Oracle Fusion Applications were announced with great fanfare at an event at San Francisco City Hall over five years ago.  The announcement created a high enough level of concern and confusion that a year later Oracle introduced the concept of “Applications Unlimited” – a promise to keep the traditional applications (including JDE and PeopleSoft) viable for as long as customers wanted to continue using them. 

Since then small amounts of news about Fusion Applications trickle out of Oracle periodically.  A presentation at the recent JDE Partner Summit in Denver by David Bowin from Oracle provided a little more information but still left most of the big questions hanging in the air.  The bottom line seems to be that the process of inventing Fusion Applications continues to grind along but at a slower than planned pace.  Whatever Fusion Applications turn out to be when they finally arrive, it remains clear that they will have a limited impact on our community for quite some time. 

Oracle is now hoping for general availability by the end of August.  We were told that a number of customers are actively trying out some of the modules – what is often referred to as beta testing in the software industry.  The formal announcement of availability won’t come until the software is proven to work effectively at those sites.  It is quite possible that only a subset of what is being tried will make it through this filter this year. 

My best guess is that whatever Fusion Application modules are ready will be officially announced at OpenWorld 2011 on October 2.  A delay beyond that would be very embarrassing.  At the same time, Oracle is clearly inclined to wait until everything is ready before letting its sales force loose on customers.  Oracle’s patience is commendable and almost certainly the right approach. 

There is still relatively little that we know about what will make Fusion Applications different and better than current generation ERP suites.  Some of the things we have been told about them sound intriguing:

  • This is the first real grand-scale test of the concept of Service Oriented Architecture (SOA).  All existing popular ERP suites were designed before SOA concepts had fully evolved.
  • Fusion Applications will be organized into traditional modules but underneath they will be built out of over 11,000 re-usable SOA objects.  An example of just one of these building blocks is a voice recognition capability.  It can be incorporated into any other software that follows SOA standards.  This includes JDE EnterpriseOne, World and other Oracle legacy applications.
  • The user experience will be dramatically different (and presumably better) than current generation software.  It is not yet clear exactly what it will look like.
  • Countless configuration options will be available that will not impact the ability to upgrade to future releases.  This will be wonderful as long as it does not create the need for a army of experts to help set all the switches – one of the greatest weaknesses of some of SAP’s ERP offerings.
  • Elegant integration with popular applications such as Office and Outlook are promised as well as with the growing variety of remote devices such as iPhones, tablets, and all the other popular PDAs.
  • Fusion Applications will also be “cloud ready”.  Exactly what Oracle means by this will be fascinating to see given the way Larry Ellison tried to offer his own interpretation of cloud computing at OpenWorld last September. 

Fusion Applications is the first large-scale attempt by Oracle in some time to invent a major new software product line from the ground up.  Historically, mature giant software providers have often struggled when taking on grand-scale challenges.  Microsoft Vista and IBM OS/2 come to mind.  Having a huge R&D budget and lots of talented people does not automatically result in great products.  This sad reality is one of the main reasons why the giants often wait for smaller firms to create innovative new products and then acquire them. 

Oracle has proven that it is good at acquiring innovative software products invented elsewhere and integrating them with its other offerings.  Fusion Applications will demonstrate whether Oracle can also invent great software on its own. 

The limited information leaking out of Oracle about Fusion Applications leads me to believe that Oracle will likely beat the odds and eventually get this right.  It also looks like it will take time for that to happen, possibly even years more.  If all goes well, later this year we can stop guessing and begin to evaluate something real.