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After Oracle’s move in 2000 from client/server to Web-based applications with its E-Business Suite 11i—a notoriously buggy technology shift—the company isn’t taking any chances with its next big development undertaking.

Oracle, based in Redwood Shores, Calif., has implemented a zero-defect policy for Fusion Applications, its next-generation suite of ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications expected in 2008.

“We don’t think any bugs are acceptable,” said John Wookey, the senior vice president at Oracle in charge of application development. “Getting it right in the first version is extremely important to us. That’s an engineering issue, not something that’s random at all.”

The difference between 11i development and Fusion, according to Wookey, is that it has been shaped by a tremendous amount of learning along the way, as well as a bit of foresight. “We haven’t thought about quality late in the game,” he said. “It’s something we thought about right from the beginning.”

Fusion came about as the result of a confluence of events: Oracle’s need to merge the “best of” functionality from the PeopleSoft and JD Edwards suites (and later Siebel Systems) after an intense 18-month battle to acquire PeopleSoft, which was itself in the process of digesting its JD Edwards acquisition; and the emergence of SOA (service-oriented architecture) as the next big technology trend.

After wrangling PeopleSoft from the hands of company executives, Oracle began planning Project Fusion, which will not only include functionality from Oracle E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, Siebel and other acquisitions, but is also built on SOA concepts with foundations in Oracle’s Fusion Middleware platform.

Wookey took to the road in the dwindling days of summer to talk to press and analysts about the IT sector’s move to SOA, and what that means for the industry, for Oracle and for Oracle customers. “There’s been pretty dramatic effects on both sides of the industry,” he said.

For vendors, the difficulty is in finding the right time to finesse investments from one technology generation to the next. Timing is everything and a vendor can either be out too early in the marketplace with new technology, or out too late. A slip one way or the other and vendors find themselves at a disadvantage, according to Wookey.

On the flip side, users are also looking for the right time to invest in new technology that will help the bottom line rather than hinder it, but they rarely have the opportunity to wait for a good time to move. “We get constant feedback that customers feel like they were never given any choice [about whether] they wanted new functionality,” Wookey said. “They had to move whether they were prepared or not.”

Oracle is out to set the record straight: How and when customers move to Fusion is up to them, Wookey said. “I don’t think we emphasized that concept of choice,” he said.

Oracle releases PeopleSoft CRM 9. Click here to read more.

At the start of Oracle’s bid to acquire PeopleSoft back in 2003, Larry Ellison gave the impression that “choice” for PeopleSoft and JD Edwards users was not part of the equation, saying that once Oracle acquired its rival it would kill the software, forcing customers to migrate to Oracle’s E-Business Suite.

It seemed a huge customer defection was imminent (Oracle’s biggest competitor, SAP, started its Safe Passage program to help customers transition from PeopleSoft and JD Edwards to SAP; it’s since gained over 300 converts, according to SAP). There was some talk of customer lawsuits in the event of forced upgrades.

Yet, despite the hostile takeover of PeopleSoft, Oracle has gone a long way toward easing customer concerns. The company launched its Apps Unlimited campaign several months ago, which promises individual product line enhancements for PeopleSoft, JDE and Siebel, even after Fusion Applications are on the scene.

Oracle also introduced its Lifetime Support program, which provides access to technical experts for as long as a customer licenses Oracle products acquired from other vendors. (Oracle has acquired a total of 23 applications, middleware and database-specific companies over the past two years.)

“There’s been a lot that’s happened over the last 18 months,” Wookey said. “We want to make sure people understand the context of how we’re doing things, and the overall objectives.”

Oracle is being more specific in terms of support and development plans: In January 2006, at a “Halfway to Fusion” event, the company revealed that Fusion Applications will be based on the Oracle E-Business data model.

However, there are still questions remaining: What functionality will be included in the Fusion Applications suite—and from where? Will the suite be optimized for Oracle’s database only, causing many PeopleSoft and JD Edwards customers sitting on IBM’s DB2 to migrate? And, perhaps more importantly, are PeopleSoft and JDE users looking at a migration or an upgrade when it comes to Fusion?

Time will tell.

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