Oracle Remakes Channel Program to Stress Differentiation, Expertise

By D.H. Kass

October 16, 2009

Oracle Corp. this week enacted a substantial overhaul of its channel program, initiating the Oracle PartnerNetwork Specialized and making it clear to partners that the path forward resides in building and maintaining expertise in strategic solution areas and technologies.

The wide-sweeping renovation includes new program tiers, more than 50 new specializations and additional options for support. Company officials billed the changes, which go into effect on December 1, as the largest it has undertaken in more than 10 years.

“This is the most significant upgrade to the OPN program in nearly 10 years and was built with the needs of our growing partner community in mind,” said Judson Althoff, Oracle senior vice president of worldwide channels and alliances.

Four new tiers frame the restructured channel program, the goal of which is to provide partners the tools and expertise to differentiate themselves from one another and make it easier for customers to identify highly skilled solution providers. Partners will be admitted to each tier based, in part, on their business results and command of Oracle technologies, the company said.

“This new OPN program allows partners who invest with us to formally certify specializations to differentiate themselves and their offerings, be recognized for their expertise and become preferred solution providers to Oracle customers,” Althoff said.

Oracle said it will honor existing partner contracts until they expire.

In reconstructing its channel program to stress training, certification and cultivated expertise, Oracle is following a template set by a number of other IT companies, which have either ranked channel partners by their competencies or added special designations to further qualify them.

Inherent in that structural change is wider differentiation between levels.

At Oracle’s entry level, VAD remarketers, which have previously sold the vendor’s products without official standing as a program member and typically buy through distributors, are now included in the fold and authorized to sell the company’s 1-Click products. VAD Remarketers are not required to sign a contract with Oracle and no fees are required. Participants are granted access to online training and sales tools.

Silver level members, while also authorized to sell the 1-Click products, will receive support, training and developmental licenses from the vendor. Gold partners have access to Oracle’s full complement of products and have the option to become certified on one or more specific Oracle technologies.

Platinum partners get biggest benefits

It is at the highest level, the Platinum-designated partners--Oracle’s new elite class consisting of about 10 percent of its 21,000 channel partners--where the vendor has demonstrated its intention to reward partners that invest heavily in the company’s technology and philosophy.

To qualify, Platinum-level players must demonstrate expertise in five or more specializations of the vendor’s solutions. Those that qualify receive the broadest range of benefits the vendor offers such as advanced levels of support, marketing tools for specialized areas, co-marketing and personalized assistance.

Oracle initially is offering 35 specializations across four categories--applications, middleware, database and industries. The vendor said it intends to expand the list to some 50 specializations by the close of this fiscal year.

Company officials list the advantages of specializing as recognition, increased visibility, improved services and greater market opportunities.

The company said that partners that sign up early for the OPN Specialized program will receive a discount on membership fees. The promotional rate for the Platinum level is $4,995 and is effective through next April 30; the Gold promotional rate for partners migrating by February 26 is $995 and by April 30 is $1,995. No promotional rate is offered for Silver partners.

Regular rates range from $500 for Silver partners to $2,500 for Gold and $9,995 for Platinum.

Oracle will start taking applications for the new program in about two weeks. Partners that apply early for the Platinum level will be given up to one year to meet the program’s specialization requirements. Partners interested in upgrading from one level to another must apply for acceptance.

About a year ago, Oracle introduced Enablement 2.0, a initiative to drive partner education. The company said that earlier program is the foundation for the new specialization efforts.

New support centers

Oracle also has combined its various call center options under a single umbrella called the Oracle Partner Business Center, which replaces its regional centers. The support vehicle is available around the clock to all Oracle partners worldwide either by telephone, email or the vendor’s new Twitter account.

“We are heavily invested to help partners better engage with Oracle in a consistent manner around the world,” Althoff said.

The four Business Centers will deliver tiered support in three levels—Silver, Gold and Platinum. Silver support consists of free inbound calls and email assistance, Gold includes outbound engagements and Platinum encompasses dedicated account management.

The vendor also has made available, under the Oracle Exadata Partner Program, its Oracle Database Machines and Sun Oracle Exadata Storage Servers for channel partners to sell. According to Oracle’s external price list, Exadata Database Machine full rack hardware prices range from $110,000 to $1.15 million, with configurations at $350,000 and $650,000.

Partners must be enrolled in the Oracle PartnerNetwork with a distribution agreement to sell the Oracle Exadata line. The vendor is encouraging solution providers to construct business intelligence and data warehousing practices and develop vertical industry expertise in retail, financial services, communications, healthcare and the public sector around the Exadata products.

“This new program allows partners to expand their portfolios and participate with us to help increase the ecosystem of solutions and services for Oracle Exadata,” Althoff said. “As we ramp us this program, partners will be able to certify themselves for the Oracle Exadata Specialization in OPN.”

Oracle said it will unveil a new Oracle Exadata Specialization by December 1.