Monday, February 16, 2009

Oracle Customers About To Begin Testing Fusion Apps

Since 2005, Oracle has said it's working on a next-generation set of applications, called Fusion, that pull together the best features of more than 40 software company acquisitions. Yet some customers, analysts, and others have questioned Fusion's fate, since Oracle hasn't provided such details as a product road map and delivery timetable.

In a sit-down interview with InformationWeek last week, Oracle senior VP Thomas Kurian, who heads Fusion development, provided new details that indicate an early version of the suite is near completion, and customers will begin formally testing it this year. In each case, a former PeopleSoft, Siebel Systems or JD Edwards customer is supposed to be able to upgrade to an equivalent Fusion application, with a match in functionality.

At InformationWeek's briefing, Kurian went further and said the way Fusion applications are being designed means that analytical information gathering will be built into application processes, and customers will have the option of implementing more business intelligence in connection with their applications.

In addition, Kurian said, no customers will be pushed or forced to move to Fusion if they don't want to. Development teams for each product line are working on new versions of all major applications, independent of the Fusion team.

About 450 customers are participating in Fusion App development and providing feedback to Oracle, Kurian said, and another 130 are working even more closely with Oracle on Fusion in an early-adopter program. This year, Oracle will launch a "formal beta" of the Fusion application development suite, he added.

While Kurian wouldn't discuss a timeframe for final completion, a 2009 beta likely means it will be at least 2010 or 2011 before Fusion is available to all of its customers.

Kurian said Oracle has stayed consistent with its plan, and built applications -- including financial apps, human resources, supply change management, procurement, and human capital management -- that combine the best functionality from the many applications it now sells, including JD Edwards, PeopleSoft, and its own Oracle E-Business Suite.

The software will be offered in a full product suite sometime after the beta program is completed, but also can be adopted as individual apps. Kurian said Oracle hopes customers will adopt the full Fusion suite and gain application integration advantages in doing so, but that decision will be left to customers.

Customers who have software and maintenance contracts for existing Oracle apps can transition to the new applications under those same agreements at no charge. There are various modules in each application family. For example, financials includes accounts receivable, general ledger, and cost management.

On the functionality side, the biggest change is that for the first time, Oracle's entire applications suite will have business intelligence integrated throughout, including technologies from its Hyperion acquisition, Kurian said.

That means, for example, an order-entry function in the Fusion supply chain management application offers the ability for a retail user to analyze which suppliers have products that are frequently returned, Kurian said. He calls it the "unification of transaction processing and analytics." Fusion apps also will share a modernized user interface that provides users with guidance on how to use the analytic features.

There also are technical improvements over existing Oracle applications. Users will be able to customize their Fusion applications, such as defining new attributes not included in the original application model. Metadata on the changes is captured and made available to Fusion middleware, which then recognizes the attributes and makes them work in connection with the rest of the application. When an application upgrade occurs, the customization automatically gets added to the upgrade rather than requiring the user to engineer it into the upgrade all over again, Kurian explained.

Unlike non-Fusion applications, "the design of the app from the ground up is to allow changeability after it ships," Kurian said. Fusion applications allow this changeability because they're being built along a model-view-controller architecture, which separates data from business logic and user presentation. In addition, Oracle is using Service Data Objects, a simplified approach to architecting Java objects for use as services.

"We wanted to make the applications less monolithic. ... So when you get a new version app, you can upgrade to it to preserve the customer's customization," Kurian noted.

The Fusion approach also is designed to lend itself to more flexible business process isolation and modification. Kurian indicated that Toys "R" Us, which uses Oracle technologies and applications from two of its acquisitions, Retek and ProfitLogic, is an early adopter. The majority of the retailer's business happens in the Christmas season, Kurian noted, and during that time it must expedite order fulfillment to all of its suppliers.

But making temporary, seasonal changes on how to process orders in a supply chain system is complicated, since the process is buried inside the app. Fusion applications allow the business process to be redefined with the season, such as raising a $1,000 limit on customer orders during the holidays when orders are routinely much larger.

Kurian said users who stay up to date on Oracle application upgrades will have the easiest transition to Fusion apps, since the Fusion data models will be a superset of the most recent data models in the most current version of its apps. Their business processes will "already be adopted to what you'll be doing in Fusion," he said.

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