Oracle Further Orchestrates Its SOA Forays Part Three: Strategy Shifts

Oracle Strategy Shifts

Several years ago, Oracle Corporation (NASDAQ: ORCL) positioned itself as "the" enterprise solution that was easy to integrate with partner products. Then, in early 2000, Oracle shifted focus and portrayed itself as a complete, all purpose business suite that didn't need third-party, best-of-breed products. Having been criticized for its bipolarity, and after realizing its mistake, Oracle published thousands of application programming interfaces (APIs), and exposed nearly 1,000 business events. This has triggered calls to unload data into other applications. Oracle now supports 150 Open Applications Group (OAG) messages and industry protocols like RosettaNet, HL7 (the Health Level 7 interoperability standard for healthcare) and UCCNet.

Another lesser known fact is that with Oracle's recently improved attitude to open software, Oracle JDeveloper and Oracle Application Development Framework (ADF) work with and deploy on any database and J2EE-compatible application server. Both are certified with application servers from JBoss (an open source software provider) and BEA WebLogic, and on databases including IBM DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server. Also, more than half of the users of Oracle JDeveloper reportedly deploy, at least partly, on non-Oracle environments, according to an OTN survey, 52 percent of Oracle JDeveloper users deploy to non-Oracle runtime environments. Also JDeveloper has integrated support for over a dozen standard open source products, although, naturally, Oracle and its customers primarily use JDeveloper and ADF to build and customize the Oracle E-Business Suite. Over 4,000 developers in the Oracle Applications team, not counting the PeopleSoft additions, use Oracle JDeveloper.

Oracle continues its tradition of converging infrastructure and business applications. To improve decision-making, for example, it has combined the record system in its application suites with infrastructure technologies, thus correlating real-time events. Oracle has also been gradually adding new functionality to the Oracle E-Business Suite. These additions primarily centered on the "daily business close" concept that allows top management to view key business facts on a daily basis. A set of business intelligence (BI) products support this concept, which is based on a personalized, role-based information portal that provides real-time data from processes across the enterprise.

Close information includes performance metrics, financial ratios, profit and loss (P&L) summaries, and other indicators that roll-up across all application modules. Oracle is supplementing the daily business close functionality with a pre-built enterprise portal interface that serves as an executive dashboard or as an on-line daily newspaper about users' business. The data generated from the module is continuously summarized and is viewable by line of business (LOB), geography, department, or product, and has drill-down and "no exception" options.

Fundamental to the ability to access and query real-time data is a single database with a single, unified data model. It contains one definition for all common application objects that are accessed by all of the suite's application modules, creating a so-called "single version of the truth" for all enterprise data. Subsequently, the recently introduced Oracle Customer Data Hub is a fully integrated customer data management solution that centralizes, "de-duplicates", and enriches the user's customer data, continuously synchronizing with all the data sources to give users a single view of their customers. As new data comes in, the idea is for reporting accuracy to grow, analytics to become more valuable, employee productivity to increase, and day-to-day customer relationships to improve. Given the Oracle Customer Data Hub is based on open standards, users should be able to integrate with any third-party software or any module of the Oracle E-Business Suite with relative ease.

The idea with Oracle Customer Data Hub is to provide a central data store that cleanses and enriches data. It is culled from a variety of sources, including outside applications. In addition to the hub itself, which runs on the latest versions of Oracle E-Business Suite technology, Oracle Database, and the application server, there is an integration server that enables companies to model and integrate public processes. Oracle Customer Hub uses the existing data model and all its interfaces, so that it has pre-packaged applications and a data library to cleanse and enrich data. In addition to the data synchronization among different systems, users can build their own applications using the hub to interact with it. The idea is to bring in more information to support reporting capabilities, versus the true grueling application development.

Oracle's Information Architecture—the foundation for the E-Business Suite—consolidates data from multiple sources and delivers it through the enterprise portal. It thereby enables Oracle to aggregate data across all applications in the suite (not just from Oracle E-Business Suite but from other packaged applications as well) and delivers real-time performance metrics, without inconvenient batch updates, integration, and data synchronization issues.

Along similar lines, the Integrated Performance Management module allows mid-sized manufacturers to run a data warehouse on the application transaction database. To do this, the "collections" capability needs to be turned on, and then the summarized transactional data is transferred to a data warehouse. The advantages are especially clear if transaction performance can be maintained, and if Oracle is the only extended-ERP provider, given managers and executives can drill down from the summary data to the original transaction data. This is difficult but significantly cheaper than using separate data warehouses in complex, multi-vendor deployments.

This is Part Three of a six-part note.

Part One contained the event summary and began the market impact.

Part Two discussed strategy. Part Four covers SOA and Web services.

Part Five analyzes the Collaxa acquisition.

Part Six will discuss weaknesses and make user recommendations.

Oracle E-Business Suite

Finally, in its arsenal of products and services for the applications layer of the technology stack, Oracle offers one of the broadest ranges of business applications and technology for almost the entire realm of e-business. Oracle E-Business Suite exhibits not only a web-centric architecture built on standards with J2EE, but also a new functional scope of enterprise systems, far beyond traditional ERP.

The suite, built upon a unified information architecture and covers the buy side (e-procurement and supplier relationship management) inside the four walls enterprise operations. In other words, it covers core ERP including financials, human resources (HR), project management, and manufacturing with advanced planning and scheduling (APS). The sell side is also covered by the software through its comprehensive customer relationship management (CRM) components. This includes call center, field sales, sales force automation (SFA), service and support, configuration management, order management, marketing campaigns, contract management, etc. Enterprise asset management (EAM) features and a considerable supply chain management (SCM) suite is also present. This covers supply chain planning (SCP), supply chain event management (SCEM), supply chain execution (SCE), and inventory optimization. All the above applications can be accessed with standard web browsers and can be used to automate business processes and provide BI and analytics.

Moreover, the portfolio also caters for collaborative business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce, across the holistic supply chain for buying and selling and product development. This is done through Oracle Internet Exchange suite, which also includes aspects of product lifecycle management (PLM). Overall, Oracle E-Business Suite involves over 140 totally integrated modules with upcoming specific vertical functionality for nearly 20 industries. This indicates the potential for functional depth and point to the best, or one of the best portfolios, in many segments worldwide. Available in approximately thirty languages, Oracle's applications also allow companies to operate in multiple currencies and to support both global and local business practices and legal requirements.

The Oracle E-Business Suite is offered as a suite or on a component basis. As a component basis, it uses Oracle's full technology stack, including database, application server and developer tools, and features an open architecture, which can be integrated to third party and legacy applications that exist in a customer's environment. The suite of applications combines the above business functionality with innovative technologies, such as workflow and self-service applications. It seeks to enable users to lower the cost of their business operations by providing customers, suppliers, and employees with self-service Internet access to both transaction processing and critical business information. Self-service applications automate a variety of business functions such as customer service and support, procurement, expense reporting, and reimbursement.

Another critical PLM element that Oracle has long mastered and offered as a stand-alone is a flexible workflow management facility. It is instrumental for users building collaborative processes that reflect their unique product development issues. BI and analytics is another crucial component which goes without saying, given that Oracle has long sold stand-alone online application processing (OLAP) tools for years. Oracle has also made strides in document management and enterprise content management (ECM), with a project code called Tsunami that is slated for the first half of 2005. It provides a major upgrade for Oracle Collaboration Suite and will also come in handy for managing unstructured data within PLM systems.

Given Oracle's forays in terms of integration, the upgrades included within Oracle E-Business Suite 11i.10 provided companies the capability to support B2B integration, application-to-application (A2A) integration, and business process integration. Namely, within Oracle Application Server 10g, the vendor has exposed over 800 integration points as business events, and it natively supports more than 150 standards-based, Oracle Applications Group (OAG) defined business objects, like how to define a purchase order. At the same time, the latest applications suite provides an integration interface repository that catalogs the Oracle E-Business Suite application program interfaces (APIs) to provide a single definition for the interfaces. Third party applications integration into the suite naturally go through Oracle Application Server. This includes adapters, data translation and transformation, business process integration, and BAM as part of the package.

Focused Acquisitions

Some of the above functional nuggets have come from a number of focused acquisitions of smaller companies. Oracle's buying spree of analytic application and e-commerce companies in the late 1990s, such as the former One Meaning metadata management provider, Thinking Machines data mining tool, Carleton ETL tool, (see Oracle Buys Carleton Corporation to Enhance Warehouse Offering, etc.), continued in the 2000s. This time to add point products that bring specific functionality to Oracle's existing infrastructure portfolio. TopLink, acquired from WebGain in 2002, added an object-relational mapping layer to the Oracle Application Server, whereas Indicast became the voice services component of the application server. Then, in 2001, 3Cube's on-line collaboration software became part of the Oracle iMeeting product. Further, in 2002, former Stetlor's Corporate Time product became Oracle Calendar, a part of the Oracle Collaboration Suite. NetForce and SiteWorks Solutions acquisitions in 2002 and 2004 respectively were used to expand the scope of Oracle E-Business Suite within the life sciences industry.

The vendor has also garnered its PLM and CRM capabilities through several acquisitions, such as a guided selling configurator from Concentra and call center management from Versatility, both in 1998. Streaming CAD viewing technology came from Assentive in late 2001, whose technology allows remote teams to jointly review and markup a live model in real time and in the field, without a full model download or a fast T1 connection (see Oracle Renders Its PLM Out-line).

This concludes Part Three of a six-part note.

Part One contained the event summary and began the market impact.

Part Two discusseds. Part Four covers SOA and Web services.

Part Five analyzes the Collaxa acquisition.

Part Six will discuss weaknesses and make user recommendations.

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