Oracle courts sceptical 11i users

Oracle executives visiting last week's spring conference of the independent US-based Oracle Application User Group faced...

Oracle executives visiting last week's spring conference of the independent US-based Oracle Application User Group faced continuing user frustration about the complexity of upgrading to E-Business Suite 11i applications.

They told delegates that Oracle was taking steps to improve the quality of the software and make it easier to install but the reaction they faced showed the company has some way to go to win over users.

Executives detailed new tools and internal operating procedures that the vendor hopes will raise customer satisfaction levels and persuade users to migrate to 11i in greater numbers than has been the case so far.

This followed the announcement last month of several upgrade assistance programs and an acknowledgment by Oracle chief executive officer Larry Ellison that 11i is hard to install.

Members of the Oracle Applications Users Group (OAUG) welcomed Oracle's attitude but there were complaints about the quality of the company's application updates and its technical support.

"I'm anxious to see their words become reality. Right now, all we have is words," said Tom Wyatt, president of the OAUG, which has been working closely with Oracle to remedy the 11i upgrade and support issues.

If Oracle succeeds in getting its application development and technical support teams to work more closely with each other "that will have a tremendous impact" on users, Wyatt said.

Oracle has acknowledged that fewer than 40% of its existing users have installed, or are in the process of installing, the 2-year-old 11i applications. While the company has no plans to roll out another major release in the foreseeable future, OAUG members were critical of the rapid pace of Oracle's incremental 11i upgrades.

The new releases require considerable testing and sometimes cause glitches in existing systems, according to some conference attendees. Every release of the 11i software "breaks the old stuff," Melanie Bock, a San Francisco-based Oracle consultant who is a past president of the OAUG, said.

Several users also criticised Oracle's support. They said support workers don't seem to be communicating with Oracle's developers and often are aware of 11i's nuances. The number of software patches that users have to install and the time it can take to put them in place were also sore points for some users.

Cliff Godwin, senior vice-president of applications technology at Oracle, said software quality improvements made by the company over the past year have cut in half the number of patches that new 11i users typically need to install. In response to user demands, he added, Oracle also now offers packs that include multiple patches in order to further reduce installation work.

Oracle's remedy plan also includes the formation of a new group to monitor internal quality assurance procedures and the start of weekly meetings between developers and support workers. In addition, a new utility being built into 11i is supposed to notify users of patches they need to install.

Users' concerns were emphasised by a survey from analyst group AMR Research that was released at the conference.

Conducted in February, the survey drew responses from 115 OAUG members whose companies have completed 11i rollouts. Jennifer Kemmeter, an AMR analyst, would not disclose the percentage of the respondents who said they were satisfied with the upgrade process. But she said the figure was "very low".

Kemmeter said the users that took part reported their 11i implementations cost an average 43% more and took 39% longer than they had expected. On the other hand, she noted that 60% of the users said they were satisfied or better with Oracle as a company and 75% said 11i had improved their software environment and delivered business benefits.

Oracle declined to comment about the survey but a source at the company said it is working to help users keep their 11i upgrades from going over budget and taking more time than scheduled.

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