Users cautious on Oracle's bid to enhance World suite

Customers of the once-moribund World applications are reacting with cautious optimism to Oracle's moves to enhance the suite, which includes a major revamp due out next year.

That, and Oracle's technical support and stated commitment to the suite through 2013, gave a half-dozen World users here some basis for optimism. The customers were attending the Quest Conference and Expo 2005 in Texas. Quest supports users of J.D. Edwards & Co.'s World green-screen applications, as well as World's successor, EnterpriseOne software.

J.D. Edwards was acquired by ERP rival PeopleSoft in 2003, and in turn, last January, Oracle scooped up the combined companies.

"I was apprehensive at first," said Vincent Rancuret, IS systems analyst at KIK Custom Products, "but they appear to be doing pretty well, and I now feel comfortable." The custom manufacturer runs World human resources and other software.

Only six months into the merger, it's hard to say exactly how strong Oracle's commitment is, and some users are having a hard time believing they are going to get what they've been asking for, said Dave Hyzy, director of IT at Benderson Development, a World shop.

However, this week Oracle released a new service pack for World to aid in self-service and regulatory compliance.

In addition, the vendor plans to roll out a new release of World in 2006, according to John Schiff, vice president and general manager of the company's World organization. Although details of this project, as yet unnamed, are sketchy, it will allow users of the two different flavors of World, Versions A7 and A8, to migrate to a single consolidated platform and exploit the benefits of both sets of software.

For instance, there are manufacturing enhancements in A8 that A7 lacks, he said. The next release will also have new workflows and development tools for easier integration with other applications, Schiff said. He also made it clear that any migration would be at the customers' request.

A new version of World was welcome news to some users. At Stolt-Nielsen Transportation Group, IT staff have wanted to migrate from World A7 to A8, but thought they might be forced on to EnterpriseOne, and so held back, said Mickey Stayman, business systems manager at the bulk liquids transporter. The development of this new release "is one indication of our ability to continue with World," he said.

Nevertheless, some hesitation remains. "So far, there are more questions than answers," said Jan Withers, applications programming manager at The Clark Construction Group Inc., based in Bethesda, Md. She fears that, as part of the fusion evolution to a best-of-breed architecture, Oracle will drop key features in World that her company relies on, such as change and contract management. These construction specific functions don't exist in the Oracle E-Business Suite 11i, and losing them would be a "showstopper."

Moreover, she wants to see more concrete cooperation between IBM and Oracle, because her company runs IBM's DB2, and it lacks expertise in Oracle's database technology. So far, she says, "You hear about them doing it, then there's nothing."

Hyzy, although generally upbeat, doubted that Oracle would continue to certify IBM's DB2 database as the platform of choice for World.

Oracle has yet to decide on the database issue, said a company executive.

KIK's Rancuret wants Oracle to start marketing the application with vigor, a comment supported by several other World users. "You can't keep a product exciting and alive unless you sell it aggressively," he said.

An Oracle spokesperson pointed out that the company has recently launched sales and marketing campaigns to promote J.D. Edwards software in the small-to-medium-size business market in Europe, Asia and North America.

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