Oracle pushes on business apps again

Apps 'coming out of dark basement' - analyst

As expected, Oracle last week took the wraps off the next generation of its database and business application products, even as it continues to eye the legal proceedings surrounding its quest to buy out PeopleSoft.

In presentations at the Oracle OpenWorld 2004 user conference in San Francisco, executives reiterated the advantages of running a single set of applications on a single database to manage customer and other types of information. To that end, Oracle intends to expand its existing data hub product line, Oracle President Charles Phillips said in a keynote speech last week.

The data hubs sit between disparate applications and allow them to share and consolidate information across the enterprise. Oracle already ships a customer data hub and now plans to roll out hubs next year to handle government, financial and product-related information.

For instance, the product data hub could take engineering and manufacturing information and synchronise changes across a company, Phillips said. It could also be used to help Oracle customers integrate PeopleSoft's applications or software from any other acquisitions by Oracle.

The status of the company's bid fo PeopleSoft remains up in the air, as Oracle goes to court next week in Delaware seeking to remove PeopleSoft's poison-pill anti-takeover provisions. Phillips said PeopleSoft customers, who have generally expressed concern about the acquisition, have become more open to it as a result of Oracle's outreach to them. "Everybody has gotten a lot more educated," he said.

In a keynote speech later in the day, Oracle's executive vice president, Ron Wohl, outlined improvements the company has made to its next-generation E-Business Suite 11i.10, which started shipping last month. They include the ability to do more extensive reporting and mine customer-related information to help cross-sell and upsell, not only through the direct sales force, but with a company's partners. Oracle has also enhanced its procurement software to handle complex contracts and pricing and help private- and public-sector entities purchase goods and services.

End users will access the suite through configurable, prebuilt dashboards and Oracle has boosted the amount of reports it can generate by 80%, said Wohl. "We've really created a critical mass of information directly available out of the box as a packaged application," he said.

Kim Autrey, vice president of business systems at CNL Restaurant Capital, said the Orlando-based financial services company hopes to go live with 11i.10 next year. CNL currently runs E-Business Suite 11.5.9, and Autrey said users would like to take advantage of new technology built around the Oracle 10g Portal for functions such as single sign-on. That would help eliminate the need for multiple passwords and help the company comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

"My customers need value, and they shouldn't have to be dealing with technology," said Autrey, adding that he hopes Oracle will soon be able to close the PeopleSoft deal. "The ERP environment is going to consolidate around two or three firms," and it would be better for that to occur sooner than later, he said.

Oracle is beginning to re-emphasise its applications business, which has languished somewhat as the company put the majority of its marketing and technical resources behind its infrastructure offerings, said Josh Greenbaum, an analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting.

"It looks like applications may come out of the dark basement they've been in the last few years," he said, adding that Oracle appears to be better coordinating its infrastructure products to support the E-Business Suite. "This could give Oracle the ability to give SAP a run for its money," Greenbaum said. "We need that."

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