Oracle has been saying that Fusion Middleware and its Fusion application strategy would allow the company to bring together the functionality of at least the three biggest prizes in its multibillion-dollar buying spree, the PeopleSoft, JD Edwards and Siebel product lines along with the Oracle E-Business Suite.
But that claim really begged the question of how Oracle was going to integrate and bring order to the rest of this jumbled mass of software so that customers could buy and use it effectively. The latest answer appears to be what Oracle is calling "Project X," a code name that is too much of a time-worn cliché to inspire much market confidence. Perhaps "Son of Fusion" or even better "Mother of All Fusions" might be a better fit.
Oracle officials are getting ready to present this strategy at the annual Oracle Applications Users Group conference in Las Vegas April 15-19, so little is known at this point about the details of Project X.
But the projects purported goal makes fundamental sense. It would be highly desirable to make it easy for customers to cherry-pick the most appropriate application functionality from Oracles massive technology stack based on the specific business processes customers need to serve.
But it isnt a trivial task to solve the technological issues involved in enabling customers, or developers, for that matter, to rapidly bring together program functionality from a tall stack of disparate applications to serve a specific companys needs.
Presumably Oracle has made considerable progress toward solving these issues or it wouldnt be ready to make an announcement to its customer audience. But it doesnt exactly instill confidence to see Oracle initiating a new application integration effort before customers have been able to see how well it has integrated the PeopleSoft, JD Edwards and Siebel application suites.
It is a smart move for Oracle to signal that customers will have access to the Project X integration technology without being required to first acquire or upgrade to the Fusion applications. Customers apparently will be able assemble functionality from the full Oracle application portfolio regardless of their prior experience with Fusion.
Oracle is counting on SOA (service-oriented architecture) and its Fusion Middleware to smooth over any rough patches in the integration process. It would be nice if this works as projected and customers and Oracle itself are able to rapidly roll their own online application mashups. It would be even better if customers were able to do this in much the same way as they are able to with Salesforce.com AppExchange mashups.
But Oracle is facing the task of integrating a lot of disparate legacy code. So it could very well be a much more daunting task to leverage SOA to get all this application functionality to work together.
In a brief preview of Project X on its home page on April 12, Oracle appears to be suggesting that it will be a follow-up to the "Applications Unlimited" announcements that Oracle made at the Collaborate conference a year ago, where the company said it remained committed to providing enhancements to the legacy JD Edwards EnterpriseOne, JD Edwards World, PeopleSoft and Siebel product lines even after the delivery of the Fusion applications.
Oracle needed the original Fusion project to give established customers an upgrade path for their existing applications. Project X shouldnt negate this purpose. The problem is that many of these customers arent necessarily looking for major new upgrades or even new functionality. They just want to keep these applications running for as long as economically feasible.
But Project X does provide a way for both existing and future customers to draw on technologies from Oracles entire applications portfolio. It appears to be intended for organizations that are planning to start fresh by building new online application suites.
Its a great idea if it works. Oracle will get to show how just how effective its Fusion Middleware and SOA can be at integrating such disparate applications.
But Oracle seems to keep changing the development targets as its product line keeps expanding. Oracle needs to draw a line in the sand and take the time to demonstrate that its concept for application integration is going to work. As it is now, Oracles application integration strategy looks more like a moving target that keeps changing as it acquires ever more companies and keeps piling up the technology stack.
Of greatest concern to customers would be the fact that buying Oracle applications represents only a fraction of the total cost if they face long and costly development cycles after the sale to make the applications work together.
Project X should make it quick and easy for customers to mix and match applications to solve business problems. It shouldnt just be an opportunity for Oracle to augment its consulting services revenue.
John Pallatto is a veteran journalist in the field of enterprise software and Internet technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.