With Oracle’s OpenWorld 2008 conference behind us, it’s time to share our insights from this annual mother of all software meetings. Because of the sheer size and scope of OpenWorld, it is best to start any analysis of it from the proverbial 40,000-foot level, then drill down on the more interesting features. With that in mind, this article offers four of our high-level takeaways from the show. Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Takeaway #1 — Oracle’s roadmap for JD Edwards applications remains clear and promising. During the conference, Oracle took great pains to demonstrate its commitment to enhancing and evolving both EnterpriseOne and World for years to come. It announced EnterpriseOne 9.0 and EnterpriseOne Tools 8.98. It also unveiled an integration between World A9.1 and Demantra Demand Planning as well as the first User Productivity Kits for World.

At the same time, the software giant presented concrete plans for future releases of JD Edwards applications and their tool sets. For instance, the World team disclosed plans to publish Release Notes for its next release (dubbed World A9.1.2) in November. If past history is any indication, this means that World A9.1.2 is likely to ship by the middle of next year. Meanwhile, the EnterpriseOne team outlined its plans to ship several point releases of EnterpriseOne 9.0 and EnterpriseOne Tools 8.98 over the next two to three years, then deliver EnterpriseOne 9.1 and Tools 8.99.

Taken together, Oracle’s actions show that the vendor has no plans to lessen its work on JD Edwards products as it rolls out the first releases of its Fusion Applications. That speaks volumes about a shift in Oracle’s Fusion strategy…but let’s save that for another key takeaway that we’ll discuss later.

Takeaway #2 — Oracle is shifting its focus from making strategic pronouncements to executing on them. For years, Oracle has used OpenWorld to unveil sweeping visions of what the future will look like for its customers. Whether it was Fusion Applications, Application Integration Architecture, or some other grand initiative, you could count on getting an earful about what your life as a user would be like someday.

This year, there was a striking decline in such talk. There were no preannouncements of any magnitude and a marked reduction in vaporware demonstrations. While that may have reduced the conference’s entertainment value somewhat, it was refreshing to witness Oracle’s newfound sense of sobriety. It also reflected comments that Oracle executives have made to us in briefings over the last several months. In those briefings, we learned that Oracle feels its strategic vision is sound, so it is now shifting more of its focus towards executing on its strategies. At the same time, the company is becoming more conservative about announcing products before they are ready for use in the field. In our opinion, this is a welcome change that will make it easier for customers to plan their software investments without wondering whether the next “strategy du jour” will up-end everything.

Takeaway #3 — New functions for Oracle’s ERP suites will increasingly be delivered via edge applications, standalone tools, and software as a service (SaaS). At OpenWorld 2007, Oracle began talking about how it would integrate JD Edwards and its other ERP suites with “edge applications” such as Demantra and Oracle Transportation Management. This year, the vendor expanded on the theme by saying it would “surround” and integrate its ERP suites with a common body of edge applications, standalone tools such as Oracle BI Publisher, and SaaS offerings such as Siebel On Demand.

The clear implication is that a growing percentage of the functionality that JD Edwards customers implement will come from outboard offerings that are common to all Oracle ERP suites. One example that Oracle announced at OpenWorld is Demand Signal Repository, an application that aggregates and analyzes downstream demand data from multiple sources so that manufacturers can make better production decisions. Demand Signal Repository integrates with Oracle’s Demantra applications, making it a potentially useful tool for JD Edwards customers who deploy Demantra.

Takeaway #4 — Fusion Applications will be available soon. However, many customers will care less…and Oracle won’t be offended. This was the first OpenWorld in which Oracle demonstrated prototypes of Fusion Applications for core business functions such as financials and human capital management. While company executives would not say so openly, hints were dropped that the first releases of these applications may ship in 2009. As such, next year’s OpenWorld may provide customers their first clear choice between sticking with their existing enterprise software or embracing Fusion Applications.

That said, Oracle took pains at OpenWorld to position Fusion Applications as just another software family alongside its existing ones, albeit the only one built entirely on open SOA standards. There was no talk — as there has been for three years — of Fusion Applications being the upgrade path for customers. Instead, they were offered as solutions that some customers may choose to implement in a gradual, modular fashion as their business requirements exceed the capabilities of conventional applications. The company also admitted that it will be years before Fusion Applications offer all of the functions found in the core modules of its existing ERP suites.

In a real sense, Oracle’s new positioning for Fusion Applications reflects the fact that it no longer cares whether its customers stick with its existing ERP offerings or move to Fusion Applications. What Oracle does care about is whether its customers take advantage of Fusion technologies, such as Application Integration Architecture, to make their software work with its other tools and products. This will enable customers to realize many of the benefits of Fusion Applications within their existing software while driving all the license and revenue growth that Oracle needs.

There you have it…four of our top takeaways from OpenWorld 2008. But wait…we’re not done yet with our review of the event. In our next article, we’ll offer more top takeaways from the JD Edwards sessions we attended as well as from our private conversations with the Denver team, so stay tuned.

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