Oracle users won't let company off the hook

As Oracle rapidly changes its historic strategy of growing through organic development and expands its size by large acquisitions, the company's installed base is watching warily. Last week at the OpenWorld conference in San Francisco, users noted that Oracle has so far said the right things to try to assure them. But outstanding issues remain, they said, as the company evolves its Project Fusion architecture and makes changes to support costs for users.

For its part, Oracle is looking to avoid some of the mistakes made by PeopleSoft after it acquired J.D. Edwards & Co. by maintaining constant communications with users. The company also said it doesn't want customers to feel pressured to upgrade. With that in mind, Oracle this week announced a simplified lifetime support policy for all of its applications.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who delivered a keynote at OpenWorld last Wednesday, said that over next the two years, Oracle will focus on building standards-based middleware and applications. Oracle will also be rolling out "hot-pluggable" infrastructure software that can be snapped into the software from rivals such as IBM.

By using service-oriented architecture technology in its future developments, Oracle will allow companies to keep their existing ERP investments, he said. Moreover, with its planned US$5.85 billion buyout of Siebel Systems, the company is looking to acquire know-how as much as software, Ellison said. "It's not about trying to preserve code bases," he said. "It's about trying to preserve experience."

It would be foolish not to be concerned about the future, said Jay Schaudies Jr., global vice president of e-commerce at Manpower, a staffing services provider, a PeopleSoft user who spoke at OpenWorld, explained that for the past 10 months, his company's relationship with Oracle has been good. But Manpower is waiting to see if Oracle delivers on its road map and is paying close attention to the Siebel buyout.

"We are going into this with eyes wide open," he said. "This is a big digestion."

While Fusion will take a while to roll out, it should be industry standards-based, he said. "We want to see something worth waiting for, and very importantly, see it be able to talk universally," said Schaudies. He also urged Oracle not to define its strategy as overtaking business applications market leader SAP AG; it should focus customers.

"All vendors remain on probation at all times," said John Matelski, deputy CIO of the city of Orlando, which is a PeopleSoft shop. "Technology and business processes evolve so rapidly that we need to be flexible and adaptable. If a vendor is unable to be just that, they run the risk of being replaced.

"The city continually evaluates our vendors and the solutions that they provide to us and holds them to a very high standard," Matelski said. So far,Oracle has delivered, he added.

Being able to keep customizations in its software through the advent of Fusion is crucial at PeopleSoft shop Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, said Rod Ely, the company's application development manager and systems architect. Some of the customizations are important to competitive success, said Ely, who wants Oracle to keep its tool sets flexible enough to preserve those customizations.

On the other hand, Robert Moon, CIO of educational toy provider LeapFrog Enterprises, said he's comfortable with Oracle's direction. His company runs Oracle E-Business Suite 11i10.

Moon said he has "full faith and confidence" that Oracle will be able to take technologies from PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards and Siebel and integrate them successfully into Fusion. "Oracle doesn't take third-party code and glue it together to its applications," he said, predicting that Oracle will offer a full rewrite of the applications with desirable features embedded.

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