Oracle: Where Enterprise Software Goes to Die for SMB/Mid-Market Companies
After 25 years of system selections and implementations in the life sciences space, I’ve witnessed more than a few of Oracle’s enterprise application acquisitions. Each time I cringe and wonder how Oracle is going to destroy the solution, especially for SMBs (small and medium sized businesses or mid-market).
For many years, Oracle bought competitors to assert Oracle’s dominance and then killed off the really good products without offering viable alternatives to customers.
Demise of Oracle ERP for Emerging Life Sciences Companies
For me, this started in 2003 when Oracle first attempted a hostile takeover of PeopleSoft, shortly after PeopleSoft announced the acquisition of JD Edwards.
This immediately created uncertainty for many life sciences companies looking to purchase ERP systems. It took all three company solutions (Oracle, JD Edwards, PeopleSoft) out of the running leaving either SAP or tier 2/3 solutions.
While I was at Cell Genesys in 2004, we selected QAD because SAP (aka Slow and Painful) was completely out of our price range for the software, implementation, and ongoing support. QAD, while not ideal for biotech (it’s been better for med device), we could validate it and maintain it on our own.
That uncertainty didn’t end with that selection. Oracle started talking about a Fusion product that would take the best of all three solutions and create Fusion. They kept talking about it and talking about it, but it never fully materialized, especially for the very specific needs of the life sciences industry. While there is now a Fusion solution, it is not the promised Oracle + JD Edward + PeopleSoft solution.
With the PeopleSoft acquisition, I saw the end of all JD Edward and PeopleSoft implementations in the life sciences sector.
Hyperion and Agile Advantage
Oracle acquired Hyperion in March 2007 and Agile Software Corp. in May of that same year.
Hyperion had enterprise performance management (EPM) solutions for budgeting, planning and forecasting. They had Pillar (baby Hyperion), a reasonably priced solution for SMBs that was eliminated shortly after the acquisition. This left a gap in ideal options for SMBs as the ‘big boy’ Hyperion products were too expensive and unwieldy for smaller enterprises. There were a number of tier 3 solutions (that weren’t ideal) that a lot of emerging biotech companies experimented with. These were expensive and uncomfortable experiments with varying degrees of success.
Agile had a fantastic solution for life sciences SMBs. Agile Advantage (baby Agile) was, for a PLM / QA solution, straightforward, configurable, had the best audit trail, and was validatable. We were able to integrate with SolidWorks for PLM and we even configured it to manage our IT SOX processes and documentation. I LOVED Agile Advantage. Workflows were great and the document repository made sense. It’s still the standard by which I compare workflow and repository solutions.
Shortly after Oracle acquired Agile, Agile Advantage was eliminated from the sales sheeet. It appeared, as with Hyperion Pillar, that SMBs were not a target market for Oracle enterprise applications and life sciences SMBs were left scrambling.
I started looking at NetSuite before Oracle acquired it in July 2016. While I select and implement all enterprise applications for emerging life sciences companies, I’ve been a part of a lot of ERP projects and I’m always looking for the best options for my clients. This is one of my primary areas of expertise.
As NetSuite evolved, since it was a SaaS solution built for mid-market companies, I thought it could be ideal for my clients, assuming there were sufficient controls for life sciences companies. Biotech companies tend to IPO early which means they need SOX controls. Biotech companies need supply chain functionality for Phase 3 clinical trials, even when they use contract manufacturers, which means the ERP solution needs to be validatable to manage inventory.
NetSuite was taking its sweet time getting to the point where one could say there were adequate controls for life sciences companies. I dismissed NetSuite as a viable option for my clients until last year when one of my new clients selected NetSuite and I helped to implement it.
I can say with 100% certainty that it still isn’t ready for prime time in life sciences.
It might have been cutting edge from a technology perspective in 2010, but now it’s just archaic. And expensive. It does not have adequate controls and it cannot be validated.
Cerner Electronic Health Records (EHR)
In December 2021, Oracle announced the acquisition of Cerner (closed June 2022) and many of us in the industry gasped. There were a number of us who commented that it would be the death knell for the EHR solution (despite it being #2 in the space) while others praised the acquisition. They think Oracle will be the one to radically change the healthcare industry (which is much needed in the US).
I’ve heard this before, but with Google (Alphabet).
There’s an arrogance in big tech that tends to turn out badly in healthcare / life sciences; the latest failure being Amazon Care.
Technology alone cannot fix what is broken in our healthcare system.
Oracle: Just Say No
Many years ago, before Microsoft was able to secure SQL, Oracle was the standard and go-to for databases and some industry specific life sciences applications.
Somewhere along the way Oracle lost its edge. I think they got too big and too arrogant and just assumed that the Oracle way was the only way.
Companies made significant investments in the enterprise applications (including the implementations) and couldn’t justify switching to other solutions.
Life sciences companies are known for resisting technology and often struggle to invest in enterprise applications, mostly chosen based on what employees have used before or what their friends at other companies are using, therefore perpetuating bad (and old) software decisions.
So while Oracle may have once been a technology leader, it’s now just another boomer at the enterprise software table.
About the Author
Terri Mead is the Managing Partner of Solutions2Projects, LLC, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Terri has nearly 25 years of experience selecting, implementing, and validating enterprise applications for life sciences companies (biotech, med device, diagnostic, digital health). These solutions range from ERP/MRP, QA/quality systems, SAE, CTMS, RIMS, EPM/BPM, EH&S, PLM, learning systems, equipment maintenance/calibration, complaint handling, HRMS/HCM, LIMS, and medical query/information. Her experience includes GxP, 21 CFR Part 11, Annex 11, SOX, and GDPR.
Terri can be reached via email at email@example.com or through the company website at solutions2projects.com.