Oracle’s next-generation applications will set new standards for business.
by Alan Joch, November 2010
When the order processing system red-flags a customer’s credit status, the IT department doesn’t get the customer’s call. When a supplier misses a delivery date for a key automotive assembly, it’s not the CIO who has to answer for the error. Knowledge workers (known in IT circles as “users”) are on the front lines when an exception occurs in an established business process. They’re also the ones who study sales trends to decide when to open a new store in an up-and-coming neighborhood, which products are most profitable, how employee skill sets are evolving, and which suppliers are most efficient. In short, knowledge workers are masters of business as unusual.
Traditional enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and other familiar enterprise applications excel at automating, managing, and executing standard business processes. These programs shine when everything goes as planned. Life gets even trickier when a traditional application needs to be extended with a new service or an extra step is added to a business process when new products are brought to market, divisions are merged, or companies are acquired. Monolithic applications often need the IT department to step in and make the necessary adjustments—incurring additional costs and delays.
When Oracle unveiled the much-anticipated family of Oracle Fusion Applications at Oracle OpenWorld in September 2010, knowledge workers in particular had a lot to cheer about. Business users will soon have ready access to analytical information and collaboration tools in the context of what they are working on, so they can make better decisions when problems or opportunities arise. Additionally, the Oracle Fusion Applications platform will make it easy for business users to tweak processes, create new capabilities, and find information, often without the need for IT department assistance and while still following company guidelines. And IT leaders will be happy to hear about new deployment options, guided implementation and setup tools, and cost-saving management capabilities.
Just as important, the underlying technologies in Oracle Fusion Applications will allow organizations to choose among their existing investments and next-generation enterprise applications so they can introduce innovations at a pace that makes the most business and financial sense. “Oracle Fusion Applications are architected so you don’t have to do rip and replace,” says Jim Hayes, managing director of the consulting firm Accenture. “That’s very important for creating a business case that will get through the steering committee and be approved by the board. It shows you can drive value and make a difference in the near term.”
For these and other reasons, analysts and early adopters are calling Oracle Fusion Applications a game changer for enterprise customers. The differences become apparent in three key areas: the way we innovate, work, and adopt technology.
Game Changer #1: New Standard for Innovation
Change is a constant challenge for most businesses, whether the catalysts are market dynamics, new competition, or the ever-expanding regulatory environment. And, in an ongoing effort to differentiate, business leaders are constantly looking for new ways to do business, serve constituents, and bring new products and services to market. In addition, companies face significant costs to keep their applications up-to-date. For example, when a company adds new suppliers to a procurement system, the IT shop typically has to invest time, effort, and even consulting fees for custom integrations that allow various ERP systems to communicate with each other.
Oracle Fusion Applications were built on Web services and a modular SOA foundation to ease customizations and integration activities among all applications—whether from Oracle or another vendor. Interfaces and updates written in ubiquitous Java, rather than a proprietary coding language, allow organizations to tap into existing in-house technical skills rather than seek expensive outside specialists. And with SOA, organizations can extend a feature set or integrate with other SOA environments by combining Web services such as “look up customer” into a new business process managed by the BPEL orchestration engine.
Flexibility like this has long-term implications. “Because users capture these changes at a higher metadata layer, not in the application’s code, changes and additions are protected even as new versions of Oracle Fusion Applications are released,” says Steve Miranda, senior vice president of applications development at Oracle. “This is a much more sustainable approach because you don’t incur costly customizations that prevent upgrades and other innovations.” And changes are easier to make: if one change is made in the metadata, that change is automatically reflected throughout the application interface, business intelligence, business process, and business logic.
Game Changer #2: New Standard for Work
Boosting productivity comes down to doing the basics right: running business processes more efficiently and managing exceptions more effectively, so users can accomplish more in the course of a day or spend more quality time with the most profitable customers. The fastest way to improve process efficiency is to reduce the number of steps it takes to execute common tasks, such as ordering office equipment from an internal procurement system. Oracle Fusion Applications will deliver a complete role-based user experience with business intelligence and collaboration capabilities provided in the context of the work at hand. “We created every Oracle Fusion Applications screen by asking ‘What does the user need to know?’ ‘What does he or she need to do?’ and ‘Who do they need to work with to get the job done?’” Miranda explains.
So when the sales department heads need new laptops, the self-service procurement screen will not only display a list of approved vendors and configurations, but also a running list of reviews by coworkers who recently purchased the various models. Embedded intelligence may also display prevailing delivery lead times based on actual order histories, not the generic shipping dates vendors may quote.
The pervasive business intelligence serves many other business activities across all areas of the enterprise. For example, a manager considering whether to promote a direct report can see the person’s employee profile, with a salary history, appraisal summaries, and a rundown of skills and training.
This approach to business intelligence also has implications for supply chain management. “One of the challenges at Ingersoll Rand is lack of visibility in our supply chain,” says Mike Macrie, global director of enterprise applications for global industrial firm Ingersoll Rand. “Oracle Fusion Applications are going to provide the embedded intelligence to give us that visibility and give us the ability to analyze those orders at any point in our supply chain.”
Oracle Fusion Applications will also create a “role-based user experience” that displays a work list of events that need attention, based on user job function. Role awareness guides users with daily lists of action items and exceptions. So a credit manager may see seven invoices with discounts that are about to expire or 12 suppliers that have been put on hold because credit memos are awaiting approval.
Individualization extends to the search capabilities of Oracle Fusion Applications. The platform uses Web-style search screens powered by an Oracle enterprise search engine, with a security framework that filters search results so individuals will only see the internal information they’re authorized to access.
A further aid to productivity is Oracle Fusion Applications’ integration with Web 2.0 collaboration and social networking resources for business environments. Hover-over text will reveal relevant contact information whenever the name of a person appears in an Oracle Fusion Application. Users can connect via an online chat, phone call, or instant message without leaving the main application, reducing the time required for an accounts payable staffer to resolve a mismatch between an invoiced charge and the service record, for example. Addresses of suppliers, customers, or partners will also initiate hover-over text to show contact details and Web-based maps.
Finally, Oracle Fusion Applications will promote a new way of working with purpose-driven communities that can bring new efficiencies to everything from cultivating sales leads to managing new projects. As soon as a lead or project materializes, the applications will automatically gather relevant participants into an online community that shares member contact information, schedules, discussion forums, and Wiki pages.
“Oracle Fusion Applications will allow us to take it to the next level with embedded Web 2.0 tools and the embedded analytics,” says Steve Printz, CIO and vice president, supply chain management, at window-and-door manufacturer Pella. “[This] allows those employees today who are processing transactions to really contribute to the success of the company and become decision-makers.”
Game Changer #3: New Standard for Technology Adoption
As IT becomes a dominant component of how businesses run and compete, organizations need to lower the cost of implementing applications and introducing new application features. In the past, rolling out new code often required creating a test bed system, moving beta code to a separate system for user feedback, and—once all the revisions were made—moving version one of the software onto production systems, where business users could finally get the needed new features.
Oracle Fusion Applications will use a dedicated setup manager application to streamline this process. First, the setup manager will help scope out the project, querying users about their requirements. “From those questions and answers we determine the steps and the order of those steps that will enable that task,” Miranda says.
Next, system utilities will assign tasks to owners, track completion status, and monitor the overall status of a programming effort. Oracle Fusion Applications can then recommend Web services that allow users to migrate setup choices and steps across all the various deployments of the application.
Those setup capabilities automate the migration from test systems to production systems, as well as between different business units that may be using the same application. “The self-service ability of the setup manager helps business users change setups with very little intervention from the IT team,” says Ravi Kumar, vice president at IT services company Infosys. “That to me is a big difference from how we’ve viewed enterprise applications before.”
For additional flexibility, organizations will be able to adopt Oracle Fusion Applications modules in either of two modes: a single-instance alternative uses one database for all Oracle Fusion Applications, while a “pillar mode” creates separate databases to underpin each application. This means IT departments running any one of Oracle’s applications or even third-party applications can plug Oracle Fusion Applications modules into their environment and see additional business value created on top of their existing systems.
And Oracle Fusion Applications offer a hybrid approach to deployment. The applications are all software-as-a-service-ready, so customers can choose on-premises, public or private cloud, or a combination of these to suit their business needs.
It’s that combination of flexibility and a roadmap for the future that may be the biggest game changer of all. “The Oracle Fusion Applications architecture allows us to migrate our company at a pace that’s consistent with our business strategy, whereas before we might have had to do it with a massive upgrade,” says Macrie of Ingersoll Rand. “We’re looking forward to that architecture to really give us more flexibility in how we migrate over time.”