At last week’s annual Oracle OpenWorld, the software company again opened the door on its Fusion project, the promised merger of its own E-Business Suite with enterprise applications it gained in buying PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards.
These progress reports are in some way an ordeal, since Oracle has been obliged to answer questions about Fusion since it announced the project 22 months ago, and will continue to do so until the first version debuts in 2008.
Officially, the company says its on track. This year Fusion middleware tools for creating the merged applications was released, the architecture defined, the user interface finalized and dashboards have been delivered.
Next year will see beta versions of the first applications as well as the release of data hubs and transaction bases needed to link them to other systems.
On the other hand, as Gartner enterprise applications analyst Jeff Comport pointed out in a post-conference interview, not a line of code has been written yet.
VARs were likely paying more attention to another message: Oracle won’t force customers to upgrade.
John Wookey, senior vice-president of Oracle applications development emphasized in a keynote address that while PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards and Siebel applications will be enhanced, upgrading to Fusion “should be based on your business objectives, not on our timetable.”
“That’s a big change since a year ago,” observed Comport.
Wookey even approvingly quoted an unnamed JDE World customer saying his firm is so happy with that suite it will never upgrade. That’s apparently fine with Oracle.
Given the scale of the task before Oracle’s programmers and the uncertainty of exactly what the company will give birth to 12 months hence, it’s no surprise that customers and the channel aren’t embracing what they can’t touch yet.
Wookey did try to whet their appetites with a demo of what things might look like. It showed a user’s desktop with an Oracle dashboard linked to other applications. Click on ‘New Leads,’ and up pops Microsoft Outlook with an Oracle application-linked sidepane. Click on ‘Create A Quote,’ and a Google spreadsheet opens with a pre-populated work order template from a Fusion application. E-mail the quote to a customer and the sidepane goes with, allowing an authorized user to digitally sign in and see the document, even if he doesn’t have Oracle.
Comport agreed there were echoes of Microsoft’s Duet project with SAP in the presentation.
But progress on Fusion is important to show customers the company has a roadmap and a timetable.
“I think there’s a lot going on that Oracle isn’t disclosing,” said Comport. “This business that no code’s been written is a little bit deceptive because what Oracle is indicating that the new application will contain much less traditional code than the applications its replacing.
“They’re going to rely much more heavily on business models, metadata, rules, those kinds of things. Things that are much more similar to a specification or obstraction than the traditional coding practices.“
Still, Comport said “most people are planning to stay on their existing products until at least 2010 and at that point (will) start to evaluate Fusion.”
Partners should also know that Gartner is seeing signs Fusion is causing a problem: Oracle’s customer base isn’t growing because they don’t know what they’re buying into.
While Microsoft’s Dynamics family is undergoing a product merger similar to Fusion, SAP, one of Oracle’s biggest competitors in the enterprise applications market, isn’t. That may be causing a pause in buying.
“What’s going on is headscratching,” said Comport as potential customers ask: ‘Why would I buy an old Oracle product?’
“I can’t quantify it, but we have conversations with clients going through that discussion process, and the evidence is the lack of evidence – Oracle isn’t willing to provide information about new name accounts. And much of the activity we see are existing clients cross-buying applications –- having E-Business Suite and buying some Siebel and vice-versa.”
“Until Fusion comes out, Oracle will be heavily reliant on increasing the yield from their existing customers,” Comport said.
If that’s true, partners should be worried.