Oracle kicked off its AppsWorld conference in Amsterdam Tuesday where it plans to roll out an upgrade to its E-Business Suite that adds new modules for working with channel partners, consolidating customer information, reviewing design projects over the Web and managing business assets, an Oracle executive said.
The company was also due to announce that the software suite's human resources module is now available in localized versions for the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, South Africa and Korea, said Jeremy Burton, senior vice president of global marketing at Oracle, in an interview last week.
In addition, Oracle will use the show to push a "pretty exciting new high-level message" designed to help the vendor distinguish its applications from those of rivals such as Siebel Systems Inc., SAP AG and Peoplesoft Inc., Burton said, although he declined to elaborate ahead of the show.
"This year we think will be the year of the suite," he said. "Customers will be asking, 'Who has the best suite? What even defines a suite?' The new message will show why we're different. There has to be a lot more to an application architecture than (being able to run it using) a Web browser, so ... we'll talk about a whole lot more than that."
The Oracle suite includes human resources, accounting and manufacturing applications, as well as software for managing customer relationships, sales and marketing efforts. Like those of its rivals, Oracle's applications are "Internet-enabled," meaning they can be hosted online and accessed from a Web browser. This is supposed to make them accessible from virtually any PC, and also allow for greater collaboration with partners, customers and suppliers.
If businesses have been slow to move their applications online it's not because the products on offer from vendors aren't up to snuff, according to Katherine Jones, an analyst with Boston's Aberdeen Group Inc. Rather, time and energy exerted for the year 2000 problem followed by a slump in the economy caused customers to shy away from new software projects, she said.
"In some businesses, it may be that software sitting out there on desktops is good enough for them, and pulling the system out may not make sense," she said. "But in places where there are a lot of road warriors and we need everything immediately, then an upgrade (to applications that are Web-enabled) is very logical.
"The key here is that it's got to make business sense, and right now it takes a lot to make any change make good business sense," she said. "There's a lot of conservatism out there, a retrenching of fiscal responsibility."
Oracle will be hoping that the new release of its applications suite, version 11.5.6, will prompt users into an upgrade. The database vendor claims that 1,100 customers are using some version of E-Business Suite 11i, out of a total of about 12,000 customers using its applications, according to Burton.
The new modules include Oracle Partners Online, an application for building a portal where a vendor can share with channel partners information about sales leads, products and support services. Leads can be routed to partners based on the territory they cover or some other user-defined criteria. The application is designed to complement Oracle Sales Online and Oracle Telesales.
Also new is a tool dubbed Oracle Customers Online for consolidating customer information stored in disparate locations. For example, a company could use it to merge information purchased with a direct mailing list with existing contacts in their CRM (customer relationship management) software.
"We have a set of APIs (application program interfaces) that allow you to merge, match and 'de-dup' customer information," Burton said. The term "de-dup" refers to stripping out duplicate names listed in more than one location, by comparing zip codes, for example. The application might undergo a name change before it's launched this week, he said.
Another module called CADView-3D allows users to view and mark up 3D models from a Web browser. The application uses technology from a CAD (computer aided design) viewing tool that Oracle acquired in October from Assentive Solutions Inc. The module is offered as a stand-alone product or as part of Oracle's Product Development Exchange.
Finally, Enterprise Asset Management is a new application for tracking equipment and facilities. Companies looking to conserve cash could use the software to make better use of their assets by keeping tabs on unused space at remote offices, for example, Burton said. The product can be used as a traditional application or as an online service from Oracle, and is due out in 30 days.
Oracle also will use this week's event to try to show that it has mended fences with the Oracle Applications User Group, (OAUG) with whom it has squabbled publicly for more than a year. OAUG President Jeremy Young will be among those joining Oracle executives on stage to talk about a joint strategy for planning future conferences, according to Burton.
"These (new applications) are most likely to fit into their existing customer base and if they're not nice to them then they won't buy their products," Aberdeen Group's Jones said. "There was a real message here (from the OAUG) and I think Oracle learned a lesson."
Oracle AppsWorld ends Friday. More information is at http://www.oracle.com/appsworld/amsterdam/conference/.