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Oracle CX head Rob Tarkoff: Acquisition integrations complete

The executive vice president of CX and Oracle Data Cloud discusses how acquired technologies have been fully integrated into Oracle's customer experience SaaS application stack.

Oracle built its CX suite from its own technologies, as well as from a number of acquisitions, including Eloqua (2012), BlueKai (2014) and Moat (2017). Rob Tarkoff, executive vice president of CX and Oracle Data Cloud, as well as Fusion CX Development, said that this year -- after integrating them with the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure -- all the CX applications are working together on the same Oracle back-end stack for the first time.

We interviewed Tarkoff about the state of the Oracle CX suite, how the pandemic changes Oracle users' needs, and to get a peek at the product roadmap.

You're now executive vice president of CX and Oracle Data Cloud. Why are they aligned under you?

Rob Tarkoff: The primary opportunity was to integrate much more of the front office -- from engaging with unknown prospects through our ad tech portfolio, all the way through to known customers and prospects that we then want to market directly to, all the way to the back office. This creates what [Oracle founder and CTO] Larry [Ellison] refers to as an end-to-end system for automating functions that have traditionally been very fragmented and existed in silos.

What's new on Oracle CX platform since OpenWorld last September?

Rob Tarkoff, executive vice president of CX and Oracle Data Cloud, OracleRob Tarkoff

Tarkoff: We had a series of acquisitions over the years in the front office, and all of those applications have been rebuilt, rewritten to be part of this common Fusion application platform. I think we're further ahead in the platform rewrite than many of our competitors who also acquired a lot of companies. They all run on the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. They run on the most current version of Oracle database. And they all run on the Fusion schema -- data mastering, customer mastering, back-end Fusion services like identity security all run on one common platform so you can run sales service, field service, marketing and share all of these services on this one platform.

I think Salesforce [and SAP are facing challenges] with all the acquisitions they've done. One of the metrics on which to judge a CX mega-vendor today is: Where is it on the rewrite of acquired applications to a common platform versus the competition?

We've also put a lot of emphasis on customer intelligence, and not just customer intelligence from the perspective of launching a CDP. Everybody has a CDP, but from the perspective of integrating the unstructured customer intelligence in a data platform with all the other signals that we're getting across the front office. Every one of our CX applications -- sales, service, marketing, commerce, content -- are all integrated to this back office CX Unity customer intelligence platform.

We're also doing a lot around guided experiences. We're no longer building SFA systems for managers so they can better audit reps, but building them so they help salespeople sell more. We are building machine learning capabilities in marketing applications like Eloqua and Responsys, new user experiences that can make recommendations on how to better market [goods and services]. On the customer service side, our key innovation has been predictive service. So troubleshooting and solving a problem before a customer knows they have one.

We hear a lot about tech vendors working on autonomous customer service. What are real-world uses for that?

Tarkoff: We've been doing a lot around connecting Oracle IoT cloud into our service desk. Our customer Elgin Street Sweepers has IoT sensors in their street sweepers, which they lease to cities and counties. The sensor notifies Elgin when they have a service issue that needs to be dealt with, a ticket is automatically created to have the technician come out and service the Elgin equipment. The street sweeper operator doesn't need to call Elgin and say they have a faulty brush or whatever.

We're integrating voice, through our Oracle Digital Assistant. It's not just chat and chatbots, but it's all the innovation around our digital assistant on the natural utterances and industry-specific understanding of dialogue and language and vernacular. We're building these dialogues in ways that, for example, in financial services our Oracle digital system can understand and react to utterances specific to financial services like detecting a customer's impending checking account overdraft.

What has changed in the product development roadmap because of the pandemic?

Tarkoff: One of the things COVID is accelerating is the need to have a coordinated approach to sales. That starts with having a back-end customer intelligence system that takes data from all these silos and creates a platform that can fuel all the experiences with a consistent data model, a consistent set of machine learning capabilities, consistent look and feel on the application side.

A lot of the work that we were doing around intelligence driving prescriptive experiences actually works really well in a much more digital or socially distant environment. Think about field service techs who have to go out and make a call and need to be able to know when to recommend the right product as an upsell, through our innovation around customer intelligence. Think about the sales rep that now works completely from home and doesn't have the ability to pop up their head and ask the nearest rep how to handle a certain inquiry. The application itself drives what the next best reference would be.

So we're building a lot of what we call the engineered sales and marketing process. That's a vision Larry has had for a long time. He doesn't understand, and rightly so, why the front office has to remain a fragmented set of applications, while the back office has become much more integrated around suites like ERP and ECM.

How do you think COVID is going to rewire customer experience permanently?

Tarkoff: I have the view that once we have a vaccine, life never returns back to what it was. I think it returns back to something that is a modified version of what we're going through now. When I think about Oracle, not everybody will come back to the office. Some will remain work-at-home employees, just because they themselves feel they're more at risk. They want to be in a more protected environment, and so we're going to allow that flexibility.

I have the view that once we have a vaccine, life never returns back to what it was. I think it returns back to something that is a modified version of what we're going through now.
Rob TarkoffExecutive vice president of CX and Oracle Data Cloud, Oracle

I think every business will have that. You'll have customers that will be fine for you to come on premises and sit in a meeting room with them, and everybody shows their vaccine card or whatever it will be that we all have to show. You'll be able to have that, but there will be others who will say, 'We want half the participants on Zoom.' You'll have to enable a virtual selling process that will be a combination of online and in-person.

Digital and virtual are always going to be a core part of every business's experience. Every restaurant is going to have to adapt to a higher percentage of its business being curbside, takeout and delivery. Every retailer is going to have to let their e-commerce operation exist side by side with bringing people in store. Every high-tech manufacturer is going to have to know that they're going to be able to put some of their sales people in hubs, like Oracle has done on campus, and some of their salespeople are always going to be virtual. I just think we exist in a permanent hybrid state after this.

Editor's note: This Q&A was edited for clarity and brevity.

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