Oracle Fusion Middleware 11gBy David Baum
Complete. Integrated. Hot-Pluggable. Best-of-Breed. The Foundation for Innovation.
Middleware technology has evolved, from simple programming gateways for linking software applications to comprehensive platforms that govern the creation, deployment, and use of many aspects of our information systems. As IT has diversified, Oracle Fusion Middleware has grown, becoming stronger and richer and offering more solutions—and possibilities—to businesses than ever before. Based on the proven principles and standards of SOA, grid computing, and Enterprise 2.0, Oracle Fusion Middleware 11g is a unified, hot-pluggable foundation for building and deploying modern applications that transform the way businesses operate.
Collect America is a prime example of this transformation. An asset-management company that specializes in the purchase and subsequent liquidation of charged-off credit card debt, Collect America relies on a network of franchises, which handle collections using Collect America’s software systems and work standards.
Collect America previously used a legacy system to target its efforts and manage the debt collection process. The system supported only a linear workflow, with no ability to dynamically alter the liquidation path or support diverse asset types. In search of a better solution, Collect America Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Jennifer Briscoe and her team evaluated commercial asset recovery software packages. They also took a hard look at what it would take to build a custom solution using a SOA.
“During an extensive cost analysis, in which we compared an open source enterprise service bus and BPEL with the Oracle Fusion Middleware family, we determined that it would be cheaper and more effective to deploy Oracle Fusion Middleware,” says Briscoe. “We were looking for innovation, not just automation, and that’s what Oracle provides.”
Collect America is implementing Oracle WebCenter Suite, Oracle Service Bus, Oracle BPEL Process Manager, Oracle JDeveloper, and Oracle Application Development Framework (Oracle ADF), all key components of the Oracle Fusion Middleware family. The company also participated in an Oracle Fusion Middleware 11g beta program to avail itself of Oracle’s most advanced middleware technology.
Briscoe describes the Oracle Fusion Middleware 11g beta testing experience as “a phenomenal partnership” that allowed Collect America to leapfrog ahead with new technical capabilities. “We met with the Oracle ADF product managers every week. Overall it was an unbelievable success and a great testimony to Oracle’s customer support,” she says. Collect America ended up with a stable, cutting-edge platform. The portal-style system includes Web 2.0 features to stimulate collaboration among franchises, such as instant chat technology for exchanging best practices. Collect America also provides statistical information to all franchises so that each can review its performance against stated goals as well as an online payment mechanism.
“We now have a rich user interface that sits atop our service-oriented architecture,” says Briscoe. “Our software platform offers guidance by applying a grading algorithm to each account. It gives our franchisees an edge and helps direct their efforts—something that commercial off-the-shelf packages don’t offer.”
Briscoe divided the two-year development project into seven iterations with tangible deliverables and milestones. Oracle helped the company pull it off—on time and within budget.
“It was a [US]$20 million project, and we were within our estimates by 3 percent,” Briscoe says. “That’s a testament to the strength of Oracle’s integration tools, because we didn’t have to spend a lot of time doing the plumbing. We could focus on the business logic. From Day One, we knew exactly how many hours it would take to build each particular service.”
And because of the maturity of Oracle Service Bus, with its extensive suite of database connectors and adapters, Collect America didn’t have to spend time writing integration code to interface its custom application with nearly 20 outside vendors. “We got most of that functionality right out of the box with Oracle Fusion Middleware 11g,” Briscoe says.
The company further accelerated the development cycle by using many out-of-the-box Oracle ADF widgets. “They have Ajax capabilities built in, which allowed us to create a very rich user interface in a very short period of time. The interface is written entirely in JavaServer Faces and Oracle ADF,” she says.
As the debt-collection system enters full production mode, having a SOA makes it easier to develop new interfaces to franchises and contingent debt providers. “Each company has its own system-integration requirements and reporting requirements,” says Briscoe. “Oracle SOA Suite makes it about 30 percent faster to set up the interfaces.”
Oracle Consulting helped Collect America install the Oracle Fusion Middleware 11g suites in a clustered application server environment. “Application clustering gives us a higher degree of uptime, resilience, and redundancy,” Briscoe says.
In addition, Collect America is in the process of moving all of its software development lifecycle artifacts into Oracle Universal Content Management, including design documents, use cases, and functional specifications. Oracle Fusion Middleware content management offerings span management of Web content, documents, records, images and processes, and information rights. (Also, an attachments framework enables users to attach documents directly to customer, employee, or supplier records.) Collect America also uses the Oracle Identity and Access Management Suite for authentication and authorization.
Ultimately, about 50 in-house franchises will use the Oracle-based debt-collection system, for a total of about 2,500 users, along with 300 to 400 outside franchises. “The initial deployment to two of our franchises went unbelievably well,” Briscoe says. “We had 100 percent uptime throughout our entire alpha phase, which is unheard of.”
Collect America plans to use Oracle WebCenter Suite to enable franchises to customize the look and feel of its online payment module. This will be possible even though it is based on central code on the back end. “Where do they want their logos? What types of text do they want to display? Oracle provides a very simple drag-and-drop interface to customize the portal for each company,” says Briscoe.
Thanks to revenue diversification and increased efficiencies stemming from the new platform, Collect America expects a 1 percent increase in overall revenue. “That’s where the strength of our Oracle platform really comes into play,” Briscoe says.
A Platform for Secure Collaboration
According to Hasan Rizvi, senior vice president of Oracle Fusion Middleware development, Oracle Fusion Middleware 11g helps organizations respond more nimbly to change; improve insight into business operations; mitigate risk; and better connect with customers, partners, and workers in a collaborative environment. “We have designed the software to enhance interaction among virtual teams and take advantage of social networking constructs—not just for transactional content but for unstructured content as well,” he says.
That’s a perfect description of what motivated the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer to adopt Oracle Fusion Middleware 11g. As an independent organization funded by the federal government to accelerate action on cancer control for all Canadians, the Partnership brings together cancer survivors, patients and families, cancer experts, and government representatives to implement the first pan-Canadian cancer control strategy.
“We are working with individuals and organizations across the country who want to improve the cancer system through a coordinated approach,” says Lee Fairclough, vice president of knowledge management at the Partnership. “To do this, we need to make sure that knowledge is shared effectively and that people have a way to easily connect with others involved in relevant projects and initiatives—especially since so much of our work happens virtually.”
To fulfill its information-management objectives, the Partnership developed a portal called Cancer View Canada. “The public-facing component of Cancer View Canada enables users to find trusted information and local resources, including a comprehensive registry of all clinical trials available in Canada as well as information about support groups,” Fairclough says. “In addition, those working within the Canadian cancer community will benefit from shared tools where they can connect, collaborate, and share cancer knowledge with one another.”
The Partnership built Cancer View Canada with help from Oracle partner Deloitte, a professional services firm. The development team began by compiling existing policy and legislation information into a searchable database using Oracle Universal Content Management.
“We deployed Oracle Universal Content Management as both an online content management repository and a collaboration document repository, in conjunction with Oracle WebCenter Suite,” says Paul Saker, Deloitte technical lead for the Cancer View Canada project. “Portal users access all this information through user interaction components. This is the front door for Oracle WebCenter Suite Spaces 11g, which handles the collaborative aspects of the system.”
The resulting collaboration comes in different sizes and at different times. “Oracle WebCenter Suite supports virtual interactions for large initiatives that involve many organizations in multiple provinces,” says the Partnership’s Fairclough. “[Through Cancer View Canada,] we use Oracle collaboration tools to establish communities and encourage interactions between meetings. This helps people stimulate ideas before they come to events and provides a forum to continue discussions and codevelop documents afterwards.”
Technology has changed collaboration for sites such as the Partnership’s Cancer View Canada, and, in turn, collaboration is driving the technology. According to Jim Murphy, a research director at AMR Research, yesterday’s portals were simply the face you put on your applications, but today portals are deployed to make virtual teams more efficient and enable new types of social networking strategies. “A lot of organizations are using portals not just to aggregate information but to integrate business processes and encourage collaboration,” he says. “They rely on middleware frameworks to enforce SOA standards, and they borrow from Web 2.0 principles to make the user environment more compelling.” Portals typically include a framework of related capabilities to enable personalization, integration, and security, he adds. “It’s all about making it easier for people to find, compile, and share information.”
Oracle Fusion Middleware 11g enables the Partnership to accomplish these goals within a secure enterprise environment that spans portals, process managers, application infrastructure, developer tools, enterprise content management, and business intelligence. (Oracle Fusion Middleware business intelligence offerings span enterprise sources and applications and include integration with Oracle’s Hyperion performance management applications and enhanced integration with Oracle Essbase.)
“Formerly, for example, health professionals had to visit individual Web sites of cancer agencies, governments, or other sources to find information they might need,” says the Partnership’s Fairclough. “Now information has been compiled in easily searchable repositories, and we’re looking to use the rich set of tools to look at innovative ways of keeping them up-to-date.”
To achieve these data-capture and alert capabilities, the Partnership’s Cancer View Canada portal infrastructure relies on key components of the Oracle Fusion Middleware family, including Oracle Identity Manager to provision users, Oracle Internet Directory to manage user accounts, and Oracle Access Manager to authorize access to applications and content repositories using a single-sign-on process. All of the user interaction components run on Oracle WebLogic Server in a clustered environment, while metadata content is stored in an Oracle database supported by Oracle Real Application Clusters.
In the future, the Partnership plans to use video and social networking technologies to maximize the Cancer View Canada experience and tailor information to users. “We want to offer a cohesive experience with very similar functionality for all of our different areas,” Fairclough says. “Oracle Fusion Middleware 11g helps us build cohesion without being overly concerned about developing particular connections and interfaces.”
Fairclough acknowledges the technical prowess of the team and the tools they had at their disposal. But she has a different metric for measuring success: reducing the impact of cancer and saving lives.
“Our goal is to improve the quality of life for people living with cancer and to reduce the number of patients dying from cancer—or being diagnosed with it in the first place,” she says. “Cancer View Canada supports this vital mission by giving us a comprehensive view of what exactly is going on in cancer control in Canada. We are changing the way people work and have created a flexible platform for improving cancer control.”
David Baum ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California.