Oracle business app users still cite support concerns

Despite Oracle's much publicized efforts to bolster support for its 11i E-Business suite of applications, some users are still complaining about the instability of the suite and claim that there are gaps in support.

During a session here yesterday at the independent Oracle Applications User Group (OAUG) Spring 2002 conference, a half-dozen users raised concerns about the quality of the latest releases of Oracle 11i E-Business Suite software and the quality of support staff. Leading the session was Mike Runda, vice president of Americas product support services at Oracle, who was on hand to try to highlight the company's efforts to help users migrate to 11i through online automated services and software scripts.

After 11i's release, Oracle was plagued by buggy software and support complaints from users but worked to make the 11i platform more stable and beef up support.

For instance, Runda said that Oracle has started to use skill-based routing and online services to reduce call center contacts from 170,000 calls per quarter to 20,000 calls per quarter. He also said that during the next year, the company plans to start directly connecting users to Oracle via a virtual private network or some other type of hookup for more direct support. He cited a recent Oracle-sponsored survey that indicated that 85 percent of customers thought that support performance had improved during the last year.

Runda also highlighted the free 11i migration support services announced by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison at the AppsWorld conference last month.

However, there were some users in the audience who aren't satisfied with support. They claimed it still takes far too long to resolve problems and said support staff are either very junior or don't really understand the product.

Runda responded by saying that if a support staffer seems to be inadequate, the matter should be brought up to that person's superior at Oracle.

Melanie Block, an OAUG member as well as a past president, said Oracle keeps adding functions that are making even the later versions of 11i unstable. Block, a financial systems consultant based in San Francisco, said a lot of users would be willing do without the functionality if the suite could be more stable.

"Development should say that [the product's] not ready to go out the door," said Block. Each time Oracle incrementally adds new functionality to 11i and releases an upgrade, it "breaks the old stuff," she said. Oracle is also not releasing enough documentation for users to adequately understand how the upgrade might affect the existing system. Oracle should stop any new development and focus on stabilizing the product, she said.

"From the support standpoint, Oracle is putting out code too fast," said William Berg, Oracle Application database administrator at consultancy Team Information Services Inc. in Lake Mary, Fla. Oracle is releasing a new upgrade every several months, which makes it difficult to stay current because the iterations "change the technology stack." Moreover, he said he doesn't believe that "support was in the loop" about what development was doing and he suspects that support is unaware of changes being made to the 11i suite.

Like other high-tech firms, Oracle must find a happy a medium in how it releases its software, said Kim Autrey, vice president of financial systems at CNL Franchise Network LP, which is based in Orlando. While Oracle wants to add new functions as quickly as possible, it is better to extensively beta-test before releasing a new product or an upgrade, Autrey said.

"It doesn't do any good to put out defective software," Autrey said. "You do more damage that way."

CNL, a financial services company, is running Oracle's 11.0.3 general ledger, projects and accounts receivable modules, among others, and eventually plans an upgrade to 11i.

Current OAUG president Tom Wyatt said that from the user group's point of view, Oracle has been working to address both support and quality issues. The OAUG customer support council is in continuing talks with Oracle to help make migrations for customers going from 10.7 to 11i easier.

"From what we're seeing, they are paying more attention to providing what customers need," said Wyatt, who is also director of Oracle systems at Sitel Corp., a Baltimore-based customer service outsourcing firm now testing 11i for future upgrade.

Wyatt noted that Oracle responded to an OAUG request to extend the deadline for ending support of the 10.7 payroll module from December 2002 to June 2003. Oracle confirmed that it had made the extension.

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