Over the past ten years or so, most enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors have invested heavily in their product solution suites in order to extend their product portfolio beyond traditional integrated ERP components like financial accounting, human resources (HR), manufacturing resource planning, order management, inventory management, etc. Common application extension segments, generally built on the same technology platform as the ERP modules, include customer relationship management (CRM), supplier relationship management (SRM), supply chain management (SCM), and product lifecycle management (PLM).
At the ERP tier one level, which clearly includes SAP and Oracle, major efforts have been made to ward off the attempts of best-of-breed vendors to exploit revenue opportunities resulting from the gaps left by ERP. However, considerably different approaches have been taken by the two companies. SAP has taken the organic growth through internal development approach to application extensions, which can be time consuming and often results in a late-to-market outcry by clients in need. On the other hand, it often results in a product with the same look-touch-feel and process controls as the traditional ERP components and has better integration touch points. Oracle has taken a somewhat more risky and expensive "acquisition" approach for certain functional areas, as demonstrated by the acquisitions of Siebel for CRM, G-Log for multimodal transportation planning and execution, and Retek for unique retail applications and expertise. PLM, however, seems to be a more difficult puzzle for Oracle to solve. Internal development and commitment to the PLM solution set continues in earnest, while any speculation that their game plan may include a PLM acquisition alternative is just that, speculation.
Oracle PLM 11i.10
Oracle appears to have most of the key elements of a PLM suite. They provide the means for centralized product information, collaboration within and across the extended enterprise for product development, product configuration, and sourcing, as well as visibility and control of product portfolio management (PPM). They also offer a best-in-class Product Information Management (PIM) Data Hub product, and tout its PLM applications as providing the most advanced set of tools based on a single global product set repository. The current Oracle PLM Suite includes the following modules.
- Product Lifecycle Management is the core of the applications suite, with centralized product and component information within a single global catalog for product data management (PDM; items, structures, revisions, issues, change requests, roles, and project issues), as well as intellectual capital. Product change management and issue resolution is also addressed within this core module.
- Oracle CADView-3D provides visualization and mark-up capabilities for two dimensional (2D) and three dimensional (3D) modeling. Documents can have various formats, such as word-processing files, image files, computer-aided design (CAD) 2D or 3D drawing files, and other unstructured data formats.
- Project Management provides project planning, tracking, budgeting, and forecasting capabilities, as well as Project Collaboration software for reporting the project status to all stakeholders. Oracle Projects is integrated with the other relevant Oracle modules to manage projects like financials, HR, CRM, and procurement. It is geared toward new product development introduction (NPDI), with lifecycle phase gate product management. It also has built-in application programming interfaces (API) to Microsoft Project, Primavera, and Artemis, supporting a two-way interchange with desktop scheduling systems.
- Product Portfolio Management enables what-if analysis on product portfolio simulations, priority rankings based on investment, alternative cost and benefit analyses, and idea management.
- Oracle Sourcing integrates negotiation of supplier contracts with effective on-line management of the negotiation process as part of the PLM activities.
- Oracle Configurator manages customer needs with configuration rules for complex products and services as part of the sales cycle.
- Daily Business Intelligence manages the product data repository for analytics.
- Product Data Synchronization provides for Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) or Uniform Code Council (UCC)net services.
The Oracle PLM suite is built on a single e-business suite data model and technology platform, providing for seamless process integration and business intelligence, which are two of Oracle's strengths among its general business applications. Oracle's PIM Data Hub extends the Oracle PLM solution to synchronize product data spread across diverse business entities. Oracle PLM also integrates with Oracle Content Services to provide for application-specific document and content management. Finally, Oracle PLM addresses most of the needs and nuances of NPDI and addresses all of the salient compliance issues for both discrete and process industries.
While the PLM suite outlined above seems relatively comprehensive, it has been brought together over time as a conglomeration of existing modules that were not necessarily developed with PLM in mind, although there was also considerable product development that did have a PLM focus. Given Oracle's legacy in database management, it is no surprise that the product data management, business intelligence, and decision support capabilities are the strongest parts of the PLM suite. These strengths, coupled with acquisitions for guided selling (Concentra in 1998) and CAD viewing technology (Assentive in 2001), and a heavy dose of integration work and internal development have helped bring Oracle PLM to the level where it is a viable solution for its installed base. In fact, the suite has several key high-technology clients, and really has gained momentum in other key Oracle verticals.
During its Oracle E-Enterprise Suite 11i.9 rollout, Oracle espoused a renewed interest and heavy investment in SCM and PLM. This version has essentially the same components as those listed above, but with more depth and tighter controls for product collaboration. The version 11i.9 release also offers a slew of new features aimed at a number of selected focus industries, such as the aerospace and defense (A&D), automotive, telecommunications, consumer packaged goods (CPG), government, high-technology, healthcare, and life sciences industries. However, the product is not as deep in certain verticals as the products of best-of-breed vendors focused on specific verticals.
Does an Acquisition Make Sense?
A look at the PLM software vendor landscape reveals a paucity of choices. If Oracle were to acquire a pure-play PLM vendor, they would want to acquire a significant player with considerable depth and brand recognition in PLM, as well as a large and well-established installed base that could be farmed for years to come. The two largest PLM vendors by revenue, namely IBM Dassault Systmes and UGS, have revenues of over the billion dollar (US) mark. They are both growing and profitable. Selling out to Oracle is highly unlikely. PTC has an aggressive business strategy that could put them at the $1 billion (US) revenue mark by 2008, and they are performing well toward this goal. With such companies, the issue is not whether Oracle can afford one of the larger PLM vendors, but rather if an exit strategy of going to Oracle makes sense for them.
Agile and MatrixOne, perceived as the pure-play collaborative product development vendors in PLM, are both in the $100 million (US) range with moderate growth. Agile has a significant installed based of over 200 clients that use Oracle for the backbone ERP system, and they are an active Oracle partner on the infrastructure side, integrating Oracle's application server into its product offerings. Agile has been less willing, however, to get too close to Oracle on the applications front. MatrixOne is in a quandary relative to their financial reporting, and might be a more willing target for acquisition.
Given Oracle's rather low-key presence in PLM, an acquisition would certainly put them on the front page, and garner support for their PLM efforts going forward. In fact, some would argue that Oracle needs a significant and positive "booster" initiative on the PLM front, and that an intelligent acquisition could be the boost they need in order to be taken seriously outside of their immediate applications installed based. However, the current path of internal development with a focus on a PLM product enrichment roadmap may be the most logical course of action.
Fusion is the result of a major development effort to bring all of the diverse applications recently acquired neatly under one common data model and service-oriented architecture (SOA) platform, selecting the best elements of each and consolidating with the best of Oracle e-Business Suite. Using Fusion Architecture tools, Oracle hopes to have the consolidation complete by the end of 2008. With its focus on Fusion, Oracle has put a lot of effort into one course of action. This strategy may be paying off, as in early January Oracle announced its successful delivery on considerable Oracle Fusion commitments in 2005. In fact, since their introduction in January 2005, the combined Oracle-PeopleSoft organizations have defined the Oracle Fusion Architecture, seen broad industry adoption of Oracle Fusion Middleware, certified PeopleSoft and JD Edwards applications on Oracle Fusion Middleware, and released pre-Fusion applications.
Will PLM be another piece of the Fusion Applications puzzle? Oracle certainly intends for its PLM product set to keep pace with its other segments, like CRM and SRM. Getting to a position of strength in the PLM market will require continued and even heightened commitment; achieving the desired state through internal product development may be difficult in a short time frame. Acquisition of a best-of-breed PLM vendor would be a consistent strategy for Oracle, albeit a costly and unlikely one. In the December 2005 issue of Managing Automation, they referred to Oracle as "practically a PLM non-player". Not very good press for proud Oracle, which is usually considered a leader in most of the application segments in which it participates. Nor is it a fair critique. Oracle has garnered recent respect among its installed base with its PLM commitment, and is estimated to have grown its PLM revenues to over $100 million (US), which would place them in the middle of the PLM vendor pack. Oracle is most likely to stay the course and grow its PLM business through commitment and technology advancement along with the rest of the Fusion fold. Given this approach, Oracle installed base clients with a need for PLM capabilities would be wise to have Oracle on their list of potential vendor solutions.