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Oracle responds, blasts 'sensationalist' Tribune report, 'questionable legal ethics'

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COURTESY WIKIPEDIA/ORACLE - Oracle co-founder and Executive Chairman and Chief Technology Officer Larry Ellison asked for daily reports on the progress of Cover Oregon beginning in November, 2013.State officials have misportrayed excerpts of internal Oracle documents to smear the company’s work on the failed Cover Oregon website project, the California software giant says.

Responding to a Feb. 22 Portland Tribune article, Oracle blasted the state Department of Justice for citing excerpts of the company’s internal documents in court, including an Oracle developer’s typo-ridden email suggesting that Oracle programmers were “raping” the state of Oregon.

Oracle says that statement and others were taken out of context, and any hint that the company was wasting the state’s money was unfair. What’s more, it says the Tribune article, “combines sensationalist tabloid journalism with questionable legal ethics to produce a cover story that gets just about everything wrong.”

The additional information provided by the firm provides some context to Oracle’s internal communications but also raises more questions. And the highly technical finger-pointing shows how difficult this case will be to litigate in court if it goes to trial as scheduled next year.

Already, the state has spent $6.6 million on an outside law firm to sue Oracle. The state paid the California software giant $240 million, most of it for a website that records show never worked properly.

The firm, meanwhile, is countersuing to try and enforce a $25 million settlement it claims it reached orally with Gov. Kate Brown’s office. Brown denies it.

Emails in context

The latest battle is over a 24-page brief filed by the state in Marion County Circuit Court arguing that Oracle was wrongly classifying its internal documents as confidential. The state’s lawyers say the documents show Oracle is lying about the quality of its work on the website. The motion included excerpts from the documents, but the version released publicly redacted them with a black bar.

Oracle, says the state’s motion, despite its redactions, violated the court’s order that allowed Oracle to designate its documents confidential. And it claims the Portland Tribune was “duped” into publishing sections of an unredacted version of the motion it was able to review last month.

After a brief initial response to the Feb. 22 article, the company declined the Tribune’s request to produce any full documents or specific pages with appropriate redactions.

Late last week, however, Oracle shared further unredacted excerpts from the documents that illustrate just how murky things are.

Here’s a breakdown of major points:

Rapoing the state: In a series of emails responding to the Tribune’s Feb. 22 article, Oracle Senior Vice President Ken Glueck says this phrase (mistyped as “rapoing”) was “not about (the exchange website) at all.” He says it instead refers to “a highly technical issue relating to two technologies” used as part of the exchange website: a database called Siebel and a Web portal called Webcenter.

These two pieces of Oracle software made up the heart of the website design, documents and interviews show.

Glueck says the email, written a month after the website was supposed to go live, features a developer talking about the need to upgrade Siebel to a new version, 8.2.2.4, and that without an upgrade the “army” of roughly 200 programmers from Oracle Consulting Services was wasting money.

The full passage, according to Glueck, reads: “We have told them they should go to 8.2.2.4 please keep that message. Without 8.2.2.4 they cannot get off of webcenter. They have an army of OCS folks (200! rapo i ng the state f Oregon on something that will never work well as when you change Siebel you break webcenter.”

Says Glueck, “The entire context of the email makes clear that in November 2013 — after the launch date — a frustrated Oracle programmer was pushing on all fronts to bring the (exchange) online.”

Even with Glueck’s context, however, the email raises the question of why the state had been paying Oracle to work on a website whose operations were centered around an earlier version of Siebel — one that, according to documents and people who worked on the project, did not work.

In an Oct. 8, 2013, email, state IT manager Kathleen Paul wrote that Siebel lacked the capabilities promised. “The news that Siebel is not ready to hold basic data that has been on every version of the application for months is very very troubling,” she wrote.

An assessment written five months earlier by Garrett Reynolds, Cover Oregon’s Siebel expert, reported dozens of “critical” problems with Siebel, including poor-quality programming code and that Oracle had installed the wrong configuration of the database.

A February 2014 assessment of Cover Oregon by federal experts cited problems with Siebel, including that the program essentially didn’t allow programmers to fix two parts of the website code at the same time — a huge problem for a system plagued by bugs that all needed fixing at once. The Siebel portion of the site had “not been seen to operate in a consistent manner,” it said.

Laugh test”: According to the state’s motion, an internal company assessment in November 2013, one month after the website was supposed to launch, found its software development failed the “laugh test.” The assessment also cited “basic errors,” “poor coding practices,” and “significant issues,” and a subsequent draft said “Oracle’s work “[d]oes not follow industry practice.”

Oracle’s Glueck says all of these are misleading, as the 37-page document in question concerned security for the website, not the website itself, and Oracle’s work on the anti-hacking protections was not complete.

The “laugh test” quote concerned only a “limited portion of code that was then still under development,” Glueck says.

Glueck declined to release selected pages of the presentation, even redacted to address security concerns, to give full context to the quotes.

Hope is not a strategy: According to the state’s motion, an Oracle manager appears to have urged colleagues to strategize how to deal with the state’s effort to improve oversight by bringing in an outside contractor, known as a systems integrator, to oversee Oracle.

The email appears to provide backing for the state’s claim that the company sought to stop the state from hiring the outside oversight contractor, instead saying Oracle could fill the role. The company now faults this decision as central to the project’s failure.

A March 16, 2012, email from Oracle’s senior practice director for Oracle Government and Health Care Consulting said that: “We have a risk that a new SI [systems integrator] could displace or reduce our role significantly. It isn’t clear what we can do about this other than pray that they keep deferring the SI selection. But since hope is not a strategy, this topic deserves some discussion.”

Glueck did not produce any further context to the quote, or further emails to show what happened as a result of the email. The Oracle executive simply noted that the final decision not to hire a contractor to improve project management was made by the state.

“Oracle is not in the systems integrator business, and everyone knows it was not in that role on this project,” Glueck says. “This portion of an email is completely irrelevant to this case or anything else.”

The revelations about Oracle’s internal communications sparked mixed reactions last week. Some said they contradicted the firm’s public stance, while others said the state is still to blame.