OracleWorld: users wait for next big thing

Delegates at OracleWorld in London next week will hear about updates to CRM and small business products but may have to wait for...

Delegates at OracleWorld in London next week will hear about updates to CRM and small business products but may have to wait for major new launches

Users and analysts attending OracleWorld, Oracle's three-day user conference in London next week, are more likely to hear a tranche of product updates than major product announcements.

Ronan Miles, chairman of the UK Oracle User Group, said, "We are very interested to see if Oracle will have any significant message. Database and Application Server 10g have already been announced and people are ready to use it. But there have been no preparations for any big Oracle applications announcements. The application community is anticipating a big release."

New products from Oracle are likely to cluster around a low-cost version of its Application Server suite; the recently released Oracle CRM 11i.10; and forthcoming 11i.10 releases of Oracle's E-Business Suite applications, such as Financials, Human Resources and Manufacturing.

Oracle may also discuss its decision to roll out monthly security patches for applications, rather than its current policy of ad hoc updates.

Miles said he was expecting Oracle to unveil details of its On Demand strategy to provide managed services to control Oracle applications for its customers.

Thomas Kurian, senior vice-president of development for Oracle Application Server, said the company was expected to bring out a cut-down version of its Application Server software. This is a half-price version of its application server for small and medium-sized firms that will include Oracle's Application Server, Web Server and Portal software. Oracle plans to charge £2,750 per processor for Standard Edition One on a total of two servers.

Kurian said Standard Edition One will further Oracle's strategy of increasing the licensing options for customers who are interested in buying only part of its Application Server suite. Standard Edition One will support Windows and Linux and undercut Microsoft on licensing costs, he said.

Oracle already uses the Standard Edition One label with a mid-market version of its 10g database software.

The suite will take Oracle head to head with Microsoft in the mid-market, as well as IBM - one of Oracle's biggest rivals - which has been selling IBM Express, a discounted version of its application server software, for the past two years.

"A few years ago, the idea of IBM selling to SMEs was ridiculous, but it has been successful. Oracle is making progress, but it has a long way to go," said Alan Pelz-Sharpe, vice-president for software at analyst firm Ovum.

AMR analyst Nigel Montgomery said, "The big factor is that the Standard Edition's architecture is the same as the E-Business suite, so if you want to scale from one to the other, you can."

Miles said the decision to price Standard Edition competitively was very welcome but added that the application was not the big change users were looking for.

"Application Server is now a robust product, but if Oracle is talking about a pricing announcement, that is not something to base a three-day conference around. There is not any important new functionality in that it is a version of an existing product."

Other big product news will be Oracle CRM 11i.10 - Oracle's annual applications update will have new modules for sales, marketing, partner relationship management and e-commerce.

Robert Desisto, vice-president at analyst firm Gartner, said CRM 11i.10 offers some advancement in partner relationship management and advanced pricing functions.

He said users who have implemented Oracle Order Management should consider Oracle Advanced Pricing but should be prepared to deal with some early quality issues - which is the case with any first release.

Desisto advised users to also ask their system integrators about plans to use Oracle Partner Management. This is a tool built on top of Oracle iStore which enables tight integration between transaction processing for e-commerce and partner management capabilities, such as lead management.

"Companies in manufacturing industries, such as high-tech, electronics, automotive and industrial products will find the most value from Oracle Advanced Pricing and Partner Relationship Management products," Desisto said.

He added that product integration between the new Customer Relationship Management modules is not as strong as it is between the Oracle Sales and Marketing modules.

As for the forthcoming version 11i.10 updates to Oracle's other E-Business Suite applications, such as Financials and Human Resources, Oracle is expected to make announcements in September, possibly at the conference, and release them later in the year.

David Bradshaw, principal analyst at Ovum, said, "The main problem with the applications is that Oracle has allowed people to change the source code. I anticipate that access to the code will be closed off now because it is easy for companies that have changed the code to move to another competitor."

A backdrop to the conference will be the impending decision from the US Department of Justice about whether to allow or block Oracle's hostile takeover bid for rival PeopleSoft. Pelz-Sharpe said, "One has to hope for Oracle's sake that the PeopleSoft case does not overshadow the conference. The question is, if it goes through, can Oracle go ahead with it with all the bad blood? Personally, I think it will."

Oracle's bigger picture       

Users should not be deceived by the probable lack of news of major products at OracleWorld, said Alan Pelz-Sharpe, Ovum's vice-president for software. 

Behind the scenes, the software giant is laying out a significant new strategy, he said. "What Oracle is trying to do is develop a fuller story around data management to include unstructured data, records management and some things coming under the banner of information lifecycle management. They have quite a good story, but have not managed to articulate it well. That will be the big story over the next year."  

He added that as Oracle starts to add tools and features to manage unstructured data, it will move further into markets dominated by Documentum and Filenet, although it will quickly move beyond just document management.  

Pelz-Sharpe said there is already evidence of Oracle paving the way for unstructured data management in its CRM application through the use of analytics.  "Applications can become so much richer. For example, a CRM system could pull in letters and photos for insurance claims and there will also be major cost savings," said Pelz-Sharpe.   "[Unstructured data management systems will mean] a large cost to companies, but the savings are big - 80% of data is unstructured and 60% of which is probably redundant."

Monthly patches benefit users       

Oracle's decision to move to releasing monthly application patches could prove to be popular with users because they will give IT managers the ability to plan their updates better.  

Oracle said, "We believe a single patch encompassing multiple fixes, on a predictable schedule, better meets the needs of our customers. Although it is challenging to produce all patch sets on a fixed schedule, we are confident a regular patch schedule is the right thing for our customers." 

Oracle UK User Group chairman Ronan Miles backed this view. "The family packs were too large for testing and the testing impact was huge. Bite-sized patches make more sense," he said. 

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