Oracle pushes on integration, customer support

Having slipped from the Number 2 slot in the applications market to Number 3, Oracle Corp. is taking pains to boost market share.

At its AppsWorld 2004 user conference in San Diego, officials from the software maker touted the company's various initiatives, which include boosting integration, delivering more vertically focused applications and creating customer advocacy programs.

In fact, despite a soft market for applications, over the past four years Oracle has doubled the number of developers, who are working on more than 100 different modules, newly installed board chairman Jeff Henley said during a keynote speech Tuesday. "We're executing better and better in the applications space," he said.

Oracle was behind only ERP giant SAP AG in terms of business software until the merger of PeopleSoft Inc. and J.D. Edwards & Co. last summer. Oracle is now attempting to purchase PeopleSoft in a hostile takeover bid and is awaiting a ruling from the U.S. Department of Justice over potential antitrust issues.

Nevertheless, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said during a news conference yesterday that although PeopleSoft claims to be in the upper tier, its market share is shrinking at a very rapid rate. "Our companies' new-license revenue comes close to being equal in size. I don't think they are bigger than we are. If they are, it's really close."

He also said that Oracle's efforts to offer greater integration with third-party applications comes in response to large companies' desires for heterogeneous software. Offering connectors is the next logical step for Oracle, now that it has stabilized its E-Business Suite, Ellison said.

"We're not giving up on what we were saying before," he said. "We're in good shape there. Not everyone in the world wanted to go that way. We've got our fair share of wins. Now we live in heterogeneous world."

At the show, Oracle also offered a preview of the upcoming release of its E-Business Suite, 11.i.10, which is slated to come out midyear. The new software suite includes boosted Web services and other connectors, which the company claims will ease the integration of business processes.

As part of its plan, Oracle will offer native support for 150 interfaces created by the Open Applications Group, and it will also extend support for specific industry protocols such as RosettaNet for high tech. The suite will also offer support for radio frequency identification (RFID) technology for warehouse management. There are also specific enhancements targeted to the construction, consumer packaged goods and health care industries, Oracle said.

The new features in the Oracle 11i.10 suite will help meet government privacy and other regulations at the Department of Defense, said Paul Matteucci. He served as the CIO of the Defense Department's Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve unit, which provides advocacy for reservists. Currently, the agency is using Oracle's call center software.

"Oracle has long been accused of being a bit industrial-focused," Matteucci said. However, Oracle has provided him with advocates that have worked to address specific rules and regulations to meet the needs of government and public-sector users. He said that Oracle consultants allowed the agency to "accelerate issues quickly and get resolution."

While planning to move to 11i.10 next year, Glenn Magala, vice president of MIS at video game maker Atari Inc. in New York, said he wants a boost in Oracle's product life-cycle management capabilities.

"That's going to be a key point to extend," he said, adding that the company is talking with Oracle to address those issues and will see how Oracle's product life-cycle management moves "fit with our business model."

Currently, Atari runs 11i.5 ERP and order management software, and it wants to upgrade in order to exploit the demand planning and other new features.