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Oracle opens service portal

Oracle is putting a new face on its software-as-a-service business by folding all of its online service offerings into the brand name. will function as a business information portal through which users can access integrated versions of the companys full line of applications. The brand will be supported by marketing and advertising campaigns that should raise awareness not just for Oracle, but for the entire application services industry.

"This is about our transition to a software-as-services company," says Tim Chou, the executive heading the effort. "Its a way to unify, standardize and rationalize our services," says Chou, who has been president of the Business OnLine services unit, which led Oracles earlier application service provider (ASP) strategy. That unit will become part of the new will include sales, financial, human resources and other application packages. Free services like Sales Online will stay free, but additional paid services such as business intelligence for sales reporting will be added.

"We chose to go with one umbrella brand instead of a bunch of new brands," says Mark Jarvis, Oracles chief marketing officer.

Changes made in one window of the portal will trigger changes in other windows, so that a purchase with an exchange application, for example, would show up in the general ledger application. Some services are already fully integrated, with integrated versions of the complete product line due within a year.

"Combined, they create more value, and that will drive sales," Jarvis says.

The move to create an umbrella organization has initially gained favorable views. "This could be an awesome selling model," says Sharon Ward, director of enterprise business applications at Hurwitz Group.

Oracle may be further along than any other major software company in the drive to recreate itself into a services company, an eventuality that Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison and other executives, including Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, have declared a certainty. Software vendors expect big benefits for themselves and for customers from the centralized service and support possible with a services business, in which updates and fixes can be done once for the entire customer base.

"Were surprised at how far this is going this quickly," Jarvis says. About 11 percent of Oracles customers use at least some online services, up from just 0.1percent a year ago. Some 20,000 users have registered with Sales Online, although only a fraction may actually use the free service. One flagship customer, Cigna, is running its financial applications for 16 countries as a centralized Oracle service.

Services are a clear priority with Ellison, who stressed the transition in his address to the recent Oracle users conference in New Orleans and has held up the release of at least one application until it was available as a service and a product. One critical measure of Oracles commitment to change: Salespeople get a 10 percent higher commission for selling software as a service instead of on CDs.

Chou says the brand will help define software-as-services away from the ASP model popularized by companies like Corio and USinternetworking. "ASPs are dead," Chou says. "The key is the application software and the management. Its not about hosting. What difference does it make where the computer sits? We know more about our software than anyone else, so we will be the service company."

But the advertising and marketing campaigns behind the brand may serve to lift all ASPs, as the sector tries to gain mind share among potential users. Ads introducing as "the worlds largest ASP" will premiere in coming months, Jarvis says.