Oracle CIO Mark Sunday is laid-back with his head in the cloud

Company's move to world's 'most complete cloud company' has happened on the inside too

For somebody with responsibility for IT at one of the world’s biggest IT companies, Mark Sunday gives off a laid-back, low-key vibe.

Maybe it’s the ski-resort tan, from his years living in a Utah mountain town close to his company’s Salt Lake City offices: “I’m the envy of Fortune 500 CIOs” he jokes. Maybe it’s the collar-length hair, still windswept from an afternoon spent sailing round the harbour with Sydney to Hobart race winner Paul Clitheroe.

Or maybe it’s the fact that being Oracle’s chief information officer is a lot easier than you might think. “But that’s just between you and me,” he winks.

Sunday was appointed IT chief at Oracle by then CEO (now CTO) Larry Ellison in 2006, following the acquisition of Siebel Systems, where Sunday had been CIO for more than six years.

Since Sunday started in the role, Oracle has been on an acquisition spree. After Siebel (a customer relationship management software maker) the company has bought around 100 companies including Sun Microsystems for $7 billion, BEA Systems, Taleo, RightNow and BigMachines, and in 2016 paid $9.3 billion for cloud-based ERP software giant NetSuite.

In more recent years, despite Ellison’s initial criticisms of the term, Oracle has rebranded wholesale as a cloud-first company. (As Computer Business Review summarised Ellison’s proclamations about cloud technology: “First he hated it, then he invented it and now he leads the market.”)

The company now markets itself as 'The world's fastest growing and most complete cloud company'. But that’s not just for customers’ benefit. Over the last five years, Oracle has been on a major cloud transformation internally too.

Sunday, speaking to CIO Australia after Oracle's CloudWorld event in Sydney, describes IT over the last few decades – from mainframe through web and mobile – in terms of chapters. Cloud though, is “a whole new book”.

Oracle CIO Mark Sunday
Oracle CIO Mark Sunday

“In my 40 years in IT, I’ve never looked more forward to a year than this year, because we’re having a bigger impact not only on functions aligned to business but actually on individual employees…They know we’re making this transition on the products we sell and services we offer. For us to be embracing the cloud from an employer standpoint they clearly see that that’s part of this transition so are excited to be a part of it,” Sunday says.

“The converse of that – ‘we’re a cloud company but everything we do inside is on prem’ – I mean that would not be terribly motivating,” he adds.

On a cloud

After starting small moving a “number of things around the edge”, around five years Sunday and his team went “whole hog, big bang” moving 25,000 employees onto Oracle Sales Cloud.

It was a “big one” Sunday says, given Oracle’s enormous number of products, plus the managed services, consulting, time and hardware offerings, and things bought on credit cards like training. Combine that with the company’s sales territory structure and you get “one of the most complex sales organisations in the world”.

A couple of years ago core HR systems went to the cloud, and then contact centre systems were moved onto Oracle’s second generation global cloud infrastructure. This January the company’s ERP, including financials, expenses, procurement and projects went the same way. In June supply chain execution systems will make the transition too.

“We are largely running our company on a cloud. We have some long tail things, maybe some legacy department apps and so forth. And we’re either eliminating them, reengineering them or lift-and-shifting to our IaaS,” Sunday says.

In each case, Oracle was either a first or early-adopter of its own cloud offerings. The company’s product and development teams get the benefit of a “friendly but big and complex global organisation that’s pretty mature” which is happy to share its hiccups and learnings.

“It’s a really collaborative relationship we have with our development organisation – in that they are eager to embrace the learnings, and we’re eager to tell them – so it’s a symbiotic relationship,” Sunday says.

“Also, as an early adopter, being able to embrace and try stuff before anyone else, while it can be challenging, no doubt about it, it’s a very motivational thing for my organisation,” he adds.

Happy days

Despite the huge scale and complexity of Oracle as a company, there are a number of factors that make Sunday’s days a little easier.

With close to 150,000 employees in more than 80 countries, any change to internal IT is a major one. Oracle’s culture is a significant factor in the success of roll-outs, Sunday says.

“Many companies have passive resistance, an ‘I know they said we’re all going to do that, but they didn’t mean me’ kind of thing. One of the strengths we have as an organisation is we have a truly global, cultural commitment that we’re all going to move the bar forward. We don’t have an opt-out mentality,” he explains.

“I can’t overemphasise that when we turn left, people actually turn left – it makes a huge difference. The employee base likes being out in front.”

There’s also what Sunday calls his “freedom from choice”.

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“It’s clear what provider we’re going to use. So much effort is lost…when different organisations are pulling different ways like ‘we want to use this for sales automation’ or this for something else. We don’t have those discussions about what supplier we’re going to go to for things. So that actually dramatically simplifies it,” he says.

Having one main supplier the company also has “incredible standardisation” Sunday says (there are, however, a number of external suppliers in areas like communication and collaboration tools, and security).

“The huge one is when we do something, we do it globally and I don’t have to deal with 47 versions of something,” he explains.

There’s also the handy advantage in the fact “we have everything that Oracle ever built. We have everything that Oracle ever bought and we have it for free,” Sunday points out.

The unlimited and free access to all of Oracle’s offerings does bring its own challenges.

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. The toughest thing I have is – how do we really narrow it down to the critical few? Because we have so many ideas, and so much immediate access to technology,” Sunday says.

But it has meant some atypical uses of tools within the IT group, like using marketing automation tool Eloqua to run internal change management campaigns.

“Over the last year or two, with a person working a few hours a day equivalent, we migrated all of our communications to Eloqua,” Sunday says, a tool an IT organisation would usually not go and buy for themselves. “We just have it available,” he adds.

Upping the IQ

With the cloud transition nearing completion, Sunday is now eyeing a venture to pool and serve employee knowledge and experience. He calls it ‘Employee IQ’.

“I want Oracle to be the best company in the world – for the day someone accepts an offer, through the onboarding – of first of all being aware of what you should be aware of, then being able to garner the information, the training, being able to make a request, or garner support. Not just for IT but as an integrated capability across every function within Oracle,” he says.

A deployment of Oracle’s Service Cloud Knowledge platform has begun. Around 40 functions have already been covered. There’s also an internal Youtube style video platform for information and tutorials.

The platform will eventually be able to answer everything from ‘How to put enterprise mobility management on your phone’ to ‘What is Oracle’s blockchain strategy?’ and be enhanced with chatbots, mobile and AI.

“We have all these assets so I’m really excited about the opportunity it offers us,” Sunday says.

A roll out of the SAFe scaled agile framework across the IT function and beyond – a tough task given the geographic spread of employees – is also underway.

The approach is already having a positive effect on employees (“I’ve never seen them so motivated and engaged,” Sunday says), is stripping out the “white space” between functions and is giving various business functions the chance to broaden their skills.

Despite the challenges ahead, Sunday is keeping his cool.

“I tell my teams I really only care about two things – the first one is that we’re collectively contributing as much to Oracle as we possibly can and the second one is I want everyone to wake up every morning, happy to go to work with the people they go to work with,” he says. “And as long as we’re moving forward on both of those fronts, I’m a happy guy.”