Oracle Marries Business Intelligence with CRM, ERP in New Fusion Apps

by Drew Robb

Oracle will combine BI with CRM and ERP in its biggest-ever software release.

Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) gave a lot of air time to its new Fusion application platform at last month's Oracle Open World Conference in San Francisco.

CEO Larry Ellison said Fusion was five years in the making, as it had to live up to some grandiose goals — replacing all Oracle, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards and Siebel applications and middleware. That means Oracle 11g, all flavors of Oracle CRM and business intelligence, every database Oracle has available, and a whole lot more.

"We have taken the best of Siebel, Oracle, PeopleSoft and JD Edwards and re-implemented them on top of a modern middleware platform," said Ellison.

While the release has been announced, it is not yet generally available. Oracle plans to begin with a few customers by the end of the year, make sure all is running well, and then make these new Fusion applications generally available in the first quarter of next year.

The reasoning behind this is simple. Sooner or later, you have to consolidate what you have acquired. And Oracle has certainly been on an acquisition binge over the last decade. It now owns most of the big names in ERP and customer relationship management (CRM). So part of the problem being addressed is the spaghetti bowl of middleware involved, particularly on the ERP side. All of that proprietary middleware has been dispensed with under Oracle Fusion, which establishes a unified platform that takes advantage of a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA).

"SOA makes it easy for Fusion applications to interoperate with other tools such as SAP," said Ellison.

Part of the Fusion package will include a Fusion customer relationship management module. It can be implemented standalone or along with other Fusion modules. Fusion CRM will be available for both on premise and on demand use. Each can take advantage of the simplified middleware backbone, thus easing integration concerns. The Fusion middleware platform also enables the on demand and in-house CRM modules to share the same database.

Those currently on Siebel CRM or Oracle CRM on Demand will have the option of staying on those platforms and enjoying periodic updates and upgrades for the foreseeable future. If desired, they can be deployed alongside other Fusion applications from the Oracle portfolio.

Ellison doesn't recommend that everyone move onto Fusion at once, however. He prefers a controlled rollout. He said the company is currently subjecting the software to an unprecedented wave of testing to eliminate bugs. Then only about 50 to 100 customers will be allowed to use it during the first half of next year. Ellison's advice is for most users to continue as before while Oracle irons everything out during the early deployments.

"Move to Fusion at a time of your choosing," said Ellison.

In all likelihood, most customers will move over to Fusion and Fusion CRM within five years. They will be tempted into the fold by brand new modules such as talent management that have no counterpart in the Oracle E-Business Suite, as well as CRM modules with enhanced marketing and sales features.


Social Networking Built Into Oracle CRM

Big changes are ahead for those accustomed to the traditional look and feel of Oracle. The user interface for Fusion and Oracle CRM has been greatly simplified — more like a modern Web-based application than a traditional Oracle app. Although it doesn't look very much like the Oracle E-Business Suite, Fusion's new look and design makes it more accessible to a wider set of users. The middleware underpinning facilitates the easy incorporation of all the latest bells and whistles such as collaboration and social networking. Instead of having to cobble together CRM software along with separate social networking and collaboration packages, Oracle aims to provide it all in one.

In addition, Oracle CRM software sitting on Fusion middleware can interface with a vast array of applications such as financial management, human capital management, sales and marketing, supply chain management, project portfolio management, procurement management, BI, and Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC). In total, Fusion encompasses 5,610 tables, over 10,000 automated business processes and more than 100 product modules.

"Everything will be made available simultaneously, making it the largest software release ever from Oracle," said Ellison.


Business Intelligence Inside

The look and feel of Fusion has also been influenced significantly by the growing demand for business intelligence. A key design principal is for the new version of Fusion is to be business intelligence-driven rather than just having BI functionality built in. The goal is to move ERP beyond automating processes such as purchasing, hiring or vendor interaction. What Ellison is calling information age ERP and CRM means providing insight every step of the way, such as being able to say which vendors are best, which are consistently on time and which offer the lowest cost. As Fusion applications are BI centric, they tell you four things: what you need to know, what you need to do, how to do it and who to contact.

"Collaboration is fully integrated into Fusion, and process automation is built in although it goes well beyond traditional process automation," said Ellison. "The BI capabilities of the system tell you what processes to focus on to address a particular situation."

A big plus for this is lessening the burden on developers. Instead of all changes going to the development team, Fusion makes it possible for business managers to make simple system reconfigurations.

"This is the first time an ERP system has been built on top of industry-standard middleware," said Ellision. "If you know Java, you know Fusion."


  This article was originally published on Friday Oct 29th 2010
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