The Old Man of Tech

John is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

In every family, there are two types that tend to disagree at the kitchen table. Think of one as the young professional who loves to brag about the new software company (aka toy) that he just made.  The other is the aging grandfather who has a scorn for new-fangled technology and still cherishes the old days.

In fact, grandpa probably scoffs at tablets and boasts about how he still uses his typewriter. This leads to tension and fierce debate between the two generations over who sports the better tool.  In the end, though, grandpa eventually admits his typewriter could use an upgrade.

In the tech world, this has been going on for a while, with Oracle (NYSE: ORCL) insisting it is still hip and with it.  But quietly, it's admitting the young whippersnappers Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM) and Workday (NYSE: WDAY) are probably right on with their big cloud computing software.

The reality

For Oracle, reality may be soon setting in.  Its latest earnings showed the biggest 3-month revenue drop in years.  So it appears more companies are looking to web-based tools and cloud computing than to Oracle's hardware.  Specifically, hardware sales plunged 23% to $671 million, leading to a $99 million drop in revenue year-over-year to $8.97 billion.  The stock plunged 8.8% after earnings, and competitors like Salesforce.com and Workday seem to be taking a piece of Oracle's pie.

Of course, like a typical grandpa, Oracle denies there is anything wrong. In fact, despite its lousy 4th quarter, it said the problem was merely low growth in Latin America and Asia, and sales should increase by 3% - 6% next year.

This denial seems to be Oracle’s preferred method to downplay the negative.  But usually when it makes these types of claims, it has trouble delivering.  And that's because its not doing a great job with its own cloud software.

Fun stuff

In fact, Oracle ridiculed its newer rivals, sort of like Grandpa poking fun at the young one playing with his smart phone.  Oracle insisted it's going to eclipse Workday thanks to its established brand name. WorkDay responded by saying cloud technology is passing Oracle by and could consign the company to the technology dustbin

Oracle announced that it and Salesforce.com would be teaming up to share data clouds, while Salesforce’s apps will now work with Oracle’s database.  This is like the old man taking a step back and attempting to get with the times.  The deal should be beneficial for Oracle because it now realizes hardware sales are weakening and it needs to adapt to compete.  

Youngins

On the other hand, Salesforce.com needs a big partner to grow into a more mainstream software maker. WorkDay, Oracle’s target du jour, needs a partner as well, and that means, it will need to play nice with one of the veteran hardware companies.

It also appears WorkDay may need a partner more than Salesforce.com, mainly because its key statistics are extremely poor for a tech company.  Despite a cash flow increase of $493 million, it has a negative ROE which can be poison for investors. That also means its operating and profit margins are in the red.  Being a smaller company, it could look to a larger player like IBM for help.

The numbers

Despite its age, Oracle still appears to be a better investment as it comes with a cheap forward P/E of 9.50, much lower than the young cloud players.  And while its announcement of up to 6% growth may not be realistic, it does have plenty of wiggle room.  And this is evidenced by its hefty 28% profit margins and 25% ROE.

The deal will no doubt help Salesforce.com.  You see, Salesforce.com has the same problem as Workday in terms of negative profits and equity return.  This would indicate that Salesforce.com is not currently a great company on its own, but because of this deal, there still could be a turnaround.

Foolish final thoughts

Ultimately, Oracle needs to deliver on its promises for it to still be a buy and companies like Salesforce.com and Workday need a company like Oracle to reach their potential.  It would be like Grandpa making peace with his grandson and his gadgets.

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John McKenna has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Salesforce.com. The Motley Fool owns shares of Oracle.. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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