Over the last several weeks, Oracle Corporation has taken significant steps to show users of its J.D. Edwards applications that it has their best interests at heart. The vendor's actions should help it to retain customers and cut through the atmosphere of uncertainty that has pervaded the J.D. Edwards community.
Oracle's latest outreach efforts began earlier this month when it announced a new service pack for J.D. Edwards World, the enterprise application suite that runs on IBM's iSeries server. The product, known as World A7.3 Service Pack 16, provides regulatory upgrades as well as enhancements that many World customers have requested. These include Web self-service facilities that give customers Internet access to purchasing and order status information. The service pack also includes self-service facilities that give employees access to human resources information such as payroll, benefits, and vacation time. In addition, Oracle enhanced cash flow reporting, improved the audit trails within the general ledger system, and added an accounts payable approval process.
Just as importantly, Oracle told World users that they can expect additional enhancements in the future. In written statements and speeches, the vendor declared that it will ship a new release of World in 2006. In addition, the company changed its position on requiring World users to migrate to J.D. Edwards EnterpriseOne before they can upgrade to Oracle's next-generation Project Fusion applications. In a recent public statement, John Schiff, Oracle's General Manager for J.D. Edwards World, disclosed that Oracle will develop a direct upgrade path from World to Project Fusion. It is not yet clear whether the upgrade will enable World shops to run Fusion applications on their existing DB2/400 databases. However, Oracle has committed to supporting IBM's database and middleware on existing product lines through 2013 and is talking with IBM about the role that its DB2/400 and WebSphere products will play in future products.
As it reached out to the World community this month, Oracle also offered a clearer product roadmap to EnterpriseOne users. In customer briefings and public presentations, the company committed to providing users of EnterpriseOne 8.11 and 8.12 with direct upgrade paths to Project Fusion. Users of OneWorld XE, EnterpriseOne 8.9, and EnterpriseOne 8.10 will need to upgrade to EnterpriseOne 8.11 or 8.12 before upgrading to Fusion applications. However, sources within Oracle have told me that the vendor will offer technical upgrades to EnterpriseOne 8.11 or 8.12 that will not require customers to go live on either release. This will allow users of back-level releases to upgrade to Fusion and avoid most of the work required in typical two-step upgrades.
As it made its roadmap to Project Fusion clearer, Oracle also fought back against the campaign of its archrival SAP to get J.D. Edwards users to take an off-ramp. Oracle responded to SAP's Safe Passage program (which offers license rebates and discounted support programs for Oracle customers who switch to SAP) with a migration program of its own. The program, known as Oracle Fusion for SAP (or "OFF SAP"), provides SAP R/3 customers free migration workshops and up to a 100% license credit if they switch to Oracle applications. While neither Safe Passage nor OFF SAP will get more than a handful of customers to switch, the programs could influence the decisions of companies that use both vendors' applications and want to standardize on one vendor. In such firms, OFF SAP will give Oracle a bargaining tool to help it win its fair share of consolidation decisions.
Reducing the FUD Factor
Oracle's latest product announcements and statements indicate the priority that it is putting on its J.D. Edwards customers and their applications. The announcements show that the vendor has successfully retained the World development team and that the team has the resources it needs to turn out upgrades on schedule. As for Oracle's statements, they reveal a vendor that is moving quickly to answer the questions of the J.D. Edwards community. By doing so, the company could significantly reduce the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that was generated by its hostile takeover of PeopleSoft. Such a reduction could make J.D. Edwards users less inclined to consider other application vendors or third-party support providers.
In short, Oracle is buying more time with its J.D. Edwards users, the vast majority of whom were already willing to adopt a "wait and see" attitude with the vendor. That attitude should prevail as long as the company remains responsive to the needs of the J.D. Edwards community. To do that effectively, Oracle will eventually have to address a difficult issue head on: whether to support IBM's OS/400, DB2/400, and WebSphere products on Project Fusion applications. Based on my conversations with Oracle executives, I believe that the company is making an honest effort to wrestle with this issue. What will come out of that process is far from certain. However, the fact that Oracle is considering how to support its customers' incumbent software rather than assuming a "100% Oracle" future for them is a promising development. It shows that in contrast to its reputation as an IT industry bully, the vendor has the ability to play well with others. Let's hope that Oracle puts that ability to good use in the coming months as it unveils the rest of its product strategy to the J.D. Edwards community.