Destination FusionBy David A. Kelly
Oracle Fusion is arriving on all application platforms.
As businesses grow, their applications and business processes will need to work together seamlessly. Making that a reality is the mission of Oracle Fusion, Oracle's vision for next-generation enterprise technologies, applications, and services. Part of that vision is Oracle Fusion Applications, the single applications product line that will combine and enhance the best functionality from all Oracle Applications product lines. Oracle Fusion Applications will deliver this functionality in a service-oriented architecture (SOA) on the existing standards-based Oracle Fusion Middleware platform.
While the initial availability of Oracle Fusion Applications is still to come, the product line's benefits are already apparent. USi, an application service provider (ASP) based in Annapolis, Maryland, is upgrading its internal versions of Oracle E-Business Suite, Oracle's PeopleSoft, and other applications to be consistent with Oracle's Fusion Applications strategy. A large user of packaged applications, the company is also leveraging Oracle Fusion Middleware and Oracle BPEL Process Manager to be more competitive—for example, by addressing its business needs for compliance with auditing and financial standards.
"Being able to define and document our processes is very important for passing our auditing requirements, but we found that while our processes were well-defined, they didn't work well with traditional workflow-type solutions," says Michael Rulf, vice president, Advanced Engineering, USi. Instead, USi used Oracle BPEL Process Manager and an SOA approach to unify its business processes by tying together applications through existing APIs. "We've embraced this direction wholeheartedly, and our management loves it because we're able to better leverage our systems and our audit compliance has gone up."
Greater Flexibility Now
Due to his company's many specialized applications and an increasing need for greater visibility and management across business processes spanning multiple applications, David Williams is excited about Oracle Fusion Applications and Oracle's Fusion infrastructure road map. Williams is the lead solutions architect for Giant Eagle, one of the largest food retailers and food distributors in the U.S., with retail locations throughout western Pennsylvania, Ohio, north central West Virginia, and Maryland.
"The capabilities that Oracle offers us open up tremendous opportunities in terms of integration because of their SOA-enabled Oracle Fusion Middleware platform," says Williams. "Over time, these capabilities will make it easier for us to call out functionality provided by those systems from our other business processes."
For example, Giant Eagle has already gained greater flexibility by using Oracle BPEL Process Manager to streamline the processing of time clock and employee information from third-party applications through Oracle BPEL Process Manager and into PeopleSoft.
"Oracle BPEL Process Manager allows us to decouple applications and pull out events so that we can use them in real time," says Williams. "The nice thing now is that we can reuse business events coming out of a given system to initiate any number of business processes without modification of the source system."
Today, organizations may use more than one Oracle product—for example, an Oracle Database customer may also use Oracle Fusion Middleware, PeopleSoft, and Oracle Retail—and these companies would like to maximize the benefits of integration and leverage between products. "Since many products have been consolidated under the Oracle umbrella and are being linked with Oracle Fusion Middleware, customers who were, in the past, forced to do a lot of integration work themselves are now looking forward to Oracle providing that higher level of integration," says Marcel Bos, senior vice president for consulting, western continental Europe, Oracle.
"We're protecting the investment that organizations have made in existing products such as Oracle E-Business Suite, Oracle's JD Edwards, PeopleSoft, and Oracle's Siebel; we're adding value by releasing complete new versions of these products in the future; and we're creating a solid future by combining the best functionality in a new solution through Oracle Fusion," Bos says.
Stepping Stone to the Future
For some applications customers, the original announcement of Oracle Fusion Applications created concern over whether they would need to abandon their existing deployments and switch to Oracle Applications. However, Oracle's announcement of Applications Unlimited, which promises to support the company's various individual product lines with patches and basic fixes as well as enhancing and extending products through new releases, has eliminated that concern.
"When Oracle announced Applications Unlimited, our applications customers were very pleased," says Basheer Khan, president and CEO, Innowave Technology. Khan, a member of the Oracle Applications Users Group Fusion Council steering committee, feels that the Applications Unlimited program is an attractive opportunity for existing Oracle, Siebel, PeopleSoft, and other applications users.
"Now they know that with Applications Unlimited, Oracle will support their application tracks as long as they want," Khan says. "At the same time, they can move to Oracle Fusion Applications if and when they choose, while knowing that their applications will be moving in that direction anyway."
Oracle's goal is to give customers choices. "Oracle Applications customers might want to go to Fusion Applications gradually. Oracle's Applications Unlimited strategy, together with the capabilities that Oracle Fusion Middleware offers today, gives them flexibility to migrate module by module, if and when they want," says Markus Zirn, senior director, product management, Oracle.
For Network Appliance, Inc., the combination of being able to leverage Applications Unlimited now and build an IT road map on SOA architecture is compelling. "Oracle's Applications Unlimited strategy is beneficial for Network Appliance, because we have Oracle Enterprise Resource Planning [ERP], Siebel Customer Relationship Management [CRM], and PeopleSoft Human Resources [HR]," says Krish Ellath, director of Finance IT, Network Appliance. "We'll take a path of upgrading to the latest versions before jumping on the Oracle Fusion platform."
According to Brian Dayton, director of marketing for Oracle Fusion Middleware, companies can easily prepare for the transition to Oracle Fusion Applications. "Customers can build out integration points and use functionality now that will also be used in future applications. That should provide an easier transition as customers adopt Oracle Fusion applications."
Like many organizations, Network Appliance needs to be able to integrate across applications to create seamless business processes. For example, Network Appliance's Oracle ERP application is integrated with Siebel CRM, which is used for quoting and configuration. Oracle E-Business Suite captures the installed base and is integrated with PeopleSoft. PeopleSoft HR, the Webplan scheduling tool, and other packaged applications are integrated with Oracle E-Business Suite through similar workflows. Consequently, ease of integration is very important for Network Appliance, as is having a robust technology stack that can help integrate applications at high transaction levels.
In this regard, Network Appliance is not alone. Decisions about enterprise applications vendors are often less about features and more about deployment options and long-term strategy, according to a November 20, 2006, Forrester Research report ("Do You Prefer Coke or Pepsi?"). Network Appliance is one company that is looking at long-term strategy.
"We are very interested in [how] Oracle's road map supports SOA architecture to get to a common scalable technology platform, especially in the area of real-time integration," says Ellath. "The biggest benefit will be the standardization of our integration and technology platform on a common scalable and extensible architecture. It will help enable a faster and more robust design and rollout of new business processes and interfaces and a common support team to maintain and support the infrastructure."
Network Appliance expects that moving to SOA will enable the creation of seamless cross-functional business processes without the limitations of a specific system or tool. "SOA will help us process and report data in real time, which will help improve our operational efficiency," says Ellath.
Upgrade and Integration
USi, which hosts a wide range of Oracle Applications, also sees the one-two combination of Applications Unlimited and Oracle Fusion Applications as important. "We're seeing significant interest from Oracle Applications customers about Applications Unlimited and eventual interest in moving to Oracle Fusion Applications," says USi's Rulf. "They're able to see the upgrade and migration path more clearly because they've been on the Oracle technology stack for a while, unlike customers that are just getting introduced to it."
For USi, which runs Oracle E-Business Suite in its India operations and PeopleSoft in the U.S., having assurance today and an upgrade path for the future was important. But it was also critical for USi's hosting clients.
"With the announcement of Applications Unlimited, we saw a lot of companies looking at upgrading and reopening consideration of adding new functionality and extensions to their existing implementations," says Rulf. "Suddenly they felt as if there were a clear path to the future and Oracle Fusion Applications, but that they can still take advantage of Applications Unlimited if they want."
On the home front, USi isn't waiting for the future. Instead, it's using Oracle Fusion Middleware now to make a transition to an SOA-based approach, with better integration and management of its existing applications and business processes—which it sees as a key component of future Oracle releases.
"Oracle recognizes that customers need to operate at the business process level and don't want to be constrained by the application. They want to be able to hook things together the way their business does things. SOA will be more and more important, because it allows you to do things faster, cheaper, and with fewer people. Being able to reconfigure and tune your processes that way and not be constrained with software packages will be the key to being able to do that," says Rulf. "That's why Oracle is doing a lot of the things they're doing in the next versions of Oracle E-Business Suite or PeopleSoft—they're adding more Web services so that both Oracle Fusion and Applications Unlimited will be very SOA-based."
In the end, though, USi is most concerned about its clients. "Our clients see the value that Oracle is adding to its applications acquisitions, and they're very interested in how Oracle is going to provide integration for both new and legacy customers so the customers can streamline and eliminate some of their custom integrations," says Rulf. "Oracle's direction on Fusion and Applications Unlimited is exciting for us and our customers. They're very glad that Oracle is purchasing these best-of-breed solutions and providing the integrations. They're also very much looking forward to Fusion and being able to go to one technology stack for all the features and functionality they purchased from Oracle."
David A. Kelly (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a business, technology, and travel writer who lives in West Newton, Massachusetts.