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Oracle's next channel chief?

Judson Althoff, the executive in charge of Oracle alliances with Dell and CDW, is on the short list to become the company's new North American channel chief, sources say.

Rauline Ochs' last day at Oracle Corp. was Jan. 8, and the guessing game as to who will replace her as head of Oracle's North American channel effort has been raging ever since.

The short list of internal candidates for channel chief at the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based database giant includes Judson Althoff, who now manages vendor relationships with large partners such as CDW and Dell, well-placed sources said. An Oracle spokesperson would not comment other than to say there is nothing to announce yet.

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Speculation amped up early this month when Ochs announced plans to become executive vice president of sales and marketing at insurance giant Safeco. Ochs has been Oracle's North American channel chief for several years, and in that time tried to move the company -- historically known for less-than-stellar partner relations -- into a more channel-friendly model.

She helped launch the company's All Partner Territory (APT) foray three years ago. Partners gave her good marks for effort but said the program fell short. In APTs, all business selling into specified companies would flow through designated Oracle partners. But APTs specifically excluded strategic and named accounts and that clause provided enough wiggle room for Oracle to hand over any account it wanted to direct sales, according to partners in the Midwest, West Coast and other areas.

It worked better in some territories than in others, and Oracle partners said success depended on buy-in from Oracle regional managers, direct sales teams and channel managers. What may have worked great and profitably in the Northeast may crash and burn in the Midwest.

One partner said he has brought new opportunities into the Oracle fold only to be told after the initial transaction that this customer has been designated a "named" account. "And there I am, back to green field business," he said.

Oracle has traditionally pushed partners to bring in "net new" or "green field" accounts and moved partner-led businesses into its direct sales fold over time. That puts partners at a disadvantage when it comes to recurring revenue from that account. And partners complain that the time and effort it takes to land first-time accounts falls disproportionately to them and they then lose subsequent business to Oracle.

The stakes in this game are very high for Oracle partners used to contending with the company's aggressive direct sales force. And, as with any large company, the inside channel advocate -- whether it's Ochs or Althoff -- often has to wrestle with direct sales forces as well.

The fact that Althoff's name has risen to the top may irk some partners who see Oracle's alliances with Dell and CDW as pacts with the devil. For years, partners have said that Dell consistently has gutted the price on Oracle software to sell more of its own hardware in bundled deals, basically decimating software margins.

Althoff reports to Doug Kennedy, senior vice president of worldwide alliances and channels. Ochs had reported to Keith Block, executive vice president, North America sales and consulting.

One partner in the western U.S. said if Althoff gets the channel chief gig and continues to report to Kennedy, artificial barriers between North American and global channels at Oracle will be erased. More importantly, the U.S. channel chief will no longer report to the person in charge of direct sales.

"I think with Rauline and Keith, channel conflict bubbled up only as far as Keith. He could sweep it under the rug. If it becomes Althoff and Kennedy, issues may get up to Chuck," he said, referring to Charles Phillips, president of Oracle.

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