Oracle's Fusion Applications are finally generally available to all customers, the company announced Wednesday at the OpenWorld conference in San Francisco as part of the most extensive public demonstration of the long-awaited software to date.
Fusion Applications are the result of a massive engineering effort spanning more than six years. They constitute a superset of the best elements of Oracle's JD Edwards, E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft and Siebel systems, along with a theme of "pervasive" BI (business intelligence) throughout the user experience.
Oracle wants to make upgrading to Fusion "a business-value-driven decision rather than a vendor-forced decision" for customers, said Steve Miranda, senior vice president of application development, during a keynote on Wednesday.
They will be made available in on-premises, hosted and SaaS (software-as-a-service) form, but some details of the latter option, including subscription pricing information, haven't yet been released. The same codebase is used for all versions, meaning customers can switch as their needs change, Miranda said.
For some time, Oracle has discussed how its installed base can "coexist" with Fusion Applications, running the new software side-by-side. This week at OpenWorld, Oracle announced a series of "coexistence processes" that tie various E-Business Suite, JD Edwards, PeopleSoft and Siebel applications with like-featured Fusion modules.
Oracle's strategy is pragmatic for a number of reasons. One, a more aggressive attempt to push upgrades could frighten or anger customers who are heavily invested in older Oracle software suites. Secondly, Oracle will continue to collect lucrative maintenance dollars from those users even if they don't move to Fusion.
Also, Fusion Applications are still new, and after years of delays getting them to market, Oracle is probably happy to have a relatively small number of customers check out version 1.0, so any final kinks can be worked out before the software is sold at significant scale.
In the meantime, on Wednesday Oracle sought to dazzle customers with Fusion Applications' new capabilities.
Oracle spent a lot of time talking to customers to figure out how best to embed BI within the Fusion experience, according to Miranda.
"We really want to change the way people think about BI," Miranda said. It's not just dashboards, KPIs and metrics. It's sometimes just simple things you need to move your job forward."
He showed how a manager working inside a Fusion human-resources application could mull whether a solid employee would leave the company by visually drilling into her personnel file to find historical pay-increase and promotion information and contrasting that with performance reviews. The manager could then initiate a salary bump or promotion process directly from the same workflow.
Fusion Applications will also target two of the hotter areas in enterprise software of late: social media and mobility.
Enterprise applications being built today have to follow a new set of rules thanks to the usability of today's consumer Web services and sites, Miranda argued.
"All of us in this room expect search to work in a certain fashion," he said. "We all know and expect how the [Web] shopping experience should work. And we all know how it should work and feel in the context of mobile applications."
All Fusion Applications are available on the iPad through its Safari browser, but Oracle has also developed a native iPad interface called Fusion Tap, which was demonstrated during the keynote.
The embedded social components of Fusion are "similar to what you might see on a personal social site ... with a couple of key differences," Miranda said. For one, they are secure, and secondly, "it's not just person-to-person interaction, it's person-to-business."
For example, a salesperson could have any changes to an account they work on fed to them as updates.
Oracle ran through a number of scenarios with the social-software components, which bore some resemblance in form and function to Salesforce.com's Chatter.
Also demonstrated was Fusion Applications' extensibility layer, which anyone from business users to developers can use to make tweaks to the software.
"We pushed the envelope from customization to configuration," Miranda said.
It was especially important to have a robust configuration layer given the on-demand versions of Fusion, he added. "One of the table stakes as you move to SaaS applications is the ability to tailor."
Oracle CRM (customer relationship management) chief Anthony Lye demonstrated how users could build reports on the fly "within the browser, at runtime," and then add them to their homepages or share them with others.
"I didn't need to ask IT, it didn't need to take six months," he said. Users can do with Fusion "what I can do in my Yahoo or my iGoogle."
Some 400 early adopter Fusion customers and partners were at the show, all wearing red vests. "We couldn't have built this release without our customers. It was very customer-driven," Miranda said.
A number of customers joined Miranda onstage to share their experiences and rationale for adopting Fusion Applications.
Principal Financial Group is "very good at managing our financial resources and we wanted to apply the same level of rigor and analysis to our human resources," said Kathleen Souhrada, assistant vice president of recruiting and diversity. The company believes Fusion's HR software "could deliver a more holistic view" of metrics and data and improve the company's understanding of employee performance, she added.
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters is one of the world's fastest-growing companies, said CIO Jim Prevo. "It presents some really interesting challenges. We had 2,000 people last year, 5,000 this year, and we're adding about 50 a week." Green Mountain is also opening new plants and a slew of new production lines, he said.
The company had a number of CRM applications, and given its "desire to stick our toe in the Fusion waters," decided to implement Fusion CRM, Prevo said. The system will "align the sales forces and let them talk off the same database."
Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.