Oracle offers more on Fusion, users" questions remain

Von Marc L.

Oracle Corp. this week shed some light on its nascent plans to converge five business application suites -- a move once seen as a big selling point for Oracle as it pursued a hostile takeover of PeopleSoft Inc. Oracle President Charles Phillips Wednesday gave an update on the company"s "Fusion" road map and fielded questions at a customer event here, one of several being held throughout North America.

Executives emphasized that Fusion will be an evolutionary process with no forced-march migrations. And they said the applications Oracle inherited with its January acquisition of PeopleSoft -- including Enterprise, J.D. Edwards and World -- will be supported as promised through at least 2013.

All of those software products continue to be sold, said Phillips, and Oracle has been working to update its salespeople on the company"s myriad products to prepare them for meetings with prospective customers.

Phillips stressed that Fusion is not a single product and reiterated that the applications included in it will be built around Java specifications and support a service-oriented architecture (SOA) that can easily be broken into components.

While Oracle"s own middleware will be the default stack to support Fusion, the company will certify competitors" infrastructure software in some cases, such as IBM DB2 for World customers. Oracle also plans to work closely with its various users groups to cull the best capabilities in each application to craft something akin to a best-of-breed suite.

Strategically, the company plans to incorporate process automation with business intelligence, allowing a customer using its software to see, for instance, whether a supplier was able to deliver an item on time in recent transactions.

As an example of what the company hopes to accomplish with Fusion, John Wookey, senior vice president of applications, pointed to a compensation workbench tool in Oracle"s E-Business Suite 11i. The tool enables customers to manage employee compensation, including bonuses and stock options, and is similar to technology PeopleSoft was working on before the merger. Using SOA-based tools, Oracle may allow PeopleSoft Enterprise customers to exploit the workbench tool without scrapping their current PeopleSoft human capital management investment.

Oracle has also said it will allow customers to skip software versions when doing upgrades. A company could be several releases behind the most current version of an application but move directly to the latest, a process that will continue with Fusion.

Among the most outspoken users have been World customers, whose applications run on the IBM AS/400 platform. Phillips said Oracle remains "committed for the foreseeable future" to the suite, continues to sell licenses for it and is even considering adding CRM functionality.

With the Fusion road map still evolving, a number of customers remain unsure of what to make of it. Eight out of nine users contacted at the event and elsewhere expressed varying degrees of interest and posed a number of yet-to-be-answered questions.

"I"m optimistic about the process that is being undertaken by Oracle," said James Whalen, CIO of Boston Properties Inc., a real estate developer and management company. Whalen, the current president of the PeopleSoft International Customer Advisory Board, was a panelist at Wednesday"s event. His company now runs J.D. Edwards OneWorld XE and is working to better understand the features and functions of EnterpriseOne 8.10, to which it will upgrade in September.

Former PeopleSoft customers continue to have concerns about the future of their products, said Doug Rademacher, a fellow panelist and CIO of American Power Conversion Corp., a West Kingston, R.I., maker of power availability systems. "As an Oracle (11i) user, I"m not that concerned. My question is, What do I get out of (Fusion), and will Oracle be distracted? But I"m optimistic."

For every question Oracle answers, more questions arise, said Robert Robinson, business systems supervisor at Durr Industries Inc., an automotive supplier in Plymouth, Mich., that runs EnterpriseOne. Robinson, who was not present at the event, said he"s curious about how much input users will have in "building this new beast." He also wondered whether Oracle can meet its deadlines and how much enhancement is coming to current application sets.

"The smart user will trust what"s being said but verify," Robinson said. "And we cannot verify until we hit these mileposts."