Flush with new customers after a US$18 billion shopping spree that also included retail giant Retek, customer relationship management giant Siebel Systems and a host of open-source companies, Oracle is now focused on helping its newfound customers plan for a future around its upcoming Oracle Fusion Architecture.
Presenting its case to around 400 attendees at the JD Edwards-focused Quest '06 user conference, Oracle promised customers that Fusion would provide a smooth transition, when they are ready, from their legacy applications.
Some customers were sceptical after a morning of marketing speak. "We have heard this snake oil over and over again, but we haven't seen concrete evidence this is going to cure our problems," one attendee grilled speaker Roland Slee, Oracle's vice president of Oracle Fusion middleware sales, during question time after his keynote speech. "The fact that you've cured your [acquisition problems], and that Larry [Ellison] wants to take over the world, doesn't mean it's going to cure all these ills that we already have in our systems."
Slee, who got what he asked after initially portraying his speech as an opportunity for conversations with customers, offered a measured response highlighting the lower cost, certified interoperability and stronger collaboration that the Fusion architecture is expected to provide.
The exchange highlights the work ahead as Oracle seeks to unite several large, very different and generally satisfied user communities that now find themselves nursing legacy business platforms. It's a big task, but John Matelski, president of Quest International and chairman of the International Oracle User Council (IOUC), says Oracle's overtures towards customers -- and, particularly, its frank and productive exchanges with relevant user groups -- have largely been making the right impressions.
"Oracle is coming across as very benevolent, very interested in feedback from user groups, and very helpful in listening to customers; we feel they're going to listen to us," says Matelski.
"They're saying that they'll support [current applications] going forward for ages, and that they're going to build Fusion so well that customers are going to want to move there. It's the carrot rather than the stick approach, and that's very satisfactory," he said.
Since many existing customers have only recently implemented JD Edwards or Peoplesoft and may be quite happy with the systems' performance, Oracle's main challenge will be to convince them not to look elsewhere while its Fusion platform continues to evolve.
Those companies considering giving up on Fusion will certainly find a warm welcome from SAP, which last year launched its Safe Passage program to offer licence credits and migration incentives to Oracle, Peoplesoft, JD Edwards and Retek customers that would switch to SAP's mySAP and NetWeaver platform. Oracle retaliated with its own OFF SAP program, giving customers a 100 percent licence credit, favourable credit terms and access to its extensive in-house migration expertise.
Despite the availability of such incentives, however, customers seem ready to wait out the evolution of both NetWeaver and Fusion before making any rash decisions. "I have not heard anyone say that they are thinking of defecting to SAP," Matelski says. "You don't change your ERP system on a whim."
Nikki Evans, ERP applications manager with the Business Services unit of AU$4 billion engineering services provider Thiess, said the company remains focused on getting even more out of its 2000-user JD Edwards Enterprise One implementation, which was recently bolstered with business intelligence capabilities via The GL Company's Really RealTime Inquiry (RRTI) suite.
Particularly with the better reporting that RTES provides, the RJD Edwards has proved so popular with users that Thiess is happy to stay put until Oracle offers it a compelling reason to upgrade.
"We certainly won't be the first company onto Fusion, but we're interested to see what Fusion has to offer, and I'm involved in the Quest user group to make sure Oracle hears what we want to see in Fusion," Evans explained.
"We're very happy with the product that we have and the relationship we have with Oracle, so at this point in time there's no reason to switch. If [the Fusion roadmap] we heard today was delivered, and it isn't a full-on implementation but is more of an upgrade, then we have a lot of confidence in the investment we've made so far," said Evans.