Some Oracle users still wary about 11i upgrades

Oracle last week announced that 900 users have now gone live with new business applications released 18 months ago. But some IT managers said they're still concerned about software stability and technical support issues.

          Oracle last week announced that 900 users have now gone live with new business applications released 18 months ago and that a total of 4000 implementations are in the works. But some IT managers said they're still concerned about software stability and technical support issues.

          Several existing Oracle users say they're either running behind schedule on upgrades to the E-Business Suite 11i applications or are holding off on projects to give the software more time to mature.

          Managing 11i upgrades will be a central topic at next week's conference of the independent Oracle Applications Users Group (OAUG). About 40% of the technical sessions scheduled for the conference in San Diego are related to the web-enabled 11i software, according to an official at the Atlanta-based user group.

          An Oracle spokesman says the software vendor believes that the quality and support issues affecting 11i upgrades "are waning." Moreover, Katherine Jones, an analyst at Aberdeen Group in Boston, says she hasn't seen any evidence that this is a particularly tough upgrade for users in comparison with Oracle's earlier releases or ones from rival vendors.

          But one user says an ongoing 11i project has taught him a lesson. "Don't be the first one on the block to install the latest release," says Tracy Jones, an IT manager at the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "We like the 11i product, but it was gruelling to get there."

          Jones says Sandia's upgrade from Oracle's older 10.7 applications will take about a year longer than expected to complete because of problems IT staffers found with earlier versions of the software, particularly a self-service procurement module. In addition, he says, Oracle kept changing the technical architecture between different point releases of 11i.

          Most of the 11i applications went live in July, about four months past the deadline set a year earlier. But software patches needed before the procurement module could be turned on weren't available in time, Jones said. Implementation of that module will now start next month and should be finished by March, he adds.

          Toronto-based Bank of Montreal completed an upgrade to 11i last May. Steven Pare, e-procurement team leader at the bank, says it encountered "a number of software issues and bugs," but none were critical and they were largely taken care of by software patches. However, Pare says, Oracle's customer service workers too often would recommend installation of the newest patches even if the bug fixes weren't applicable to the issues that the bank was trying to resolve.

          Rocky Bertz, the OAUG's treasurer and a project manager at Greenwood Village, Colorado-based CH2M Hill, says he now views the core 11i applications as stable. CH2M Hill, which provides manufacturing and technology project management services, plans to go live with the software next July.

          But some users remain wary. For example, the city government in Las Vegas is holding off on upgrading to 11i until spring because of software quality concerns, according to Patricia Dues, a project manager in the city manager's office and an OAUG board member.

          By then, the applications will be two years old "and just starting to settle down," Dues says . She added that Oracle, which has stopped taking part in the OAUG's events, might dispel some fears about 11i upgrades if it sent representatives to next week's conference.

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