Migration miracle

Let's say Larry Ellison is right. Suppose Oracle does hold on to PeopleSoft and JD Edwards users by finding a way to let them migrate gracefully to a best-of-all-worlds merged product that's now codenamed Project Fusion and is supposed to be ready by 2008.

How will Oracle do that? Nobody knows. It's never been done. Today, ERP migration is hard and painful. Making it easy will require a huge leap forward in migration technology.

But what if Oracle is serious about this and it really happens? Then things get interesting -- and not just for PeopleSoft users.

After all, Oracle does have tools that let users upgrade pretty smoothly from one point release to the next. That's a far cry from moving PeopleSoft users to what will be a future version of Oracle 11. But it's a start. Maybe within the next few years Oracle can create tools that make this "not a conversion -- an automated upgrade", as Ellison calls it.

Then what? Oracle's competitors will have to match Oracle technology for technology -- and that includes migration tools.

Sure, they're already courting PeopleSoft customers. Microsoft is offering incentives and consulting to PeopleSoft users. SAP is telling them that its new Safe Passage program will guarantee future PeopleSoft support and include a trade-in credit of 75 percent of the original PeopleSoft purchase price. But those offers will be a joke if Oracle makes migration from PeopleSoft truly easy.

In fact, if Oracle can pull it off, you can bet it won't stop with PeopleSoft users. For example, Oracle could build on that migration tool to create an automated SAP-to-Oracle easy-migration tool. That would demolish SAP's customer lock-in and give Oracle an insurmountable advantage in the market.

But if Oracle can do it, so can the others. They don't really have a choice. The migration technology bar will have been raised. If one vendor makes it over, others that want to survive have to make it over, too -- and they all know it.

And you thought this was just about those poor, stranded PeopleSoft users, didn't you?

Actually, if this turns out to be reality and not just so much happy talk to mollify the PeopleSoft ranks -- and that's a big if -- then it's not just PeopleSoft users who are in play. It's SAP users. And Oracle users. And customers of every other ERP vendor.

If migration becomes easy, lock-in goes away. Customers will move when they want to. Vendors will have to work a lot harder to keep customers happy. Otherwise they'll migrate -- easily, painlessly, gracefully.

Does that sound too good to be true? It probably is. Look at the calendar: Oracle says the last major upgrades of PeopleSoft and JD Edwards products will be next year. After that, the clock is ticking until those users have to migrate to Project Fusion, which will nominally arrive in 2008, though no one expects it to be the real deal until, say, 2010.

That's five years, tops, for Oracle to work a technology miracle in migration. Yes, it could happen. In IT, the previously impossible happens regularly -- and things that were apparently easy fail to happen just as often. Oracle might succeed brilliantly. Or Oracle might screw up the whole works. Or Oracle might just be blowing smoke.

So if Larry Ellison is wrong, PeopleSoft users face a long, difficult transition -- whether it's to Oracle's Project Fusion or something else. That means it's time to start looking around for the best fit. If you have to suffer through the misery of a migration, it might as well be to the product that best meets your needs.

And if Ellison is right, we all should start looking around for the best fit. Oracle's hoping to hold on to those PeopleSoft customers with a migration miracle. But if Oracle succeeds, no ERP vendor's grip on customers will ever be tight again.

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