'Collaborative Commerce': ERP, CRM, e-Proc, and SCM Unite!
Series Study: Oracle
In the early 90's, ERP came of age. Everyone had to have the functionality
ERP packages promised. Since then, as Web and Internet technologies have
matured, CRM packages on the front end, and e-Procurement and Supply Chain
Management packages on the back end, these packages have come into their
in 2001, the catchphrase is "Collaborative Commerce," where we unite all
of the above elements into one coherent system within and between organizations.
This is the Big Kahuna, the zero latency, fully transparent, 360 degree
exposure that is the stuff systems integrators dream of. Is it here? Are
the technologies mature enough? Simple enough?
the fifth in a series of articles on Collaborative Commerce (C-Commerce),
takes a look at Oracle's vision of C-Commerce, a vision which some may
consider expansive but myopic by nature.
Database: Blurring the Lines Between Database and Application
Oracle has always been known for its robust database solutions,
and less well-known for its suite of applications which, up until version
8i (released in March of 1999) was, in its most stable form, text-based,
dumb-terminal style. Oracle made haphazard efforts in the mid 90's to
bring its applications (primarily ERP - Financials, Manufacturing, and
Logistics) to the browser, but its solutions were buggy, difficult to
use, and often didn't match the feature and functionality set of its text-based
1999 saw the introduction of Oracle 8i ("i", for Internet) database,
Oracle's first serious push toward web-oriented functionality. What was
interesting from the start was how Oracle has chosen to define its functionality
set for its products. Oracle 8i RDBMS extended Oracle's technology
in the areas of data management, transaction processing, and data warehousing.
Built directly inside the database, Internet features such as Java Server,
an "Internet" File System, Internet Directory services, and Internet Security
allowed companies to build Internet applications while blurring the definition
of what a "database" means and represents.
June 2001, Oracle introduced Oracle 9i, which further extended
the database's functionality, and, as well, continued to blur the lines
between database and application. Oracle 9i includes something they call
Real Application Clusters, which enables multiple copies of the Oracle
9i database to be instantiated across multiple servers, acting as a single
database in a cluster, for considerable performance improvement. Customers
can add computers to the cluster, and the database software transparently
adapts to utilize the new computing resources, significantly improving
application scalability and availability without forcing the customer
to modify their applications.
addition to Oracle9i Real Application Clusters, other new key features
of Oracle9i included improved database availability, functionality, enhanced
security capabilities, and a more complete and integrated infrastructure
for building business intelligence applications, with built-in capabilities
for Data Warehousing, Extraction, Transformation, and Loading (ETL), OnLine
Analytic Processing (OLAP), and data mining.
Application Server: 9iAS Provides More Functionality at the Middle Tier
In June 2000, Oracle 8iAS Internet Application Server was introduced.
Oracle billed 8iAS as "an open software platform for developing, deploying
and managing distributed Internet software application programs."
refining and defining the Application Server functionality, Oracle
released Oracle 9iAS Internet Application Server in October of 2000.
9iAS includes J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition), XML, and JDBC support,
as well as new caching technology. But it goes considerably beyond that,
by including the following components:
9iAS Personalization- Provides the ability to personalize the customer
web experience based on various criteria, for "true 1:1 marketing."
9iAS Portal - For customers, employees, and partners. Portal sites
are assembled using portlets, which are reusable interface components
that provide access to Web-based resources such as applications, business
intelligence reports, syndicated content feeds, hosted software services
or other resources.
9iAS Wireless - Provides wireless (including voice) access to Oracle
9iAS Business Flows - Provides facilities for notifications, alerts,
9iAS Email - A simple email handling package.
9iAS Unified Messaging - Provides multi-channel support (phone,
web, fax, email).
E-Business Suite: The Top Layer
Oracle E-Business Suite Release 11i has been on the market for
about a year. It integrates CRM, ERP, and SCM functionality components
to the point where Oracle feels it can claim that it is "the only company
to offer a fully integrated suite of business applications, managing the
entire business cycle on a global basis and solving end to end business
problems." Oracle breaks out E-Business Suite Release 11i in the following
Enables trading Partners, through Oracle Exchange, a B2B Marketplace,
to share data in the supply chain and product development processes.
Oracle lists Business Intelligence as part of the E-Business Suite,
but the functionality is actually part of their 9i database. Take note
that their literature says their business intelligence solution is "fully
integrated with," but not part of, the E-Business Suite.
Marketing - Campaign and events management.
- Direct-, Tele-, and Web-sales, as well as Incentive Planning.
- Customer support, field service, depot repair.
- Contract maintenance, in support of Sales.
e-Commerce - Internet marketing, selling, and servicing. Includes
Storefront functionality as well as Product Configuration.
Oracle Interaction Center - multi-channel incoming support.
Again note that, though this is listed under Oracle E-Business Suite,
this functionality is actually provided in Oracle's 9i Application
Business Intelligence - Listed once again, and again, actually
part of the 9i database.
Classic AP/AR , GL.
Workforce intelligence and analysis, Payroll, Self-service.
Activity and Project based decision-making and analysis.
Sector / Retail Financial Services / Banking
Multiple Tier Approach: Confused Yet?
Basically, you need to buy all three products, Oracle Database, Oracle
Application Server, and Oracle E-Business Suite, to have Oracle's complete
C-Commerce solution. Oracle has split functionality that other companies
include strictly at the application layer, across their three layers.
Oracle, and Oracle alone, can do this; no one else in the marketplace
has all three platforms across which to spread functionality.
to expand on the notion of Oracle's three-tiered approach to Collaborative
Commerce: Oracle has made what we believe to be some shrewd marketing
and product positioning decisions to embed different but critical functionality
at all three layers. Would you buy their E-Business Suite, but forego
Business Intelligence (Database), or Personalization, Wireless Support,
Workflow, or Unified Messaging (Oracle Application Server)? Well, for
starters, you can't avoid the Business Intelligence piece, since the E-Business
Suite only runs on the Oracle database. And the key C-Commerce functionality
built into the Application Server is also difficult to forego if you want
a complete solution.
disbursing capabilities across the tiers, Oracle forces customers seeking
a complete solution to buy all three, pushing Microsoft's SQLServer
and IBM's DB2 databases out of the picture, as well as IBM's
WebSphere and Bea's WebLogic application servers. Very shrewd.
Ellison specifically stated that companies should forego designing their
own business processes to match their company and their company strategies.
Companies should simply follow the business processes dictated by the
Oracle software. He pushes aside the reality that unique business processes
are required for companies to be successful. He believes and proselytizes
that one size will fit all of the millions of product and service companies,
both large and small, in the world. But every company is inherently
different, with different data storage and access needs, different ways
of operating based both on culture, history, organization, and industry
requirements. Following dictated business processes means curbing your
ability to differentiate and potentially gain competitive advantage
in your business processes.
- In the
year since its introduction, 11i has been plagued by bugs - over 5,000
of them. Laments Jim DeMin, a program manager at Infonet Corp.
in El Segundo, Calif. "You have no idea what it is to support Oracle
here. You install the basic product. And then you install the patches,
and then you install the patches to fix the patches that broke. Then
you have workarounds, which is to bootleg the patch in some fashion.
It's like the starter isn't working in your car, and the workaround
is to get out there in your dress clothes and push 10 miles down the
road every morning."
This is nothing
new: Oracle has the history of pushing software out the door before its
time, letting early customers bleed all over themselves as they essentially
perform the Quality Assurance testing on the product, and then over time,
companies gain relative platform stability.
Welcome Reversal of Policy
to Steve Kissinger, an information manager at Airborne, a sizable
chunk of the $2 million they had to spend to upgrade to 11i went to
buying new PCs after they found that 11i would not operate at acceptable
speeds on slower machines, despite Oracle's frequent claims that 11i
will run on any Web browser, which implies the fastest CPU's and large
amounts of memory should not be needed.
In August of this year, Oracle reversed itself on its policy toward integration
to other vendors' software with Oracles' 11i. Mark Barrenechea, Oracle
senior VP of application development, was quoted as saying that integrating
the company's applications with others' software has been "very difficult"
and that Oracle is changing its strategy to allow customers to more easily
integrate Oracle applications with those from other vendors. They plan
to, before the end of the year, release API's and data schemas that would
make such integration easier.
move will hopefully provide those users who aren't ready to move to an
all-Oracle solution, the ability to pick and choose among Oracle's best
(or most ready) stuff, and integrate it with their own, current and legacy
is the lone wolf in the Collaborative Commerce world. They have, until
very recently, insisted that Oracle 11i E-Business software, combined
with Oracle's 9iAS application server and the Oracle 9i database, was
all the software that an enterprise would need. Other companies prominently
support integration with other companies, freely acknowledging that
no one company can provide all of the functional requirements for every
company. Oracle's reversal of strategy is most welcome, and we hope
they continue to provide at least this level of integration support
into the future.
- The "Three-Tier
Lock-In" marketing strategy is shrewd for the company and expensive
for the customer.
of bugs have always, and continue to, worry us about newly-released
has a significant case of "Not Invented Here" syndrome which means,
almost by definition, that they will not have best-of-breed software
across the spectrum.
Oracle's "follow our business processes and throw your own away" message
is simply not in line with what many companies want to do; namely, optimize
their own business processes for competitive advantage.
you're a current user of Oracle and you're in the Oracle pipeline somewhere,
then, unless you have tremendous, compelling reasons to be C-Commerce
enabled today, our suggestion is to wait on a move to 11i. Let bug releases
continue until the pace slows, and then make the conversion. In the mean
time, push on Oracle hard to continue its support of your current platform.
you are not a current Oracle customer, it's fair to consider Oracle's
one-stop approach, particularly if you want to deal with a single vendor
and you want IT staff that need to be trained on only one vendor's technology.
Be aware, though, that typically, the shear bugginess of newly-introduced
Oracle software makes support costs high compared to many other possible
solutions. Also, locking yourself in to one vendor's solution from front
to back and top to bottom means dependency on their processes, bug fixes,
product enhancements, product architecture, and costing structure. Finally,
Oracle's "Not Invented Here" syndrome stands a close second to their "Thou
Shalt Not Touch Our Code" rhetoric. Spend the big bucks on the database
if you wish. Consider Oracle if one-stop-shopping is your vision of Nirvana.
But be aware of the potential pitfalls.
for future articles in this series on IFS and PeopleSoft.