Oracle Fusion Applications: Is 2010 Delivery Too Little, Too Late, or Smart Strategy?

An inside look at the launch delays, large expectations and executive departures that have dogged Oracle's next-gen application suite, now promised for delivery in 2010. One key question: Is this Oracle marketing bravado gone wrong, or common sense regarding a complex product?

In the world of high-tech product announcements, Jan. 18, 2006, seems like an awfully long time ago. On that date, Oracle executives, including President Charles Phillips, boasted that they were halfway through the Oracle Fusion Applications development process.

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Fusion Apps was envisioned and pitched as a killer enterprise application suite: a combination of the best features and functionalities taken from Oracle's expansive E-Business Suite, J.D. Edwards, PeopleSoft and Siebel product lines.

Oracle's master plan, noted Phillips, was to "build the next-generation of applications that are completely standard; to be the first company on the planet to build a full suite of applications for large and small companies based on standards."

Almost three years later, the planet is still waiting for the first generation of Oracle's suite of Fusion Apps.

Was Oracle too ambitious, on a technology level? "The delay is not all that surprising given the scope of what Oracle is attempting to undertake with Fusion Apps," says Dwight Davis, a senior analyst at Ovum. "There's just so much that Oracle has taken on its plate with Fusion: It's not just SOA; it's Web 2.0, integrating business intelligence as sort of a pervasive element of Fusion Apps. They're making a clear shift from siloed applications to focusing on more end-to-end business processes that flow across the modules."

In addition to the technical complexities of the last few years, two notable Oracle executives have left, casting a dark cloud over the Fusion project: SVP of Oracle applications John Wookey departed in October 2007, and Jesper Andersen exited in late summer 2008. Andersen was known internally as "Mr. Fusion."

"With Fusion," Davis says, "given the ambitious nature and the scope—how it's looking to be all things to all technologies—makes it quite a daunting undertaking."

But some other analysts say that Oracle has seemingly been talking the talk and not walking the walk. "This was bigger than Oracle thought in the first place," says Yvonne Genovese, a VP and analyst at Gartner. The fact that Oracle has acquired dozens of vendors' product sets over the years, including the recent BEA deal, and that Oracle wants to include those products' features into the Fusion Apps, which could change its underlying architecture, makes finishing Fusion Apps that much more complicated.

"It's difficult to build on a moving target," Genovese adds.

What's the Real Holdup, Larry?

Industry speculation as to why the Fusion Apps Suite hasn't been released abounds, mostly because Oracle executives have been so tight-lipped about the product set for so long. At the OpenWorld 2008 show in September, for instance, CEO Larry Ellison spent hardly any time discussing it.

However, Steve Miranda, Oracle's SVP of Fusion application development, told IDG News that the first Fusion Apps suite of products might not be available until 2010. "We're going to be with early customers at the end of next year, and we're going to be very, very cautious on the [general availability date]," Miranda said, while at the show. "We're going to make sure [the applications] are successful. Period."

Oracle execs like to note that they have delivered some applications that are based on the underlying Fusion technology. Those releases, however, are only a couple of CRM-related offerings, such as Sales Prospector, a type of data-mining app for salespeople.

Albert Pang, IDC's director of enterprise applications research, says that "delays" is not the correct way to characterize Fusion Apps' delivery problems because Oracle has brought to market some product and is close to shipping some others. "I think it's the perceived delay that people are thinking of because Oracle has been talking about these Fusion applications since early 2006," he says.

According to Ray Wang, VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research, a large part of the delay stems from internal quality control and user acceptance testing. Oracle, he says, has had feedback on live code from customers, perhaps as many as 350. At OpenWorld, Oracle's Miranda said that 700 customers had been participating in three years of Fusion Applications research, including Coca-Cola, FedEx and Target.

Only Fools Rush In

One possible contributing factor to Oracle's lack of speed is that there appears to be no good reason for Oracle to trot out a "next-generation" applications suite, which might have bugs and architectural problems, to a customer base and marketplace that's really not looking for next-gen horsepower right now. (Oracle spokesperson Deborah Hellinger declined to comment or make a Fusion Applications executive available for this article.)

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