Oracle rolls out mobile e-business suite

Users of Oracle's business software will soon be able to roam free. The company began shipping a new mobile-enabled update of its electronic business suite on Wednesday, it said in a statement. The Oracle E-Business suite is the company's package of ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications.

The product, available worldwide, will enable users to access applications such as field sales, field service, expense reporting and warehouse management tools from desktop machines, Web browsers and mobile devices. Other wireless functions are planned for future releases. Tools for asset and time management and receivables tracking, and vertical applications for the healthcare and pharmaceuticals markets, will be available in early 2002, Oracle said.

The new features build on the integrated wireless functionality of Oracle9i Application Server to give users the ability to reach key functions while mobile, the company said. The tools can be accessed through a wide range of mobile devices, including mobile phones running Openwave Systems Inc.'s Mobile Browser, handhelds from Palm Inc. and Handspring Inc., Pocket PCs running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE, and BlackBerry two-way pagers by Research in Motion Ltd.

The latest launch, part of Oracle's strategy to implement wireless and voice access across its product lines, follows last month's announcement that the company is teaming with a joint venture company backed by Ford Motor Co. and Qualcomm Inc. to develop and market wireless computer services for vehicles.

"At this point, we feel that this is where wireless really becomes mainstream in most corporations," Jeremy Burton, Oracle's senior vice president of product and services marketing, said during a conference call.

But some observers were skeptical about the immediate appeal of the new wireless push.

"I think the only way for Oracle to become successful in this type of market is by proving to IT directors what the ROI (return on investment) is on this type of thing," said Charles Homs, a senior analyst at Forrester Research BV in Amsterdam. "Right now it looks like they're nice gadgets, but you don't really know what is the additional efficiency you gain from all of this."

He said Forrester is projecting that until about 2005, companies will use wireless e-business applications mostly for intracompany communication, and that between about 2005 and 2010, their use for transactions between companies should pick up. However, he added, "In general we don't anticipate that the acceptance of these types of things will go far very soon."

Oracle competitor SAP AG has also set its sights on the wireless future, promoting mobility as a key theme at its recent Sapphire trade show, for example. [See "Attendees applaud their Palms," June 18.]"In the best case, Oracle is probably six months ahead (of SAP), if even that," said Homs.

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