Attempting to Be the Oracle of Oracle Spend Management (Part 1)

If there's one vendor I've given short shrift to over the years on Spend Matters, it's Oracle. But not for lack of want or trying. Oracle has been notoriously close-lipped toward bloggers in the past. But all of this appears to be changing. Recently, I've had a number of discussions with the Oracle procurement and sourcing technology and product management teams -- not to mention continuing dialogue with those who are familiar with Oracle from past lives, current customers and channel partners. From these various discussions, I've been able to piece together what I'd argue is a fairly comprehensive view of where Oracle is today, although I am a bit uncertain about where they are headed tomorrow (especially compared with SAP, who is more open about future plans). Part of this is owing to the fact that Oracle has been somewhat nebulous around Fusion Applications, which at some point in the future will represent a unified code base that is intended to be based upon the best capabilities of each of Oracle's current products.

I will divide this series on Oracle into six posts in total. This first post will provide some higher-level observations about Oracle's current product mix. Posts two through four will dig into the specific and planned functional capabilities of the Oracle eBusiness Suite (current release: R12), PeopleSoft (Version 9.0) and JD Edwards EnterpriseOne. The final posts will provide a look at where I'm guessing Oracle will be headed in the coming years as well as examination of the Oracle customer and partner experience based on various discussions I've had in recent quarters. Overall, this series will just scratch the surface of the Oracle Spend Management product empire, but hopefully it will provide enough meat and context to help you decide whether Oracle's future is looking more like Rome in A.D. 476 or the United States in 1776.

Today, each of Oracle's application lines is based upon the code base of the companies the database and apps giant has acquired since it began its M&A binge after bringing on Charles Phillips and upgrading its corporate development efforts (this story alone warrants a mini-series, but I'll save it for another time). This is critical to understand, as it means that the functional strengths and weaknesses of each product can vary from one and other (e.g., services procurement strengths have, in the past, not been uniform between eBusiness Suite and PeopleSoft). It also means that Oracle's development resources are spread thinner than their rivals, as they must support three existing product lines in what they call their "Apps Unlimited" program that will guarantee availability and support into the distant future. Or, in Oracle's words, "Applications Unlimited is Oracle's plan to continue enhancing our current applications product lines while simultaneously developing our next-generation Fusion Applications … In addition to enhancing our applications, we will also keep supporting them. Oracle's Lifetime Support Policy further extends Oracle's support for its applications."

Many Spend Matters readers probably want to jump to the conclusion at this point. In other words, how does Oracle stack up in key areas like eProcurement, catalog management, spend visibility, contract management and sourcing? The answer, unfortunately, varies widely between product line and version. The version piece is critical as well because if a company is running an older version of an Oracle back-end (e.g., financials), they can't take full advantage of the capabilities in the newer releases. So you'll have to wait for the coming posts to learn about how the specifics pertain to each product line as well as the recent releases.

- Jason Busch

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