Oracle moves a step closer to Fusion

The launch of Oracle E-Business Suite 12 paves the way for the supplier's SOA vision of integration, flexibility and better process management

The launch of Oracle E-Business Suite 12 last month is a major step towards Oracle's first fully standards-based, service oriented architecture (SOA) suite, Fusion Applications, due in 2008.

Fusion Applications is a collection of enterprise resource planning programs based on Oracle's core database management system that make extensive use of web services. It is separate from Oracle's various branded business applications, such as PeopleSoft Enterprise and JD Edwards EnterpriseOne, although they will use a common applications platform called Oracle Fusion Middleware.

The previous E-Business Suite, version 11i, contains products such as Oracle Financials, Oracle Logistics, Oracle HR and Oracle Sales. These are modular and licensed separately, but they use a common applications stack that includes Oracle Forms Server, Oracle Reports Server, Apache Web Server, J-initiator and Sun Java technology.

With every new release of the ERP suite, Oracle has been moving towards its goal of encoding more individual business processes that can be embedded into third-party applications, such as Microsoft Office, with the attendant benefits of tighter integration, better business process management, lower IT and management costs and greater business and IT flexibility.

Oracle E-Business Suite 12 is certified to run on Oracle Fusion Middleware, which has the ability to manage processes that span heterogeneous applications. A key part of this architecture is the ability to utilise hundreds of predefined web services, integrating them with third-party applications.

David Mitchell, global head of software at analyst firm Ovum, said Oracle was on track to deliver its Fusion technology on time, and it had so far met all of its targets.

"Fusion is much more component-based than previous versions of the software, and you can embed parts of the applications into Outlook or Office, for example, in much more flexible ways," he said.

Meanwhile, rival ERP supplier SAP has teamed up with Microsoft to deliver a similar initiative, which has borne fruit initially with Duet, a series of pre-packaged SAP business processes that are embedded into Microsoft Office applications.

Mitchell said Duet offers integration around a more limited range of functions than Oracle plans to offer. But he said the same architectural flexibility was available in SAP's Netweaver SOA platform, which would eventually offer a good alternative to Oracle Fusion.

The major challenges for organisations moving from traditional ERP to an SOA-based system are of a business rather than a technical nature, said Mitchell. "The older ERP packages are essentially monolithic. Fusion is much more modular," he said.

This means that organisations need a clear view of which business processes they want to automate and how they want to integrate them into their front-end applications, and then get the expertise to do so.

As yet, Oracle has offered few details about the upgrade process to version 12 of its E-Business Suite, but, for many users, it would be worth doing, said Mitchell.

"Oracle has put a lot of effort into the new financial architecture of the products in terms of ledger sets," he said. "So, if you use shared services, or have different compliance regimes, or any complex requirements on financial reporting, this is worth moving to within a six- to nine-month timeframe.

"Equally, there are new facilities in version 12 with the introduction of Fusion Middleware that help to address cost of ownership, which will also help you to move along the Fusion road."

As Oracle builds towards its Fusion goals, it still has a responsibility to support its existing platforms. It is doing this under the banner of Applications Unlimited.

While promoting the Fusion-­enabled version of Oracle E-Business, the supplier also released major product updates with Oracle PeopleSoft Enterprise Release 9.0, Siebel CRM 8.0, JD Edwards EnterpriseOne 8.12 and JD Edwards World A9.1.

"These releases are proof that Oracle is protecting and extending customers' current investments in Oracle's leading horizontal, specialty and industry suites," said Oracle president Charles Phillips. "Additionally, with the Applications Unlimited programme, we are giving our customers the choice as to when they upgrade without having to re-license their applications."

Neil Macehiter, principal analyst at Macehiter Ward-Dutton, said, "In the Applications Unlimited launch Oracle is treading a very careful line between promotion of the Fusion vision and continuing development of E-Business Suite, Siebel, Peoplesoft and JD Edwards products to manage the potential concerns of existing users regarding the protection of their significant investment in these products.

"I was surprised that Phillips majored on Fusion Middleware as the enabler of Fusion - the strategy seems to be to get customers and software suppliers to buy into Fusion Middleware as the platform to ease the transition to Fusion."

Given these facts, Macehiter said it was difficult to see how close Fusion is to reality at the moment. Only time will tell.


New features in Oracle E-Business Suite 12

● Based on the Oracle Fusion Middleware platform, Release 12 includes hundreds of predefined web services

● Centralised financial architecture enables higher levels of control and transparency

● Centralised set-up and maintenance of accounting, tax and banking rules

● Oracle Profitability Manager enables users to perform a wide range of profitability analysis and reporting

● Oracle Human Capital Management includes specific role-based views into data

● Oracle Project Portfolio Analysis helps users select projects that are dispersed across geographies or lines of business and align them to global business objectives.


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