Oracle pushes support, quality, education

Looking to overcome customer relationship and quality image problems, Oracle Corp. is working to appear more conciliatory toward its installed base.

At the AppsWorld user conference here this week, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison acknowledged that the software maker's E-Business Suite 11i is complex, and he expressed a willingness on the company's part to work more closely with users to help them successfully roll it out.

It was a message that went over well with some users, including the leader of the Oracle Applications Users Group (OAUG).

"We're optimistic, looking at positive improvements in our relationship with Oracle," said Tom Wyatt, president of the independent OAUG, which is based in Atlanta. Wyatt works as director of Oracle systems at Sitel Corp., a customer service outsourcing firm in Baltimore. Sitel has been running Oracle 11.0.3 since October 2000 and ultimately plans to roll out 11i no later than next year.

While some users noted that Oracle is making an attempt to be more customer-friendly, they also cited issues regarding pricing, function and support.

At Berwind Pharmaceutical Services Inc., a West Point, Pa.-based maker of coatings for medical tablets, one major wish is for Oracle to offer concurrent user pricing instead of just named user terms. The company, which runs Oracle financial and process manufacturing modules, upgraded to 11i from the 10.7 version of the suite last July with the intention of creating a single, global set of business processes.

"I am all for concurrent vs. named user pricing," said Berwind CIO Perry Cozzone. "Oracle has to take a closer look at pricing."

He said he would also like to see Oracle, which has highlighted cost reductions of more than $1 billion through its own internal standardization on 11i, pass some of those savings to customers through support cost cuts. "They are not pushing the savings on to us," Cozzone said. "The support costs are the same."

In response, Oracle claimed that its named user pricing is consistent with the rest of the industry and said that it offers a variety of cost saving packages.

Some users at the conference pointed to the much publicized instability and bugginess of early versions of 11i. For instance, the Oracle order management module was released when it was not "ready for prime time," said Steven Yasbeck, CIO at Paradigm Wireless Systems Inc., an Irvine, Calif.-maker of electronic products such as power amplifiers. That caused delays and out-of-pocket expenses at Paradigm.

In response to the bug complaints, he said, Oracle gave Paradigm discounts for several months.

Yasbeck went on to say that, in his view, Oracle's order management product doesn't have the sort of granular out-of-the-box reporting features his company would like. But, he said, Oracle doesn't want to customize the application for fear of introducing glitches.

Oracle said the 11i product is stable, and its consistent message has been for companies to avoid customization to prevent making the application less stable as it continues to add improvements.

Order management is one of a number of products from Oracle that Paradigm uses. The company also uses an outsourced version of Oracle's general ledger, accounts payable and manufacturing products.

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