Larry Ellison

However all-powerful you may be among your closest followers, as you get older you simply can't sustain the same energy, pace and controlled rage that you have as a much younger person.

Oracle's Larry Ellison entered his eighth decade in August, and shortly afterwards Oracle announced that he was stepping down as CEO to concentrate on Oracle's technology offering as CTO as well as taking on the role of Chairman. He will now concentrate on "product engineering, technology development and strategy" we are told. And Ellison is indeed still a key figure, wheeled out at for a keynote at Oracle's OpenWorld conference yesterday to say the company which mocked the whole notion of cloud computing five years ago was positioned to become one of the industry's largest players.

Ellison is one of the biggest characters of the Silicon Valley-led computing revolution of the past 30 years, and it has been all the better for his presence. It's also to his credit that he's managed to sustain this high visibility campaign whilst building a huge but largely invisible business outside its medium and large company customer base.

Where more colourless contemporaries like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were busy creating products that  would sell to millions of consumers as well as businesses. Ellison's Oracle used database software technology to create peerless back-office services which just about every major corporation bought and still relies upon.

But when a company is driven by such a distinctive individual, it also become highly susceptible to that individual's decisions and intentions. Fortunately, to date Ellison's abrasive and combative style has helped the company immensely, and gained it that much needed visibility. A process helped of course by his obsessions with large yacht racing (his team won the Americas Cup in 2013) and his acquisition of a 97% share of the Hawaiian island of Lanai for $300 million in 2012.

Now, in his larger than life place, Oracle has appointed two CEOs: Manufacturing, finance, and legal functions will report to CEO, Safra Catz while sales, service and vertical industry global business units will report to Oracle CEO, Mark Hurd. Responsibilities they both already had, only now they will both will report to the Oracle Board rather than Ellison. You can never have too many chiefs it would seem. Ellison will retain his quarter share of the entire company of course.

If you read the Oracle press release which makes this announcement, you would, think that really nothing at all has happened. The language shouts "there's nothing to see here": Indeed the word 'continue' is used four times in just three paragraphs. According to the Oracle communications department, we should understand that this is a change which for all intent and purpose has already happened and this announcement is merely a recognition of that fact.

But to process the news properly we need to ignore what Oracle was and is and consider what it might become.

Oracle grew big thanks to Ellison's charismatic and aggressive approach to his market. He created a business that earns most of its revenue through ongoing support of its vital back-end products. But all that started long before 'double dip recession' and 'the cloud' entered our lexicon. Today CIOs are aware that it is possible to buy in parts of their back-end services in a much easier, more ad-hoc way.

Indeed one of Ellison's failures, analogous to Bill Gates' slow uptake when the internet arrived, was to fail to see the true importance of cloud among his customers. As a result he was late to embrace it and characteristically outspoken about what he saw as is (lack of) importance. Equally typically, having finally seen the error of his ways, his aggressive acquisition regained some ground, but Oracle remains a company which largely relies on the revenue that high value back office systems and our continued reliance upon them can earn though ongoing support services.

It's not clear where Oracle will stand when that era is finally over. How many CIOs are still planning to buy into a long term relationship with a single supplier when they replace their current Oracle Systems? Not many. If you are the exception, please contact us – we'd love to hear from you.

The rest will continue to look for ways to axe their overheads and increase flexibility. So the large Oracle revenues based on support contracts seem doomed. Support competitor Rimini Street's success as a cheaper alternative has already demonstrated both how resentful CIOs feel about being handcuffed to a single supplier. The ongoing litigation between the companies also shows how sensitive Oracle is to that loss of revenue.

So for all the bold talk of 'continuance' in its press release, it is inevitable that Oracle must change. Whether Larry Ellison as CTO is capable of driving that change though his product innovation, or whether it will fall to one or other of the anointed CEOs to take on that mantle, change must come. And unless that change includes yet more acquisitions to build a broader company, it's hard to see how Oracle's historical levels of growth can be sustained.

Like Microsoft before it, Oracle is facing the realities of a changing landscape, where their tried and tested business models are near the end of their life. CIOs will expect radical change if Oracle wants to stay part of their product portfolio.

Ellison's departure is just the start.