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Oracle improving relations with US user group

Oracle boosted its presence at the Oracle Applications User Group (OAUG) conference with presentations from several executives, showing signs that rift between the business applications vendor and the OAUG is mending.

The two organisations have been feuding off and on during the past two years over how much support Oracle would provide for the OAUG's conferences. The company had stopped sponsoring the OAUG in favour of its own event, AppsWorld.

"The relationship is becoming solid again," said Tom Wyatt, president of the OAUG. "We are really seeing them deliver. Their participation in the conference has picked up." He said Oracle provided 20 presentations at the show, and there were appearances from several Oracle executives, including Cliff Godwin, senior vice-president of applications technology.

Wyatt, who is also director of Oracle systems at Sitel, a customer service outsourcing company, said Oracle is improving its approach to support. The support staff is working more toward analysing the root causes of problems and taking a "more rounded approach". His own company runs the Oracle E-Business Suite 11.03 and is testing the 11i version for a spring upgrade.

He added that the OAUG is forming a special interest group that would help maintain Version 10.7 of the E-Business suite even after the official desupport date of June 2003. Details on that effort remain to be set.

Analysts noted that Oracle has made strides during the past year to ease the migration process to 11i, doing things such as automating the internal testing of the applications, creating upgrade templates and making changes in management.

"These customer-centric initiatives are coming from the very top of the Oracle executive ranks and this will certainly have a positive impact on Oracle's ability to support its customer base," said Tom Sweeny, research director at the Service and Support Professionals Association, an industry group.

"'According to a few large customers, the result has been that 'development is much more responsive,' and Oracle is putting major effort into quality, usability and maintainability issues that previously got short shrift," AMR Research analyst Bill Swanton noted.

However, at least one user who raised support issues at the OAUG conference last year has yet to be satisfied. Melanie Bock, an Oracle consultant who is a past president of the OAUG, said that the patch sets Oracle keeps releasing are still a source of aggravation for users.

"Oracle is reluctant to provide 'one-off' patches for individual 11i bugs, of which there still are plenty in 11i. They tell customers they must upgrade to the next patch set, called a minipack, which may require an upgrade to the technology stack, which may require an upgrade to other modules... it is endless," Bock said.

Drilling into the Oracle Web site for information on the precise patch set and point release can be a "nightmare", she said.

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