Apr
11
2019
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Much to Oracle’s chagrin, Pentagon names Microsoft and Amazon as $10B JEDI cloud contract finalists

Yesterday, the Pentagon announced two finalists in the $10 billion, decade-long JEDI cloud contract process — and Oracle was not one of them. In spite of lawsuits, official protests and even back-channel complaining to the president, the two finalists are Microsoft and Amazon.

“After evaluating all of the proposals received, the Department of Defense has made a competitive range determination for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud request for proposals, in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations. The two companies within the competitive range will participate further in the procurement process,” Elissa Smith, DoD spokesperson for Public Affairs Operations told TechCrunch. She added that those two finalists were in fact Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS, the cloud computing arm of Amazon).

This contract procurement process has caught the attention of the cloud computing market for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s a large amount of money, but perhaps the biggest reason it had cloud companies going nuts was that it is a winner-take-all proposition.

It is important to keep in mind that whether it’s Microsoft or Amazon that is ultimately chosen for this contract, the winner may never see $10 billion, and it may not last 10 years, because there are a number of points where the DoD could back out —  but the idea of a single winner has been irksome for participants in the process from the start.

Over the course of the last year, Google dropped out of the running, while IBM and Oracle have been complaining to anyone who will listen that the contract unfairly favored Amazon. Others have questioned the wisdom of even going with a single-vendor approach. Even at $10 billion, an astronomical sum to be sure, we have pointed out that in the scheme of the cloud business, it’s not all that much money — but there is more at stake here than money.

There is a belief here that the winner could have an upper hand in other government contracts, that this is an entrée into a much bigger pot of money. After all, if you are building the cloud for the Department of Defense and preparing it for a modern approach to computing in a highly secure way, you would be in a pretty good position to argue for other contracts with similar requirements.

In the end, in spite of the protests of the other companies involved, the Pentagon probably got this right. The two finalists are the most qualified to carry out the contract’s requirements. They are the top two cloud infrastructure vendors on the market, although Microsoft is far behind with around 13 or 14 percent market share. Amazon is far head, with around 33 percent, according to several companies that track such things.

Microsoft in particular has tools and resources that would be very appealing, especially Azure Stack — a mini private version of Azure, that you can stand up anywhere, an approach that would have great appeal to the military — but both companies have experience with government contracts, and both bring strengths and weaknesses to the table. It will undoubtedly be a tough decision.

In February, the contract drama took yet another turn when the department reported it was investigating new evidence of conflict of interest by a former Amazon employee who was involved in the RFP process for a time before returning to the company. Smith reports that the department found no such conflict, but there could be some ethical violations they are looking into.

“The department’s investigation has determined that there is no adverse impact on the integrity of the acquisition process. However, the investigation also uncovered potential ethical violations, which have been further referred to DOD IG,” Smith explained.

The DoD is supposed to announce the winner this month, but the drama has continued non-stop.

Apr
03
2019
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Okta unveils $50M in-house venture capital fund

Identity management software provider Okta, which went public two years ago in what was one of the first pure-cloud subscription-based company IPOs, wants to fund the next generation of identity, security and privacy startups.

At its big customer conference Oktane, where the company has also announced a new level of identity protection at the server level, chief operating officer Frederic Kerrest (pictured above, right, with chief executive officer Todd McKinnon) will unveil a $50 million investment fund meant to back early-stage startups leveraging artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain technology.

“We view this as a natural extension of what we are doing today,” Okta senior vice president Monty Gray told TechCrunch. Gray was hired last year to oversee corporate development, i.e. beef up Okta’s M&A strategy.

Gray and Kerrest tell TechCrunch that Okta Ventures will invest capital in existing Okta partners, as well as other companies in the burgeoning identity management ecosystem. The team managing the fund will look to Okta’s former backers, Sequoia, Andreessen Horowitz and Greylock, for support in the deal sourcing process.

Okta Ventures will write checks sized between $250,000 and $2 million to eight to 10 early-stage businesses per year.

“It’s just a way of making sure we are aligning all our work and support with the right companies who have the right vision and values because there’s a lot of noise around identity, ML and AI,” Kerrest said. “It’s about formalizing the support strategy we’ve had for years and making sure people are clear of the fact we are helping these organizations build because it’s helpful to our customers.”

Okta Ventures’ first bet is Trusted Key, a blockchain-based digital identity platform that previously raised $3 million from Founders Co-Op. Okta’s investment in the startup, founded by former Microsoft, Oracle and Symantec executives, represents its expanding interest in the blockchain.

“Blockchain as a backdrop for identity is cutting edge if not bleeding edge,” Gray said.

Okta, founded in 2009, had raised precisely $231 million from Sequoia, Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock, Khosla Ventures, Floodgate and others prior to its exit. The company’s stock has fared well since its IPO, debuting at $17 per share in 2017 and climbing to more than $85 apiece with a market cap of $9.6 billion as of Tuesday closing.

Mar
19
2019
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AI has become table stakes in sales, customer service and marketing software

Artificial intelligence and machine learning has become essential if you are selling sales, customer service and marketing software, especially in large enterprises. The biggest vendors from Adobe to Salesforce to Microsoft to Oracle are jockeying for position to bring automation and intelligence to these areas.

Just today, Oracle announced several new AI features in its sales tools suite and Salesforce did the same in its customer service cloud. Both companies are building on artificial intelligence underpinnings that have been in place for several years.

All of these companies want to help their customers achieve their business goals by using increasing levels of automation and intelligence. Paul Greenberg, managing principal at The 56 Group, who has written multiple books about the CRM industry, including CRM at the Speed of Light, says that while AI has been around for many years, it’s just now reaching a level of maturity to be of value for more businesses.

“The investments in the constant improvement of AI by companies like Oracle, Microsoft and Salesforce are substantial enough to both indicate that AI has become part of what they have to offer — not an optional [feature] — and that the demand is high for AI from companies that are large and complex to help them deal with varying needs at scale, as well as smaller companies who are using it to solve customer service issues or minimize service query responses with chatbots,” Greenberg explained.

This would suggest that injecting intelligence in applications can help even the playing field for companies of all sizes, allowing the smaller ones to behave like they were much larger, and for the larger ones to do more than they could before, all thanks to AI.

The machine learning side of the equation allows these algorithms to see patterns that would be hard for humans to pick out of the mountains of data being generated by companies of all sizes today. In fact, Greenberg says that AI has improved enough in recent years that it has gone from predictive to prescriptive, meaning it can suggest the prospect to call that is most likely to result in a sale, or the best combination of offers to construct a successful marketing campaign.

Brent Leary, principle at CRM Insights, says that AI, especially when voice is involved, can make software tools easier to use and increase engagement. “If sales professionals are able to use natural language to interact with CRM, as opposed to typing and clicking, that’s a huge barrier to adoption that begins to crumble. And making it easier and more efficient to use these apps should mean more data enters the system, which result in quicker, more relevant AI-driven insights,” he said.

All of this shows that AI has become an essential part of these software tools, which is why all of the major players in this space have built AI into their platforms. In an interview last year at the Adobe Summit, Adobe CTO Abhay Parasnis had this to say about AI: “AI will be the single most transformational force in technology,” he told TechCrunch. He appears to be right. It has certainly been transformative in sales, customer service and marketing.

Mar
19
2019
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Oracle adds more AI features to its suite of sales tools

As the biggest sales and marketing technology firms mature, they are all turning to AI and machine learning to advance the field. This morning it was Oracle’s turn, announcing several AI-fueled features for its suite of sales tools.

Rob Tarkoff, who had previous stints at EMC, Adobe and Lithium, and is now EVP of Oracle CX Cloud says that the company has found ways to increase efficiency in the sales and marketing process by using artificial intelligence to speed up previously manual workflows, while taking advantage of all the data that is part of modern sales and marketing.

For starters, the company wants to help managers and salespeople understand the market better to identify the best prospects in the pipeline. To that end, Oracle is announcing integration with DataFox, the company it purchased last fall. The acquisition gave Oracle the ability to integrate highly detailed company profiles into their Customer Experience Cloud, including information such as SEC filings, job postings, news stories and other data about the company.

DataFox company profile. Screenshot: Oracle

“One of the things that DataFox helps you you do better is machine learning-driven sales planning, so you can take sales and account data and optimize territory assignments,” he explained.

The company also announced an AI sales planning tool. Tarkoff says that Oracle created this tool in conjunction with its ERP team. The goal is to use machine learning to help finance make more accurate performance predictions based on internal data.

“It’s really a competitor to companies like Anaplan, where we are now in the business of helping sales leaders optimize planning and forecasting, using predictive models to identify better future trends,” Tarkoff said.

Sales forecasting tool. Screenshot: Oracle

The final tool is really about increasing sales productivity by giving salespeople a virtual assistant. In this case, it’s a chatbot that can help handle tasks like scheduling meetings and offering task reminders to busy sales people, while allowing them to use their voices to enter information about calls and tasks. “We’ve invested a lot in chatbot technology, and a lot in algorithms to help our bots with specific dialogues that have sales- and marketing-industry specific schema and a lot of things that help optimize the automation in a rep’s experience working with sales planning tools,” Tarkoff said.

Brent Leary, principal at CRM Essentials, says that this kind of voice-driven assistant could make it easier to use CRM tools. “The Smarter Sales Assistant has the potential to not only improve the usability of the application, but by letting users interact with the system with their voice it should increase system usage,” he said.

All of these enhancements are designed to increase the level of automation and help sales teams run more efficiently with the ultimate goal of using data to more sales and making better use of sales personnel. They are hardly alone in this goal as competitors like Salesforce, Adobe and Microsoft are bringing a similar level of automation to their sales and marketing tools

The sales forecasting tool and the sales assistant are generally available starting today. The DataFox integration will GA in June.

Feb
20
2019
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New conflict evidence surfaces in JEDI cloud contract procurement process

For months, the drama has been steady in the Pentagon’s decade-long, $10 billion JEDI cloud contract procurement process. This week the plot thickened when the DOD reported that it has found new evidence of a possible conflict of interest, and has reopened its internal investigation into the matter.

“DOD can confirm that new information not previously provided to DOD has emerged related to potential conflicts of interest. As a result of this new information, DOD is continuing to investigate these potential conflicts,” Elissa Smith, Department of Defense spokesperson told TechCrunch.

It’s not clear what this new information is about, but The Wall Street Journal reported this week that senior federal judge Eric Bruggink of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ordered that the lawsuit filed by Oracle in December would be put on hold to allow the DOD to investigate further.

From the start of the DOD RFP process, there have been complaints that the process itself was designed to favor Amazon, and that were possible conflicts of interest on the part of DOD personnel. The DOD’s position throughout has been that it is an open process and that an investigation found no bearing for the conflict charges. Something forced the department to rethink that position this week.

Oracle in particular has been a vocal critic of the process. Even before the RFP was officially opened, it was claiming that the process unfairly favored Amazon. In the court case, it made the conflict part clearer, claiming that an ex-Amazon employee named Deap Ubhi had influence over the process, a charge that Amazon denied when it joined the case to defend itself. Four weeks ago something changed when a single line in a court filing suggested that Ubhi’s involvement may have been more problematic than the DOD previously believed.

At the time, I wrote:

In the document, filed with the court on Wednesday, the government’s legal representatives sought to outline its legal arguments in the case. The line that attracted so much attention stated, “Now that Amazon has submitted a proposal, the contracting officer is considering whether Amazon’s re-hiring Mr. Ubhi creates an OCI that cannot be avoided, mitigated, or neutralized.” OCI stands for Organizational Conflict of Interest in DoD lingo.

And Pentagon spokesperson Heather Babb told TechCrunch:

During his employment with DDS, Mr. Deap Ubhi recused himself from work related to the JEDI contract. DOD has investigated this issue, and we have determined that Mr. Ubhi complied with all necessary laws and regulations.

Whether the new evidence that DOD has found is referring to Ubhi’s rehiring by Amazon or not is not clear at the moment, but it has clearly found new evidence it wants to explore in this case, and that has been enough to put the Oracle lawsuit on hold.

Oracle’s court case is the latest in a series of actions designed to protest the entire JEDI procurement process. The Washington Post reported last spring that co-CEO Safra Catz complained directly to the president. The company later filed a formal complaint with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which it lost in November when the department’s investigation found no evidence of conflict. It finally made a federal case out of it when it filed suit in federal court in December, accusing the government of an unfair procurement process and a conflict on the part of Ubhi.

The cloud deal itself is what is at the root of this spectacle. It’s a 10-year contract worth up to $10 billion to handle the DOD’s cloud business — and it’s a winner-take-all proposition. There are three out clauses, which means it might never reach that number of years or dollars, but it is lucrative enough, and could possibly provide inroads for other government contracts, that every cloud company wants to win this.

The RFP process closed in October and the final decision on vendor selection is supposed to happen in April. It is unclear whether this latest development will delay that decision.

Feb
12
2019
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Google and IBM still trying desperately to move cloud market-share needle

When it comes to the cloud market, there are few known knowns. For instance, we know that AWS is the market leader with around 32 percent of market share. We know Microsoft is far back in second place with around 14 percent, the only other company in double digits. We also know that IBM and Google are wallowing in third or fourth place, depending on whose numbers you look at, stuck in single digits. The market keeps expanding, but these two major companies never seem to get a much bigger piece of the pie.

Neither company is satisfied with that, of course. Google so much so that it moved on from Diane Greene at the end of last year, bringing in Oracle veteran Thomas Kurian to lead the division out of the doldrums. Meanwhile, IBM made an even bigger splash, plucking Red Hat from the market for $34 billion in October.

This week, the two companies made some more noise, letting the cloud market know that they are not ceding the market to anyone. For IBM, which is holding its big IBM Think conference this week in San Francisco, it involved opening up Watson to competitor clouds. For a company like IBM, this was a huge move, akin to when Microsoft started building apps for iOS. It was an acknowledgement that working across platforms matters, and that if you want to gain market share, you had better start thinking outside the box.

While becoming cross-platform compatible isn’t exactly a radical notion in general, it most certainly is for a company like IBM, which if it had its druthers and a bit more market share, would probably have been content to maintain the status quo. But if the majority of your customers are pursuing a multi-cloud strategy, it might be a good idea for you to jump on the bandwagon — and that’s precisely what IBM has done by opening up access to Watson across clouds in this fashion.

Clearly buying Red Hat was about a hybrid cloud play, and if IBM is serious about that approach, and for $34 billion, it had better be — it would have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. As IBM Watson CTO and chief architect Ruchir Puri told my colleague Frederic Lardinois about the move, “It’s in these hybrid environments, they’ve got multiple cloud implementations, they have data in their private cloud as well. They have been struggling because the providers of AI have been trying to lock them into a particular implementation that is not suitable to this hybrid cloud environment.” This plays right into the Red Hat strategy, and I’m betting you’ll see more of this approach in other parts of the product line from IBM this year. (Google also acknowledged this when it announced a hybrid strategy of its own last year.)

Meanwhile, Thomas Kurian had his coming-out party at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco earlier today. Bloomberg reports that he announced a plan to increase the number of salespeople and train them to understand specific verticals, ripping a page straight from the playbook of his former employer, Oracle.

He suggested that his company would be more aggressive in pursuing traditional enterprise customers, although I’m sure his predecessor, Diane Greene, wasn’t exactly sitting around counting on inbound marketing interest to grow sales. In fact, rumor had it that she wanted to pursue government contracts much more aggressively than the company was willing to do. Now it’s up to Kurian to grow sales. Of course, given that Google doesn’t report cloud revenue it’s hard to know what growth would look like, but perhaps if it has more success it will be more forthcoming.

As Bloomberg’s Shira Ovide tweeted today, it’s one thing to turn to the tried and true enterprise playbook, but that doesn’t mean that executing on that approach is going to be simple, or that Google will be successful in the end.

These two companies obviously desperately want to alter their cloud fortunes, which have been fairly dismal to this point. The moves announced today are clearly part of a broader strategy to move the market share needle, but whether they can or the market positions have long ago hardened remains to be seen.

Jan
25
2019
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Pentagon stands by finding of no conflict of interest in JEDI RFP process

A line in a new court filing by the Department of Defense suggests that it might reopen the investigation into a possible conflict of interest in the JEDI contract RFP process involving a former AWS employee. The story has attracted a great deal of attention in major news publications, including The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, but a Pentagon spokesperson has told TechCrunch that nothing has changed.

In the document, filed with the court on Wednesday, the government’s legal representatives sought to outline its legal arguments in the case. The line that attracted so much attention stated, “Now that Amazon has submitted a proposal, the contracting officer is considering whether Amazon’s re-hiring Mr. Ubhi creates an OCI that cannot be avoided, mitigated, or neutralized.” OCI stands for Organizational Conflict of Interest in DoD lingo.

When asked about this specific passage, Pentagon spokesperson Heather Babb made clear the conflict had been investigated earlier and that Ubhi had recused himself from the process. “During his employment with DDS, Mr. Deap Ubhi recused himself from work related to the JEDI contract. DOD has investigated this issue, and we have determined that Mr. Ubhi complied with all necessary laws and regulations,” Babb told TechCrunch.

She repeated that statement when asked specifically about the language in the DoD’s filing. Ubhi did work at Amazon prior to joining the DoD and returned to work for them after he left.

The Department of Defense’s decade-long, $10 billion JEDI cloud contract process has attracted a lot of attention, and not just for the size of the deal. The Pentagon has said this will be a winner-take-all affair. Oracle and IBM have filed formal complaints and Oracle filed a lawsuit in December alleging, among other things, that there was a conflict of interest by Ubhi, and that they believed the single-vendor approach was designed to favor AWS. The Pentagon has denied these allegations.

The DoD completed the RFP process at the end of October and is expected to choose the winning vendor in April.

Jan
23
2019
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Oracle says racial discrimination lawsuit is ‘meritless’

Oracle says the racial discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs is “meritless.” This comes after Oracle declined yesterday to comment on the OFCCP’s filing that alleges Oracle withheld $400 million in wages from underrepresented employees.

“This meritless lawsuit is based on false allegations and a seriously flawed process within the OFCCP that relies on cherry picked statistics rather than reality,” Oracle EVP and General Counsel Dorian Daley said in a statement to TechCrunch. “We fiercely disagree with the spurious claims and will continue in the process to prove them false. We are in compliance with our regulatory obligations, committed to equality, and proud of our employees.”

In a filing yesterday, the OFCCP alleged Oracle withheld $400 million in wages from racially underrepresented workers (black, Latinx and Asian) as well as women. The department argues that Oracle’s “stark patterns of discrimination” started back in 2013 and continues into the present day. More specifically, the OFCCP alleges Oracle discriminated against black, Asian and female employees. This has all ultimately resulted in the collective loss of more than $400 million for this group of employees, the suit alleges.

Dec
17
2018
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AWS signs on to defend itself in Oracle’s JEDI RFP lawsuit against US government

Just when you didn’t think there could be any more drama over the Pentagon’s decade-long, $10 billion JEDI contract RFP, the plot thickened again last week when Amazon Web Services (AWS) joined the U.S. government as a defendant in Oracle’s lawsuit over the Pentagon’s handling of the contract RFP process.

Earlier this month, Oracle filed a complaint in the United States Court of Federal Claims alleging that the JEDI RFP process unfairly favored Amazon, that the single-vendor decision (which won’t be made until April) violates federal procurement rules and that two members of the JEDI team had a conflict of interest because of previous affiliations with Amazon Web Services.

AWS filed paperwork to join the case, stating that because of the claims being made by Oracle, it had a direct stake in the outcome. “Oracle’s Complaint specifically alleges conflicts of interest involving AWS. Thus, AWS has direct and substantial economic interests at stake in this case, and its disposition clearly could impair those interests,” the company’s attorneys stated in the motion.

The Motion to Intervene as a Defendant was approved by United States Court of Federal Claims Senior Judge, Eric G. Bruggink the same day.

Oracle filed a complaint alleging essentially the same issues with the Government Accountability Office earlier this year, but the GAO found no wrong-doing in a ruling last month. Oracle decided to take the case to court, where it has had some high-profile wins in recent years, including its case against Google over its use of the Java APIs.

The JEDI contract RFP has attracted attention for the length, the amount of money at stake and the single-vendor selection decision. This is a contract that every cloud company badly wants to have. Oracle has made it clear it’s not giving up without a fight, while Amazon Web Services intends to defend itself against Oracle’s claims.

Dec
12
2018
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Oracle is suing the US government over $10B Pentagon JEDI cloud contract process

Oracle filed suit in federal court last week alleging yet again that the decade-long $10 billion Pentagon JEDI contract with its single-vendor award is unfair and illegal. The complaint, which has been sealed at Oracle’s request, is available in the public record with redactions.

If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same argument the company used when it filed a similar complaint with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) last August. The GAO ruled against Oracle last month stating, “…the Defense Department’s decision to pursue a single-award approach to obtain these cloud services is consistent with applicable statutes (and regulations) because the agency reasonably determined that a single-award approach is in the government’s best interests for various reasons, including national security concerns, as the statute allows.”

That hasn’t stopped Oracle from trying one more time, this time filing suit in the United States Court of Federal Claims this week, alleging pretty much the same thing it did with the GAO, that the process was unfair and violated federal procurement law.

Oracle Senior Vice President Ken Glueck reiterated this point in a statement to TechCrunch. “The technology industry is innovating around next generation cloud at an unprecedented pace and JEDI as currently envisioned virtually assures DoD will be locked into legacy cloud for a decade or more. The single-award approach is contrary to well established procurement requirements and is out of sync with industry’s multi-cloud strategy, which promotes constant competition, fosters rapid innovation and lowers prices,” he said, echoing the language in the complaint.

The JEDI contract process is about determining the cloud strategy for the Department of Defense for the next decade, but it’s important to point out that even though it is framed as a 10-year contract, it has been designed with several opt-out points for DOD with an initial two-year option, two three-year options and a final two-year option, leaving open the possibility it might never go the full 10 years.

Oracle has complained for months that it believes the contract has been written to favor the industry leader, Amazon Web Services. Company co-CEO Safra Catz even complained directly to the president in April, before the RFP process even started. IBM filed a similar protest in October, citing many of the same arguments. Oracle’s federal court complaint filing cites the IBM complaint and language from other bidders including, Google (which has since withdrawn from the process) and Microsoft that supports their point that a multi-vendor solution would make more sense.

The Department of Justice, which represents the U.S. government in the complaint, declined to comment.

The DOD also indicated it wouldn’t comment on pending litigation, but in September spokesperson Heather Babb told TechCrunch that the contract RFP was not written to favor any vendor in advance. “The JEDI Cloud final RFP reflects the unique and critical needs of DOD, employing the best practices of competitive pricing and security. No vendors have been pre-selected,” she said at the time.

That hasn’t stopped Oracle from continually complaining about the process to whomever would listen. This time they have literally made a federal case out of it. The lawsuit is only the latest move by the company. It’s worth pointing out that the RFP process closed in October and a winner won’t be chosen until April. In other words, they appear to be assuming they will lose before the vendor selection process is even completed.

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