Oracle rolls out E-Business Suite 12

One executive called the software 'bullet proof'

NEW YORK -- For the first time in six years, Oracle Corp. is shipping a next generation of its flagship E-Business Suite, Version 12, with officials vowing that an upgrade to this version won't be as challenging as the move to its predecessor, Version 11i.

During an "Applications Unlimited" launch event here yesterday, Oracle announced the availability of E-Business Suite 12, along with four other releases to its other ERP and CRM applications. Oracle executives said Version 12 is easier to use, has tighter integration with Oracle's other business applications and Fusion middleware technology, offers extensive functional enhancements and has been tested thoroughly to avoid upgrade headaches for customers.

In a presentation, Oracle President Charles Phillips stressed that the E-Business Suite, as well as Oracle's PeopleSoft ERP and Siebel CRM applications, will continue to be enhanced indefinitely. And he said again that no customers will be forced off their existing investment. At the same time, Oracle is pressing ahead with plans to cobble together its next-generation set of best-of-breed applications, dubbed Fusion, which is due for release next year. Users can migrate to Fusion on their own timetable, Phillips said.

Among Version 12's enhancements is an modified graphical user interface, which has been improved using technology from Oracle's PeopleSoft Enterprise applications, said John Wookey, senior vice president of applications development at Oracle. The application will also allow international companies to better perform profitability analyses across their global lines of business, and it includes 30 new human resource localization enhancements targeted to comply with international regulations.

Oracle has also created a role-based template that can be used to more easily manage the entire process of hiring personnel. "It's not a small release," Wookey said.

He vowed that the upgrade process to Version 12 would be easier than it was with 11i, which was the first Web-architected version of the E-Business Suite. Users upgrading to it complained that doing so was difficult, as the applications hadn't been completely scrubbed of glitches and thus required extensive patching and testing. Wookey called Version 12 "bullet proof" and said Oracle had focused on the release to ensure an easy move from 11i to 12.

Several customers on hand for the launch and interviewed afterward were upbeat about the release. Jan Wagner, president of the independent Oracle Applications Users Group (OAUG), said the release shows Oracle's commitment to its program of continuous investment in existing product lines. "It shows users have chosen an application with a future, and so I'm very excited."

Wagner is also the London-based director of financial operations and internal review at NATO, which uses the E-Business Suite 11i 5.10 financials.

Having seen previews of Version 12, he noted that among the 1,500 or so enhancements in the software is an improved reporting capability using Oracle XML Publisher. The Java-based application is part of Oracle's Fusion middleware suite and allows nontechnical staffers to write their own reports in Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat for easier collaboration. Because of its international focus, NATO has strict financial reporting rules and the new reporting functions could make it easier to generate shared reports without the assistance of a database administrator, Wagner said.

Another user expressed cautious optimism about Version 12. David Rudzinksy, CIO at Hologic Inc., a Bedford, Mass.-based medical instruments maker, said he hopes the software's quality assurance is as good as that in E-Business Suite 11i 5.10, which his company currently uses and he feels was the best 11i release ever. He said Version 12 would need extensive internal testing before Hologic decides whether its worth the upgrade. "The cost of upgrading makes us look closer to be sure there is payback," he said.

Hologic is happy with 11i 5.10, and can upgrade directly to the Fusion applications from it without investing in Version 12. Rudzinksy also said he wants to hear specifics about Oracle's plans for its Siebel CRM applications and how they fit into the vendor's Fusion strategy.

Another OAUG member, Basheer Khan, said that Oracle has been touting an overall commitment to product quality, and argued there should be no fears about this upgrade being buggy. A member of the OAUG executive committee, Khan is also president and CEO of Innowave Technology LLC, an Irvine, Calif.-based consultancy specializing in Oracle applications.

E-Business Suite 12 is shipping now.

In addition to releasing Version 12 of its flagship E-Business Suite, Oracle yesterday also announced four other applications releases.

The other releases include PeopleSoft Enterprise 9.0, Siebel CRM 8.0, JD Edwards EnterpriseOne 8.12 and JD Edwards World A9.1. But perhaps most significant announcement was the preview of World A9.1 -- the first major release of the application since 1998. World A9.1 comes with new software documentation, Wookey said in a presentation.

World, which runs on the IBM AS/400 hardware and software platform, had languished under J.D. Edwards & Co. and was slated for obsolescence when PeopleSoft Inc. bought J.D. Edwards in 2003. PeopleSoft committed to supporting the applications again, and when Oracle purchased PeopleSoft two years ago, it expanded on that pledge. That effort included working closely with rival IBM to ensure the application is optimized to run on AS/400/System i server platform.

The new version has four new products and 1,297 enhancements to assist with compliance, operations improvements and support for global processes. More specifically, there are new features in the areas of financials, distribution, manufacturing and human resources operations, Oracle said.

The release has World-backers celebrating, said Robert Lieberman, a board member of the Quest International Users Group, which is made up of PeopleSoft Enterprise and J.D. Edwards EnterpriseOne and World users. The product was basically dead, said Lieberman. Now, not only has it survived, it’s been heavily revamped with a new Web-based user interface and is no longer the green-screen based application it once was. Lieberman is also CIO at New Plan Excel Realty Trust Inc., a New York-based real estate firm that runs J.D. Edwards EnterpriseOne 8.10 ERP applications.

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