in your business. An e-business knows what's happening because it's global."

Ellison highlighted his own company experience as a perfect example of what can happen when a company does not globalise its business practices, admitting that Oracle itself has around 70 different HR systems, which prevents Ellison from ever knowing exactly how many employees Oracle has.

Ellison also noted the importance of overcoming cultural barriers in creating a global application infrastructure, pointing out that he himself has had a difficult time paring down the number of e-mail servers within Oracle, due to resistance from regional managers.

In the future, however, Ellison said all companies must overcome such barriers in order to operate efficiently and competitively. One prime example of that progress Ellison expects to emerge is that company leaders will no longer talk about customer relationship management (CRM) in the front office and enterprise resource planning (ERP) in the back office, they'll talk about comprehensive software suites for running e-businesses.

"Buying CRM separately from ERP is as ridiculous as buying your accounts payable solution separately from accounts receivable," Ellison said. "In fact, what you really want is to integrate your front office with your back office to get rid of this terrible data fragmentation problem."

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