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Oracle looking for an AppAdvantage

Oracle has plans to drag its core ERP products into a new era where flexibility and innovation can coexist with standardisation.

"ERP really was successful," Rick Beers, Oracle's senior director of product management for Fusion middleware told iTWire.

It delivered standardised data and processes, and was efficient from a CFO's perspective. Oracle and other vendors "made a big difference."
But somewhere around the late 90s the three-to-five-year upgrade cycle fell apart. While standardisation based on the 'best practices' embedded in the software worked in some parts of an organisation, others - such as manufacturing units - needed differentiation, so "customisations 'snuck in'," making upgrading more difficult.

Furthermore, "business change became continual" rather than something that happened in occasional bursts. The adoption of SOA (service oriented architecture) made it possible to wrap a technology architecture around a business model, but now enterprise software vendors are looking for another advance but nobody is quite sure what it should be, "so everyone's confused." Oracle's vision, Mr Beers said, is to provide customers with openness, adaptability and agility while retaining standards.

Balancing standardisation with differentiation is a CIO's hardest job, but "we want to provide the optimum balance."

The idea is that Oracle will continue to provide the core ERP engine, as without a single engine organisations will not be able to achieve a sufficiently low total cost of ownership.

That will be surrounded by three layers in a scheme the company has dubbed AppAdvantage - see page 2.


Oracle AppAdvantage logo

• Differentiate - Differentiation will be achieved by accommodating the use of software to handle any unique processes without requiring customisation of the ERP system.

Approaches such as SOA and BPM (business process management) will be used to loosely couple the systems in order to robustly handle changes on either side, so organisations can choose freely between Oracle's own Fusion applications or best-of-breed products from other vendors (as long as the latter make provision for standards-based integration).

• Innovate - Oracle's plans build on Geoffrey Moore's idea of 'systems of engagement' versus 'systems of transaction' (see, eg, Systems of Engagement and The Future of Enterprise IT [PDF]).

Essentially, this is about providing ways for people to interact with technology in ways that actually meets their needs, with provision for mobility, collaboration, and so on. One of the barriers is disintermediated data - "data warehousing is dead: put a stake in it," said Mr Beers.

Again, the underlying transactional system remains in place, but with a user-facing overlay that can be reworked at whatever speed is necessary to keep up with business changes - that is, a pace layered approach.

• Simplify - This is more of a foundation layer than a wrap-around, as it refers to the way Oracle can simplify an organisation's technology infrastructure through its engineered systems as well its other products including enterprise technology management and security.

Oracle's hope is that this will provide its customers with a way of modernising their approach to IT while reducing cost and complexity, taking advantage of existing investments, increasing flexibility, and better meeting the needs of the line of business departments they serve.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.