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The Long and Windy Road to Oracle's Fusion Applications

o Thomas Wailgum
05.01.2011 kl 17:17 | CIO.com

Oracle has laid out the Fusion Apps roadmap for its customers. But how each customer actually gets to the Fusion Apps destination is another question altogether.

 

Most high-tech vendor roadmaps, if customers can get their hands on one, are usually paved with good intentions.

These roadmaps offered by enterprise software vendors-which provide guidance on future versions of products, services or software-delivery options-are critical for their customers. The maps enable CIOs and senior execs to chart their application portfolio strategies: which upgrades they'll commit to, which legacy apps they'll "sunset," which vendors they'll do more business with.

But just like anyone else, software vendors reserve the right to change their minds: a sudden acquisition or decline in sales can significantly alter a vendor's roadmap. And that can wreak havoc with any CIO's short- and long-term apps strategy.

The enterprise application roadmap for Oracle customers has, for the past five years, always pointed toward one destination: the Oracle Fusion Applications Suite.

Fusion Apps, as it's better known, is Oracle's next-generation suite of open-standards-based software, available on-premise or in some "cloud" form. The suite covers seven core business areas: financials; governance, risk and compliance (GRC); human capital management (HCM); procurement; project portfolio management (PPM); sales (CRM); and supply chain management (SCM). There are approximately 100 modules within the seven product groups.

Oracle execs are well-known for their self-promotional hyperbole. But in delivering Fusion Apps to the marketplace, they have followed a methodical, low-key route. (Of course, other happenings, such as the Sun acquisition, various lawsuits and the Exadata ramp up, have taken Oracle's attention during the past couple of years.)

As Fusion Apps become generally available in early 2011, Oracle execs have, in fact, been acting in anti-Oracle fashion: There's been little pressure on customers to rush into buying Fusion Apps.

For instance, at Oracle OpenWorld 2010, the mega-event in San Francisco that served as Fusion Apps' latest coming-out party, CEO Larry Ellison had this to say, when he rhetorically asked if all Oracle customers should immediately invest in Fusion Apps: "No, absolutely not.... You can move to Fusion at the time of your choosing. Over the next five years, at some point, we think you'll move to Fusion."

Oracle execs' reticence has nothing to do with the software itself; reviews so far have been favorable. The fact is that the expected benefits of the new-age software will eventually be worth it for most of Oracle's existing enterprise app customers (running E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards and Siebel).

But how each customer actually gets to the Fusion Apps destination (if they get there at all) is another question altogether.

NEXT: What's So Special About Fusion AppsWhat's Special About Fusion Apps

The Fusion Apps project kicked off circa 2005. During each subsequent year, it seemed like the next-generation suite of business applications was roughly halfway to GA. Steve Miranda, Oracle's SVP of application development, joked at OpenWorld 2010: "This was the longest NDA ever."

In describing Fusion Apps' lengthy development, Oracle states (in a user experience document):

"We watched sales representatives, accountants, product managers, CFOs and shop floor engineers firsthand. Before a line of code was written, Oracle enrolled more than 800 customers in its User Experience Customer Participation Program. Oracle shared design concepts, asked questions and continually listened to customers to make sure we got the right feature set, the right business flows and the right user experience."

In July 2009, Floyd Teter, a VP of the Oracle Applications Users Group and enterprise apps guru, blogged about his week-long "validation testing" experience with Fusion Apps. He wrote:

"I should also point out that the overall quality of the apps is much higher than I would expect it to be at this point in the development lifecycle. Yes, I did hit some bugs...but not nearly as many as I expected to see, and nothing that prevented execution of business processes. The whole idea of using an iterative development approach to improve product quality seems to have paid off handsomely on the quality front."

Coming out of OpenWorld 2010, Constellation Research CEO Ray Wang noted that Fusion Apps "highlight a new level of design. The apps infuse Web 2.0 paradigms with enterprise-class sensibilities, and role-based screens present relevant tasks, alerts and analytics."

Key to the Fusion Applications Suite is Fusion Middleware and its Pixie Dust integration capabilities. Oracle has promised that, owing to the modularity of Fusion Apps design and magic of Fusion Middleware, customers can unite their portfolio of legacy applications with Fusion Applications-that the old (E-Business and PeopleSoft apps) will play nice with the new (Fusion Apps) modules. (At this time, though, it's not fully clear what sort of additional investments in middleware customers will have to make.)

Oracle executives have, as of late, been pushing Fusion Apps' cloud capability-dual-delivery of FA on-premise or in the cloud.

"Fusion runs both places. You decide where you want to put this," Ellison stated on Oracle's Q2 2011 earnings call in December. "You can't do that with Salesforce.com. You can't do that with Workday, a lot of these guys. So we've got this brand new, extremely modern Java-based suite of applications called Fusion that runs in the cloud, runs on-premise, and is going to dramatically strengthen our position against our cloud-based competitors like Salesforce and Workday, and our traditional competitor SAP."

Of course, those competitors all take umbrage with Ellison's newfound cloud braggadocio. Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, for instance, has repeatedly warned Oracle's customers: "Beware of the false cloud."

NEXT: But Will Oracle Customers Care?But Will Oracle Customers Care?

It's obvious Oracle took its time with Fusion Apps. It had, in fact, plenty of time. Oracle's customer base-mired in a global economic recession for two years and facing flat or declining budgets-was barely ready for the challenges of the next fiscal quarter, never mind laying out millions on next-gen, expensive and untested technology from Oracle.

In a recent blog post, Why Don't People Understand Fusion?, the U.K. Oracle User Group's Debra Lilley writes: "Most people have spent the last year or so trying to avoid big IT projects, so why look at what you are not going to do?"

Enterprise-class ERP packages from the likes Oracle, SAP and other vendors also still suffer from administration inefficiencies, exorbitant legacy costs, and over-customization and shelfware problems. Of the 350 respondents to MorganFranklin's survey at Oracle's Collaborate 2010 show, 53 percent were not aware of all of the functionalities that their ERP applications had to offer.

Therefore the crucial question, now that we've moved into 2011 and FA will be GA, is just how will Oracle customers approach Fusion Apps?

So far, the response has been a mixture of curious technological interest and corporate indifference. A recent survey of Oracle's apps customer base by Computer Economics found that Fusion Apps "are not on the radar for most customers, with only 10 percent planning to migrate to Fusion."

To Constellation Research's Wang, FA adoption will depend on each customer's existing landscape. Oracle's customer base typically falls into three categories, he says: Die-Hard Red Stack Believers, Best-of-Breed Customers by Accident, and Net-New Greenfield. Here's how each category will likely approach FA, according to Wang:

"Expect Net-New Greenfields to consider the full Fusion App suites as they compare existing Apps Unlimited products and SAP. Best-of-Breed Customers by Accident will most likely be drawn to the 100 modules to be delivered on demand and on premises. Die-Hard Red Stackers most likely have upgraded to the latest Fusion Middleware and will consider product replacements and module adoption. Fusion Apps remains fairly horizontal and those customers with rich and stable vertical capabilities will most likely hold off for future releases."

As 2010 wound down, Oracle execs made sure to talk up the Fusion Applications roadmap and the customer flexibility FA offered via its modular design.

"This mix and match [approach to Fusion Apps with different modules] and the clarity of the roadmap we've given our existing customers and the fact that Fusion is here now so you can see it and touch it hugely de-risks the question for customers," stated Oracle EVP of Product Development Thomas Kurian, at a meeting with financial analysts in September 2010. "The choice of when they go and how they go to Fusion, and if they go to Fusion, is theirs and theirs alone, OK? No other applications vendor has this breadth of capability or the choice."

NEXT: The Coexistence Strategy UnveiledThe Coexistence Strategy

The term "coexistence" is not just a plea for peace among warring nations. It's an oft-used slogan employed by Oracle executives to placate Fusion Apps-wary customers who envision a big-bang, rip-and-replace scenario.

Oracle's application customers have been following their own routes via the Applications Unlimited program, which has promised customers continued enhancements on the vendor's current business applications. Oracle's application strategy, noted Kurian during an October webcast, "does not require [customers] to rip and replace their existing implementation of Applications Unlimited in order to pick up Fusion Applications."

With Fusion Apps GA now looming, decisions on whether to upgrade their core business apps will get tricky for customers.

"The question I get most is," said Miranda at OpenWorld 2010, "do I wait for Fusion, or go to EBS [E-Business Suite] 12 or PeopleSoft 9.1? Most customers will stay on their current path and upgrade to latest release." Other customers, however, will embark on the coexistence strategy, adding a new Fusion Apps module when the time is right, rather than upgrading the legacy app.

Kurian offered this example (during the webcast): "I'm going to keep financials, HR, procurement on E-Business Suite, and I'm going to pick up Fusion for supply chain management or CRM." At OpenWorld, Miranda termed it: "Upgrade, adopt and extend." The overriding strategy, of course, is to avoid unnecessary expenditures. "Customers don't want to spend twice the money on the upgrades," Miranda noted.

Paul Hamerman, VP of enterprise applications at Forrester Research, says (via e-mail) that coexistence is a "risk avoidance opportunity" for customers to avoid a large-scale software adoption projects.

"The customer can adopt some of the net new modules alongside existing products, or go deeper into the migration of core modules from the existing apps," Hamerman says. "At this stage, few customers are willing to take the Fusion plunge, but are intrigued enough to dabble in non-mission critical areas."

Oracle appears to have such low expectations for customer uptake with Fusion Apps that one has to wonder what will constitute a suitable payback for the more than five years spent developing it? Kenneth Chin, a research VP at Gartner, says (via e-mail) that while Fusion Apps is a strategic piece of Oracle's future, "Gartner does not see it having a significant impact on Oracle's revenue stream through the end of 2011."

As Fusion Applications is released to the masses in 2011, Oracle executives can point to the comprehensive roadmap that they have offered to their customers. Now it's up to those customers to chart their own paths forward.

Thomas Wailgum covers Enterprise Software, Data Management and Personal Productivity Apps for CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. E-mail Thomas at twailgum@cio.com.

Read more about applications in CIO's Applications Drilldown.

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