Protecting customer investments is a pervasive theme at this year's Oracle Open World, and a common motif in nearly every presentation made by senior executives of the company.
On Monday, Oracle president Charles Phillips spent a great deal of time and effort reiterating that his company would "never leave a customer behind."
That guarantee was repeated on Tuesday by John Wookey, Oracle's senior vice president, applications development, and one of the main architects of his company's future technology strategy. "Customers are asking: 'Can I stay where I am and will you support me?'" Wookey said. "The answer is: Yes."
Comforting words, but how well do they go down with customers of Oracle-acquired companies, such as PeopleSoft and JD Edwards (JDE), whose ERP/CRM applications are now part of the Oracle stack? How do these users feel about Oracle's assurances? (With its acquisition of PeopleSoft this year, Oracle also inherited the entire software stack of JDE, which merged with PeopleSoft in 2003).
IT World Canada spoke with some former PeopleSoft/JDE customers, and "cautious optimism" is the phrase that best describes their mood.
"I'm quite pleased with what I've been hearing," said Jesse Schaudies, global vice president of e-commerce with Milwaukee-based Manpower Inc., a long-time user of both PeopleSoft and JDE enterprise apps. "Of course, cynics that we are, we're waiting to see the execution of all that."
Schaudies' sentiments were echoed by other PeopleSoft/JDE users.
Among them is Mitch Myers, vice-president of operations with FW Murphy, a provider of quality control instrumentation that's been a long time user of JDE flagship product: OneWorld.
Myer's company also uses Ucentric, a Java-based CRM product that's part of the JDE suite. In May, FW Murphy also completed a big upgrade to PeopleSoft Enterprise 1, version 8.11. "We run two of the advanced planning modules, and the full CRM suite of products."
For Myers, ongoing support of all these applications is crucial, and he said he is pleased with Oracle's extended support policy announcement. (Oracle has stated that it will continue to support software of its acquired companies until the year 2013. On Monday it also announced a lifetime support option, but details on just how this will play out and how costly it will be are not yet available).
"It did seem that they were listening to us," Myers said. "I appreciate the fact that [Oracle] didn't say 'it's difficult for us to be able to support all these versions, and we're going to force you to take our path.'"
This sense of relief was also expressed by Phil Walton, director of information services at Spirent, a global supplier of hi-tech communication services.
"Having just done one global implementation of JDE, I was concerned we would have to do another implementation soon," said Walton. But he said following the PeopleSoft/JDE acquisition, he did not at all feel pressured by Oracle to move away from JDE. "That's good, because I think there is a lot of functionality still ahead of us in JD Edwards."
However, with Project Fusion -- Oracle's strategy to blend the best elements of the technology from all its acquired companies -- customers are adopting a more cautious approach.
"Let's wait and see," appears to be the dominant sentiment.
For Myers, the overall concept behind Project Fusion is sound. "As it doesn't make sense, long term, for all the product lines to coexist, Oracle came up with the idea of Fusion, which is to take the best business practices and best software (from all its acquired companies) and create the product of the future. That may not be immediate, but it's coming, and it's necessary."
Necessary yes, but is it entirely doable? On this, many customers are withholding judgment.
A lingering question in the minds of many is: When Oracle says "best of breed" -- whose best of breed is it going to be? As many point out, what's good for the goose may not necessarily be good for the gander.
"I would be lying if I said there weren't concerns," said Rod Ely, a systems architect with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Green Mountain has been a PeopleSoft customer since 1996 and has deployed a range of PeopleSoft's supply chain, financial and CRM apps.
"When you take the three product lines together (PeopleSoft/JD Edwards, Siebel and Oracle) and try to figure out which functionality makes the best sense I think there is the [possibility] of not making the right decisions. And I think, at times, that will probably happen."
He said it's also up to customers who understand specific verticals to ensure that their voices are heard and that the functionality they require is part of the Fusion product.
Another big concern for Ely is how easy it would be to integrate disparate systems that are now part of the Oracle technology stack.
"The ease of integration between manufacturing, distribution, financials and CRM is important to small companies like mine," he said. "It's imperative that these modules be easy to integrate and self-sufficient and robust, so we can make changes on our own, and not need a bunch of consultants help us."
Walton agrees that seamless and easy integration between Oracle's multiple products is crucial. His company, Spirent, has used JDE for the past five years, and recently upgraded to Enterprise 1 8.11. The company is also a big Siebel shop.
"I believe Oracle is targeting its best-of-breed strategy towards specific verticals," Walton said. "So we'll get best-of-breed by industry, not a generic best-of-breed across industries."
All indications are this will be the case.
Analyst firms such as Forrester Research, for instance, have predicted that Oracle will continue to make acquisitions in vertical markets to enhance its market position in relation to its chief competitor, SAP. (This prediction was borne out on Tuesday when Oracle reached an agreement to purchase G-Log, a privately held provider of logistics and transportation software).