Oracles June 21 announcement of a massive new business unit geared to the needs of the financial markets raises as many questions as Stonehenge. None is more pressing than how Oracle hopes to bring its products to market without creating more work than its worth for its customers.
The company intends to build a financial services organization out of the pile of assets it has acquired over recent months—i-flex, Siebel, Hyperion, TimesTen, and Stellent, to name a few. In doing so, it is attempting to convince customers to consider business processes rather simply focusing on functionality.
Thus, the 12,000-plus employees assigned to the new Financial Services Global Business Unit, based in New York, have the unenviable mission of corralling more than 300 products in five categories to provide what the company refers to as "adaptive business processes."
But in order to sidestep the looming integration logjam, Oracle said customers will use its Application Integration Architecture to build those adaptive processes.
Announced in April, AIA is essentially a framework designed to allow users to pull together the best of functionality from Oracles various application stacks, based on a specific business process. With underpinnings from Oracles Fusion Middleware, AIA uses SOA (service-oriented architecture) to build modular business services that can be integrated and reused, according to Oracles Web site.
There are two main components to AIA: Process Integration Packs that are pre-built integrations for Oracles applications; and Industry Reference Models, or industry best practices for building process flows across applications.
"We believe that as the leading industry player, the next generation [of applications] will be developed by standardizing on processes in business, and allowing that to be implemented on the technology layer that we carry, and what partners bring," said Senthil Kumar, chief marketing officer of I-flex, in New York.
To fill in the industry reference model component of AIA for the financial services group, Oracle is tapping I-flexs process framework for banking, a set of reference models and best practices that help companies to design processes. By having the reference model integrated with Oracles technology stack—something that was accomplished before Oracle acquired I-flexs assets—users are able to document processes, and keep track of changes to that process.
"There is an opportunity for someone to start with a best practice, then modify it, and it gets documented back," said Kumar. "There are three benefits to that. It gives you [a] repository so youre not starting from ground zero all the time; it allows you to automatically replicate [a process] to other parts of your business; and when a regulator or an authority comes in, this can show what is the exact process, and the underlying details, so you can run a command and control center and explain in real time what is happening in your business."
Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst with ZapThink in Baltimore, said this standardized approach to exposing functionality and the use of BPEL (Business Process Execution Language) as a way of defining a process composition could help customers, but warned that AIA is still a work in progress.
"These are basically pre-packaged integrations. [Oracle] is saying, lets define some composition of functionality across products and push them out," said Schmelzer. "In practice, I dont know if weve seen companies take this approach and use it for integration. The test is how well they can take existing applications, put something on top, and integrate.
Schmelzer added that the biggest thing Oracle has to deal with is that their own products arent integrated.
"If they are trying to sell integration architectural approaches to customers, they really have to prove they can do this for their own customers," he said.
Dwight Davis, vice president of IT research firm Ovum Summit, said that Oracle is attempting to compete against other major enterprise application vendors, like SAP—which also has a designated financial services unit—by shifting the emphasis away from point apps and looking to broader-based apps and the services that support processes.
"AIA gives Oracle the foundation to compete in that newly defined marketplace for vendors," Davis said. "Its really a blending of their application and infrastructure portfolio. I see it as a way the industry is going, shifting away from applications to a business process focus."