2CVs, Budget Airlines & Oracle Support

Every so often on damp or frosty mornings, especially when my car has sat idle for days, I feel relief and satisfaction when it starts immediately. My first car was a 2CV with a particular dislike of damp days and years of cajoling it in to life on such days must have deeply scarred my expectations of cars’ ability to start. It is a wonder of modern engineering, in all its forms, and manufacturing that so much “just works” and works so well.

We tend to take this for granted. Businesses and consumers have high expectations and assume they will be met. I may be wrong but the phrase “caveat emptor” seems less frequently quoted these days. That’s largely a good thing – the onus is on the supplier to deliver rather than the buyer to spot the dodgy supplier – but the canny buyer should still beware and maintain some perspective or healthy cynicism. The number of 1-star reviews on Amazon for suspiciously cheap products perhaps indicatives we’re not always good at this.

Suppliers must share blame for this and when it comes to setting expectations they can be split in two camps: those claiming their product or service isn’t a commodity item, usually to justify a higher price, and others contending their product or service is “just” a commodity. The former is what we expect from marketing but the second is more subtle and, unless the company is trying to commoditise something you personally value, then this is very powerful and has driven, for example, the rise of budget airlines.

The trick is to work out whether something really is “just” a commodity. We all value different things so have different views on what are the commodity items. But no-one wants to pay over the odds for a commodity item or make a false economy paying too little where quality really matters.

Budget airlines have succeeded because at its heart, travel is a commodity service: both BA and Ryanair will fly you to Paris for a long weekend and you can decide whether to pay more for more for whatever additional services the more expensive carrier hopefully provides. But is it this simple?

Ryanair are currently cancelling 40-50 flights a day because of pilots’ unavailability caused by failures in rostering and holiday planning. But this isn’t just a rostering failure: it reflects that when staff are unavailable there is not enough spare capacity to continue providing services. The same argument is made for budget airlines’ planes: having fewer idle, spare planes reduces costs but means a replacement probably won’t be available when a plane has a mechanical fault. Minimising costs may require higher utilisation of staff or planes, such that while a flight may be a commodity item, an airline with less spare capacity may well more often fail to deliver that flight on time or at all.

Budget airlines demonstrate that even where the core service may be a commodity, there are often extra factors that make the overall experience less commoditised than we once thought. Before we can decide whether something is a commodity we need to work out what we’re buying: with a product that’s usually simple but, as Ryanair’s passengers have found out when they thought they had simply bought a flight, services often include more facets than we first realise. I’m not arguing against using Ryanair or any other commodity service, but we should all be clear on what we’re buying and how reliably it can be delivered.

What’s this got to do with Oracle? In short, unlike flying, most Oracle support is not a commodity service but, as with airlines, when selecting a Managed Service partner there’s a lot to consider beyond the core support.

It is frustrating yet understandable when people tell me that all Oracle Managed Services are much the same. Perhaps this comes about through only experiencing one type of service, but there are big differences: for example, our consultants’ experience and skills really does enable them to fix incidents more quickly and provide better, more proactive maintenance and advice.

But even if you still believe all, say, Oracle DBAs are the same, it is inescapable that the supplier’s capacity, processes, Service Management approach and, perhaps most important, culture do make a difference. These are even less tangible than consultants’ skills but are the things that will cause the Ryanair factor, i.e. increases the risk of service dissatisfaction even if you believe the core support is a commodity.

Still unconvinced? If “all Oracle Managed Services are much the same” then why have 75% of Claremont’s customers switched to us from competitor services yet none of our customers has left us for another supplier?

Jonathan Stuart

Managed Services Director

Jonathan is Claremont’s Managed Services Director and is thus responsible for the development and delivery of our Oracle support and hosting services.