Acquisitions, Culture, and the Social Web

I don’t cover the enterprise space, but my colleague Ray Wang says that the Sun acquisition will be successful for Oracle, check out his blog post to read his highlights.  

While I’ll leave the specifics of the product and company integration to him, I want to focus on the cultures, and how it impacts their social programs.  Anyone reading this blog knows this is important as it’s essentially how they’ll communicate with customers and employees.

Sun has a long history of being open, through their technology, executives that blog, and the thousands of employees that participate in one way or another in the social web.  On the other hand, Oracle, which I observe to have a culture of top down management has been slower to embrace the social web.  To their credit, in the last few years, they’ve hosted a Lunch 2.0, launched an innovation piece, a social network called Mix, and have a thriving community in OTN.  It goes beyond just technology though, true transparency from Sun is rare, and difficult for many companies to achieve.

What happens next is what’s interesting.  Will Oracle adopt some of the open Sun culture, will Larry start to participate in the direct conversations with the market? Will the Sun culture simply be wrapped under the red banners? Or will it end up like Peoplesoft, those that integrate well shuffle in line.  

In reality, we’ll see a little bit of both.  Because of Sun’s strong hardware focus (where Oracle doesn’t yet play), those existing customers have come to expect that same type of open discussion to occur.  Where we may see a bit of lean towards Oracle culture, is likely where the software products are.  

Key takeaways

  • We know that culture is the biggest driver or detractor when it comes to companies adopting social technologies.
  • How companies deploy social programs is often a direct mirror of how the company is managed from the top down.
  • As mergers occur, expect the social programs to morph, expect some of Sun’s openness to reduce, and some of Oracle’s culture to continue to open up.

11 Replies to “Acquisitions, Culture, and the Social Web”

  1. Much of Sun’s software portfolio has been open sourced, and Sun has been a successful community leader, because of the transparent culture in the engineering ranks. Oracle does not have much choice in this – the Java, OpenSolaris, and MySQL communities are quite capable of forking their respective code bases and carrying on without Oracle, should Oracle prove to be a lousy community steward. Heck – this is already happening with the Drizzle and Maria forks of MySQL, initiated by community leaders such as Monty Widenius, one of the founders of MySQL who left Sun in February. Sun has learned the hard way that ironically, the only way to retain control of an open source community is to be both transparent and inclusive. Oracle will either learn this lesson from the Sun folk who have internalized it, or they’ll learn it the hard way, but either way, they’ll learn it.

  2. I hope you’re right Jeremiah. But my gut tells me that it’s going to be much more lop sided in favor or Oracles culture.

    Culturally these are 2 very different companies. I personally know 2 director level folks that went from Oracle to Sun. Both were rejected for bringing an excessively aggressive work ethic that clashed with Suns work life balance approach.

    The good news as you say, is that Oracle is beginning to participate in the social web so I do expect that they will cherry pick Suns’ most successful social media programs and learn from them. Oracle is run by the numbers though, so expect them to dive in and look for results when deciding which SM programs to keep.

  3. Fascinating – and leave it to you to look at the “social” aspect of a merger (You should consult on Wall St for that). Culture is a HUGE reason why many (and most in tech) mergers don’t work. On a separate note should the deal close – expect to see Larry jettison SUN’s hardware business. He has ZERO interest in being a hardware vendor IMO

    http://twitter.com/A_F

  4. Thanks Andrew, it would be interesting if there was a culture ‘index’ that could match the different cultures between companies to see if they are compatible.

    BTW: Go to gravatar.com to get a customized avatar here in the comments. You’re one of my top commenters, and we’d love to see your face!

  5. Though it is unlikely, what if a new culture were to bloom from Oracle and Sun, rather than a melting pot?

    This is the question left in my mind, because the idea of it is noteworthy, but the execution would be daunting and extremely risky. Further, I’m not creative enough to fathom it. But suppose there’s a third option besides open and proprietary, and that this “culture” would be unveiled. Just a thought.

    Beyond that, though – I think the two cultures can co-exist. Even at our office, we have a good mix of generative-principled developers and appliance-ized minded designers/strategists.

  6. Good observations Jeremy,
    I think the culture clash will be Biblical. In that vein:
    My read is more like Ellison as Pharoah and The Sun Community as the Israelites….

    After a bit of slavery the Sun OS properties decamp with only unleavened bread – forking their respective code bases and carrying on without Oracle. Oracle chases with its chariots of litigation but alas Larry is left with the hard assets (which he may not want) but no community. Without the community his code withers. Not sure whether the seven plagues will visit Oracle before that or not…

  7. I have to agree with Sameer Patel’s comments about these two companies are being two very different beasts. Also being a former Sun employee, I know first hand how different their two cultures are. Jeremiah, I think you’ve only got two things right in your post – culture is the biggest driver of adoption & it’s top down managed. All this points to only one conclusion: Oracle culture will overcome and the only winners will be the customers.

  8. Hi Jeremiah,

    In my opinion the best reason for the acquisition of Sun by Oracle is that Sun has lots of very good developers! In the end it is all about people in the IT business. Nice post!

    cheers,
    Thomas

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