Expert: Oracle's Fusion Applications still maturing, but offer real value

However, customers who make the switch must be 'ready for change,' according to Fusion expert Floyd Teter

Oracle still has some kinks to work out in its next-generation Fusion Applications and implementing them on-premises remains a daunting task, but customers on older product lines have good things to look forward to if and when they upgrade, according to one veteran of many early Fusion projects.

The mistake is when new Fusion customers try to move their legacy processes to the new platform, said Floyd Teter, executive vice president of strategy and products for systems integrator EiS Technologies, during the New England Oracle Application Users Group conference in Worcester, Massachusetts, Monday.

"You have to be ready for change," he said. "The way you work [in Fusion] is not the way you worked before."

What Oracle hasn't done an effective job of highlighting, however, is that Fusion Applications is built on a "huge repository" of industry best practices, according to Teter. "Nobody ever talks about it," he said. "When you talk about considering Fusion Applications, as a business, this is where you should start."

It's also crucial for Fusion customers to envision their project as a "solution-driven" effort, not one meant to fit a set of independently developed requirements, he said.

After bringing a Fusion system online, customers can then determine which built-in processes fit their existing needs, according to Teter.

A tool Oracle has developed for Fusion called Functional Setup Manager can help with the initial configuration. Any unmet requirements will then become clear and can be addressed through more focused projects, Teter added.

"I'm in my seventh round of implementing for a Fusion customer and I have yet to have a situation without gaps," he said. "It's not all peaches and cream."

By using the composer tools made for the software, the work to finish desired tweaks "will be smaller than you expect," he said. However, "sometimes you're going to have to put on the big-boy pants and do some custom development," Teter added.

There are some other challenges to Fusion Applications, such as the sizable infrastructure footprint required to run the software, and the underlying complexity of the Fusion architecture. To this end, Oracle has said most initial customers have gone with a cloud-based deployment rather than to install and manage the software in-house.

Teter urged those at the well-attended session to go this route as well. "You're not going to do this on-premises," he said. "The footprint is simply too large. Forget it."

Since pushing Fusion Applications into general availability in October 2011 after a long development process, Oracle has taken up a SaaS-like release pace, delivering new versions multiple times per year.

Despite this, the products are still showing signs of immaturity, such as error messages that are far from user friendly and can confuse end users, according to Teter. "I have no doubt Oracle will go back and clean those error messages up so they mean something to a functional user," he said.

Fusion Applications documentation was at one time "very poor," but is now improving, according to Teter. But training options are "almost nonexistent," he added. Oracle's training group may be in "catch-up mode" due to Fusion's newness and frequent updates, he said. "When you're a trainer, you like to deal with stable material."

"Transfer of Information" documents that have been created by Oracle development are crucial for all Fusion Applications customers and implementers to obtain, according to Teter. The TOI documents "saved my bacon," he said. "That's the place where you really find out how this stuff works."

DRS Technologies, which has been a customer of Oracle's E-Business Suite, has one site migrating to Fusion Applications now, said Srini Calambakkam, an Oracle ERP analyst at the defense technology provider.

Calambakkam, who attended Teter's session Monday, didn't know whether DRS will expand its adoption of Fusion Applications and hasn't had interaction with the group running the Fusion project. He had a mixed response to Fusion based on Teter's presentation, calling the Functional Setup Manager tool "really interesting," but noting the "enormous" resources apparently needed to run the software.

Another E-Business Suite user who has actually test-driven the software extensively, called Fusion Applications "wonderful."

"I can't wait to get there myself," said Donna Rosentrater, who sits on the board of NEOAUG as well as the larger Oracle Applications Users Group, in an interview at Monday's event. "You just have to give me an upgrade path to get there."

At this point, Fusion Applications doesn't seem to provide a full-blown replacement for E-Business Suite, which she has worked with for many years, Rosentrater said.

Many E-Business Suite customers seem focused now on upgrading to the latest versions, and Oracle itself is "showing interest" in these activities, she added.

That seems to reflect the "coexistence" theme Oracle has consistently pushed for Fusion Applications, encouraging customers to adopt the software piece by piece over time while continuing to run older systems.

This strategy gives Oracle the benefit of keeping customers happy while continuing to receive lucrative maintenance fees, while also giving itself more time to build out Fusion Applications from a functional standing.

Forrester Research recently offered a different perspective, arguing in a report that Oracle faces a "strategic dilemma" with Fusion because its Applications Unlimited policy ensures that E-Business Suite, Siebel and PeopleSoft customers will continue to be enhanced and supported for the foreseeable future, giving customers little reason to switch. Oracle has blasted the report, calling it inaccurate, speculative and based on old data.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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