Discussing Customer Data Platforms with Des Cahill from Oracle–Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series

In this episode of the Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series, Daniel Newman sat down with Des Cahill, Chief Marketing Officer of Oracle CX. Together, they went over what makes Oracle’s customer data platform (CDP) stand out from the competition, as well as what’s in store for the future of this type of platform.

Des started by explaining to Daniel how the holy grail within CRM, CX or front office software has always been a 360-degree understanding of the customer. But what’s happened in the last 24 months is a convergence of technologies that make that possible. Historically, the challenge was mastering customer data across organizations, including transactional data, financial data, and address and contact information. In the last decade, lots of digital data has been generated by customers. Now, convergence of technologies can bring all this data together. Des explained that marketers and CX professionals have always wanted this, and now it’s a reality within everyone’s grasp!

When Daniel asked how Des felt about Salesforce’s announcement regarding Customer 360 Truth, he said he took it as a compliment since their name follows Oracle’s marketing. After all, Oracle released CX Unity, while Salesforce’s product now ends in Truth. Des explained that while Salesforce is a large company that you have to take seriously, its products are just not quite the same as Oracle’s.

More specifically, Oracle’s CX Unity is a customer intelligence platform that’s been working with AT&T Business, helping to connect customer data sources from over 20 sources across the organization. The intended result is to bring all the data together into one data store and then do analytics, enrichment, data quality, data identity, etc. The end goal is to give the company a unified view of every customer to give better experiences—all through pulling together data from not just Oracle, but also other platforms.

By contrast, as Des explained, Salesforce will only work with its own applications, leaving data within them. Its platform will only run a query to gather data elsewhere right at the moment when you need to influence a customer experience, meaning it will have to figure out what to do with data at the last second. Des mentioned that this is a flawed approach that misses the mark, with Dan adding that latency would be an issue with that.

So what’s Oracle’s approach to the CDP? And how does Des see the company taking market share from Salesforce and the overall CDP space? He responded that the last ten years of the battle in the CDP space have been about applications and ecosystems, which are important, but everyone has strong ones. The next ten years, customer intelligence as a layer across the platform will be more important. That includes the ability to ingest and process data, as well as ML and AI, and the ability to make decisions and drive experiences through it. In the last few decades, there has been a fundamental shift toward customer intelligence, and that will be the battle in the near future.

The other shift Des said he’s seeing is that historically, enterprise software/CX software has been bought in siloes. But those applications don’t talk to each other, keeping data siloed. More customers are looking for a center of gravity vendor. CEOs, CIOs, etc. are looking at platforms more than buying single applications, and customer intelligence plays a big role in this.

Des summed up by saying it’s not just about digital behavior, but also transactional behavior. Similarly, it’s not just about online data, but also offline data. And finally, it’s about having an open platform, as customers want to use other systems they like. Dan agreed that anyone who thinks single application can house or use all the data is missing the boat. The open approach to gathering data everywhere is the key for moving forward without limitations!



Daniel Newman: Welcome to The Futurum Tech Podcast. I’m Daniel Newman, Principal Analyst at Futurum Research and your host for today’s podcast. And today’s podcast is an Interview Series and we’re very excited to partner with Oracle where we have Oracle’s Des Cahill joining us today. Des, welcome to The Futurum Tech Podcast.

Des Cahill: Thanks Daniel. It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Daniel Newman: Oh, we’re very excited to have this conversation. We’re going to be talking about big data, customer data, CRM, a whole bunch of things that are very important to pretty much any business in any industry. And in just a moment here I’ll have Des introduce himself and tell you a little bit more about what he’s doing with Oracle. But first, just as a reminder for everybody out there, this show is for information and entertainment purposes only. And while we will be talking about and to publicly traded companies, we are not soliciting or offering in any sort of investment advice. So enjoy the show, have fun listening to the conversation and here we go. So, Des Cahill from Oracle. Just quickly tell everybody out there what it is you do at Oracle.

Des Cahill: Sure. I run product strategy and marketing for our global customer experience business, Oracle CX, and we have thousands of customers like Ferrari, New York Times, Starbucks and Walmart that use our marketing sales service and commerce solutions to deliver amazing experiences to their customers.

Daniel Newman: Oh absolutely. And it sounds like you’ve probably got a whole bunch more customers than that. I believe Oracle probably has one of the largest databases of customers on the planet and that makes a lot of sense considering the company knows a little bit about databases, but what a lot of people don’t know or don’t always immediately know about Oracle is all of the work that the company is doing in areas like CX, like cloud-based CRM. So it’s really interesting to have you on the show so you can talk a little bit about that.

And if you don’t mind, because the show only has about 20 minutes total. I’ve got something I want to talk about. I want to really talk about the state of the CDP or the Customer Data Platform. Now, this has become a super hot topic. We’re seeing and hearing a lot about it at some of the recent big events, which I’ll have some questions for you in a moment, but I want to start just talking about the emergence.

So, depending on your role in CRM, depending on how long you’ve been sort of in the data and customer data and omnichannel and all these other spaces, you’ve probably heard the term CDP or Customer Data Platform emerging, but over the last like 24 months, I would say, it has gone from being a buzz item from the inside to a massive buzz item across pretty much all of tech and all of analytics and big data. Talk a little bit about kind of the state of the customer data platform. Is this something new? Is this just new marketecture and new terminology kind of and talk about the overall state of the industry. Because I know beyond the big name players, there’s a lot of companies in this area.

Des Cahill: Yeah, it’s a great question, Daniel. So I would say that the Holy Grail within CX or CRM or front office software has always been a 360 degree understanding the customer or golden master understanding the customer. I think what’s exciting, what’s happened in the last 24 months is that we’ve seen a convergence of technologies come together that is starting to make that possible. And it’s interesting to look at it historically, the challenge was about mastering customer data across the organization. And I’m looking at it from an enterprise perspective, meaning transactional data, financial data, and then address and contact information. Right?

And then what’s happened obviously the last 10 years is that a tremendous amount of digital data has been generated by customers as they interact with our websites, our mobile applications, kiosks, point of sale. So what’s really interesting in the last 24 months is the convergence of technologies and companies that are able to bring that data together. I think that marketers and CX professionals have always wanted to have this complete understanding of the customer. But we’re now finally getting to the point where it’s starting to become a reality that’s within everyone’s grasp.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. Now all we do is have to wear like haptic rings, multiple wearable clothes with sweat detection and health care, keep our phones on us at all times, drive these smart connected vehicles and in no times, these companies will know every single thing we do when we are online and offline, just based upon the devices that we’re wearing and carrying. I wanted that to rhyme. It did not.

Des Cahill: Just swallow the blue pill and it’ll just take care of everything.

Daniel Newman: Oh, I’m the red pill kind of guy. No, I’m kidding. I’m not blue or red. Not going to do that on this show. This is a technology show, not a political show. Of course, how can you possibly really separate those two things, but we’ll try that for now. So Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison is a legend in technology and he is certainly known as someone that’s willing to talk about the competition. They’re sort of those two schools, those that really will, and those that say nothing. He’s the first. And so given his approach, I’m going to lead you here because I want you to talk a little bit about some competition. I was following very closely Salesforce’s event, it’s probably in the CRM space, the biggest event. Hawaiian dances, crazy Hawaiian dances, big rock stars and concerts.

Des Cahill: Unicorns, whales being saved.

Daniel Newman: Yep. And the entire city of San Francisco being overtaken by CRM junkies instead of the other kind of junkies.

Des Cahill: Good one.

Daniel Newman: I know, I know. I practiced that one. Okay, so let me get to the question. Salesforce’s biggest announcement in my opinion was customer 360 truth. Oracle is obviously a competitor, but as I kind of went through the offering, I was trying to figure out if I were you, if I were Oracle, did anything about this announcement make you nervous, feel as a competitor or was there anything even really interesting that you could kind of look back at and say, “You know what, I think they’re doing something really cool.” Was there anything from it that you guys sort of took as interesting or scary as a competitor?

Des Cahill: I think the most interesting thing I took from it was a backhanded compliment of we named our product CX Unity a year and a half ago and then they put the name truth on it. So it was kind of cool that they were following our marketing and trying to come up with a hipper product name. So I really enjoyed that personally. More seriously, I think that Salesforce obviously is a large company with a lot of customers. So when they enter a market space or re-enter a market space, I should say, I’ll talk about that more in a moment, you got to take it seriously. Right? But so, the good news is it does raise enterprise awareness of the CDP space. And just a short aside here, I would say that there is a point solution CDP space and there’s 120 companies that have raised $750 million that have sort of limited solutions.

And now what we’re seeing with Salesforce and Adobe and Oracle is the emergence of the enterprise CDP space, which is more of a sales service, marketing, commerce, and a more rigorous approach. But, we’ve been in the market for quite a while. We’ve got AT&T, Toyota of India, ShopBack on our platform, more customers coming. What Salesforce announced at Dreamforce was in 2017 their head of their marketing cloud said CDPs were passing bad. At Dreamforce 2018 they announced Customer 360, which was going to be leaving the data resident in Salesforce applications and using MuleSoft as an integration bus to bring that data together only at the point of customer experience.

And now in 2019 they announced customer 360 Truth, which is a completely different spin where they’re bringing the data together. I think they’re kind of behind and kind of spinning a bit. It’s maybe an unusual position for Salesforce, but as I talked to hundreds of customers literally over the last couple of years about enterprise CDP or as we call it, customer intelligence platforms, the name Salesforce rarely comes up as someone that these customers are considering as an option. Because I just don’t think what they have is real.

Daniel Newman: Well, that kind of brings me to the next question. This probably doesn’t take a ton of answer, but this is actually kind of looking for validation of my own assessments. I wrote a fairly long piece kind of looking for the truth about the truth at Dreamforce, and last year they announced Customer 360 and this year they announced Customer 360 Truth. But as I was kind of looking at the announcement side by side, I didn’t see a lot of demarcation between what was being offered. So you talked about the flattery of the nomenclature of the new product and I kind of wondered like did they update the name and add a few kind of obscure and slightly differentiated features from the original announcement so that they could re-announce a product that they never quite got into market? And what was your take on that? Because-

Des Cahill: Yeah. I think that they realized that the strategy that they had or the 2018 announcement of Customer 360 was completely wrong and they never got it to market and they realized it was the wrong approach. And what we’re doing with CX Unity, which is our customer intelligence platform or enterprise CDP, is that like we’re working with AT&T business, one of our customers, and we’re helping them connect customer data sources from over 20 sources across their organization bringing that together into one data store and then doing analytics and enrichment and data quality and data identity on it. And then the result is that AT&T gets a unified view of each and every one of their customers so they can drive better experiences.

What Salesforce was originally saying. And by the way, we’re pulling together data sources, not just from Oracle applications, but from any kind of application or any kind of data store. We have an open platform. What Salesforce originally announced last year was, “Hey, we’re only going to work with our own applications. We’re going to leave the data within our own applications and only at the moment that you need to influence a customer experience, a customer comes to your website, at that moment, then we’re going to go run a query and pull all that data that your service record and your sales record and in that 10 milliseconds or 100 milliseconds, we’re going to try to figure out what to do.”

And that’s just a flawed approach. You just can’t apply the AI and ML, you can’t analyze offline data. You can’t have an open platform that uses data from other data sources other than Salesforce data sources. It’s an open world out there, so they really missed the mark on their initial architecture approach.

Daniel Newman: I like the open world reference, well played. Also, you have to imagine latency would be a huge issue with that, because I mean obviously the lowest latency applications, everything’s moving to edge, which is a little bit of a different discussion than this, but if you’re really looking at someone at the shopping mall that’s in the process of a possible buying decision and it’s going to crunch and want to analyze a bunch of data across a person’s profile in real time to be able to put an offer in front of that person, trying to do that in the moment. There’s so many breaking points to try to do that in the cloud, in a traditional cloud setting where all the data is sitting there, it’s just not how the systems are being designed today.

Des Cahill: I mean, I’ll give you an example. So, let’s say that you’re calling your airline because your flight was canceled and when you call and talk to that support rep, ideally AI, number one, AI knows that you’re on the flight to New York out of Chicago and it knows the weather delayed it and it knows that you’re a high loyalty level customer and it knows that you’re traveling on business as opposed to personal. The service agent immediately knows to get you rerouted on a flight to, on the next light to New York. Or even better, you don’t even have to call the service center, but your mobile app immediately just books you on the next flight and just gets you going as opposed to your own family travel and it says, “Oh, Daniel’s traveling with four other people. So maybe we need to like offer him a voucher or a credit. Maybe he wants to stay in Chicago for another day.”

You need to be able to be getting that data in real time from the scheduling system, the weather system, and from your own mobile app or your own surfing and pull that in in real time. So our architecture allows for that. And we’ve got the, we made this acquisition a few years ago called Infinity from Webtrends and it’s really cool, digital real time interaction engine. So that is a key part of our overall strategy is that real time element.

Daniel Newman: So, let’s take the last few minutes of this show to talk about Oracle strategy and thanks for providing the Oracle kind of point of view on some of those announcements. I imagine the company has to be spending time looking at it because that’s how you do competitive intel, right? You focus in on what you’re doing and try to do it really well, but you need to pay attention to the customers that are market makers. And of course Salesforce is a player. So definitely liked seeing the competitive view and I think some really valid points that I share some of myself as you’ve been able to see I think.

So talk a little bit about Oracle’s approach though. So we’ve talked a lot about Salesforce. What’s Oracle’s approach now to CDP? You kind of hinted at it. How do you see the company most successfully taking market share from, of course, Salesforce and then from this overall space, this overall CDP space that’s growing today?

Des Cahill: It’s a good question Daniel. So first I’d say that I think the CRM or CX or front office, however you want to term it, the next 10 years of the battle in this space between the large players is going to be less about … the last 10 years it’s been about applications and ecosystems. I mean, I think obviously applications and ecosystems are important, but I think everyone’s got a strong set of applications and a strong ecosystem. I think what’s going to be important for the next 10 years is customer intelligence as a layer across the platform. And intelligence is two things. One, it’s data and the ability to ingest and process data. And number two, it’s about ML and AI and the ability to make decisions off that data and then drive experiences through those applications.

So, I welcome sort of that shift in the market space. At Oracle, we like to say we’ve been doing data for 40 years. It doesn’t make us old. It makes us really good at it. As you said before, we have our roots in database. So anyway, I think there’s a fundamental shift in the enterprise CX space, CRM space toward customer intelligence. And that’s going to be the battle for the next 10 years. Right? That’s a place we like to play. The other shift that we’re seeing in the space is that historically enterprise software or more broadly CX software has been bought in silos. So you’ve had sales buying Salesforce and Eloqua being bought by the marketing person and someone buying a separate service solution. And I think organizations have found those applications don’t talk to each other. So while you’re getting the innovation of the cloud for these functional areas, you still have these silofication of data.

So we are seeing more customers look for that center of gravity vendor. No one’s going to adopt one vendor, but increasingly people are looking … when I say people, I mean CEOs, CIOs, CMOs, people that look across the customer journey and look at the strategic health of the business, some digital transformation of the business. They are looking more at platforms than at buying single application. So they’re looking at it more strategically. And again, I think customer intelligence plays a big role in that. So for us, we’ve invested in Unity to be that customer intelligence layer, not just for marketing, which is where a lot of the point solutions CDPs are. But we view it as a fundamental driving a coordinated and contextual experience across marketing, sales, service and commerce. And we think it’s not just about digital behavior, but it’s also about transactional behavior, customer profile.

So bringing that structure data and unstructured data together. We think it’s not just about online data, but it’s about offline data, offline purchase information, supply chain information. Then I think the third point would be, as I alluded to before, it’s about having an open platform. So, we recognize the customers use Adobe and use Salesforce and have their own proprietary systems and their own data lakes. So we’ve got an open platform that will take in data, customer data from any of those platforms. And then we’ve an open platform where our unified customer profile out of CX Unity can be used by any vendor that wants to use it to power real time contextual experiences.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. I think the important thing for most people out there to understand is that the real enterprise doesn’t look like a single application or cloud. In the end, companies have very distributed workloads. Their applications are running in different places, data warehouses, in-memory databases, relational databases, applications that hold small pieces of data that are important to a bigger picture. And any company that thinks a single application can really house all of the data and use all the data is going to be missing the boat for a long, long time.

And you can really tell this, Des, and we only have about a minute left, but I’ll let you comment, but you can really tell this just by looking at the way the hyperscalers and the OEMs that build a converged infrastructure are approaching this with this new cloud native, containerized data center is that they know the enterprise has this distributed application workflow and that there is no single application, no single cloud application, no single on-prem, and you have to build for that. So anyone that’s telling you, you can do it in a single application is really just blowing smoke up your you know what. Because any company that’s been around more than a minute can’t do it on pure cloud.

Des Cahill: Yeah, I would say that a lot of the customers that we talk to are like, “Well, wait a minute, I’ve got a customer data lake or I’ve got an analytics warehouse and how is what you’re offering different.” An important distinction that I make is, right, you have lots of stores of your customer data, but those stores are typically around analytics. They’re post facto analysis of a segmentation of your customers. And seeing what groups of your customers have done with CX Unity is they’re a customer intelligence platform is a system of customer engagement. So it’s a system of understanding, Daniel, at an individualized level and understanding that you’re on that flight or understanding that you’ve been looking to make a purchase of a marketing automation system because you’ve been looking at Oracle.

So it’s understanding individual customers at an individual level and then providing the context to enable applications, AI driven applications to drive experience. So it’s about engagement. It’s not about analytics.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. The fact that you have an open approach to being able to gather data from all the different storage and warehouses and like I said in-mem and relational and other applications and plugins, APIs, connectors. That’s really the key. That’s how organizations are going to move forward. In time, you may see more convergence, but not yet, not today. And that’s what, if you’re not able to access that broader ecosystem, then you’re going to always have limitations to just how much unity you would have and you’ll always be seeking the holes and gaps in the truth. So I got to wrap this up here, Des-

Des Cahill: Unity and Truth in the same thing.

Daniel Newman: I did that on purpose.

Des Cahill: If we can’t have unity-

Daniel Newman: Without Unity, there’s no way you’ll get the truth.

Des Cahill: … a lot of truthiness out there right now, but-

Daniel Newman: I might have just nailed your next advertising campaign. Unity, there is no truth.

Des Cahill: Unity.

Daniel Newman: All right, send the check in the mail. Tell Larry I said hi, but in all serious, thank you very much, Des, for being a guest on this edition of The Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series. It was great to partner up with Oracle to get to kind of hear your take. Thanks for answering the competitive intel questions. I don’t always get to ask those because some companies don’t let people talk about it. I love that Oracle is just so honest in the way they approve that. I know everybody struggles with that across enterprises, across the board, honest, but you guys are honest. When you think you’re better, you’re willing to tell people that. And that’s exactly what I mean here. So I love it. I love the conversation. A lot of fun.

Des Cahill: I speak the truth.

Daniel Newman: You speak the truth. So thanks for tuning in. We will see everybody out there next time. Hit that subscribe button. Join us again for more episodes with executives across the technology landscape for Futurum Tech Podcast. I’m Daniel Newman and we’ll see you later.

Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Podcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this podcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such.

Thank you to Oracle for sponsoring this edition of Futurum Tech Podcast.

Image Credit: ZDNet




Author Information

Daniel is the CEO of The Futurum Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise.

From the leading edge of AI to global technology policy, Daniel makes the connections between business, people and tech that are required for companies to benefit most from their technology investments. Daniel is a top 5 globally ranked industry analyst and his ideas are regularly cited or shared in television appearances by CNBC, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal and hundreds of other sites around the world.

A 7x Best-Selling Author including his most recent book “Human/Machine.” Daniel is also a Forbes and MarketWatch (Dow Jones) contributor.

An MBA and Former Graduate Adjunct Faculty, Daniel is an Austin Texas transplant after 40 years in Chicago. His speaking takes him around the world each year as he shares his vision of the role technology will play in our future.


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