Attempting to Be the Oracle of Oracle Spend Management (Part 2)

As someone who likes to do a flyby on the basic numbers to analyze vendor traction, it is tempting to start off analyses like these with basic facts such as number of customers, percentage of spend enabled, etc. But when it comes to tracking down metrics from Oracle, these numbers are difficult to come by. Oracle is not yet sharing customer metrics with bloggers, though from some channels I have spoken with, it seems that there are at least "dozens" of customers on the R12 Procurement platform. But when it comes to pricing, at least Oracle is quite transparent on list prices. You can download their latest list pricing sheet on the Oracle website (take note that this is just the starting point for negotiations). But what is more interesting to me is how Oracle R12 procurement -- comprised of the core iProcurement module along with iSupplier Portal, Procurement Contracts, Purchasing, Sourcing, Services Procurement, Daily Business Intelligence and the Oracle Supplier Network -- stacks up to its sister products in the Oracle product line (not to mention the competition).

At least internally, our analysis suggests the product suite is quite solid across the board. I should note, though, that this analysis is based on having had numerous peeks at the product over the past 18 months and talking to customers and channel partners -- not an exhaustive product evaluation. We have done this analysis for multiple clients, and while it is based on fairly current information, we would encourage anyone seriously evaluating Oracle to rely on the most recent information available. Oracle was recently kind enough to provide a demo, though Webex is not exactly a great environment in which to form product opinions. Still, my impression is mostly positive, and it shows how far Oracle has come since its earlier offerings. It's also important to note that to realize the full capabilities of R12, most users must upgrade to the same Oracle version of Oracle financials (which some might call a "forklift" upgrade process). The exceptions, according to Oracle, are those running one or many of their on-demand capabilities where they could be on 11i9 or 11i10 on the back-end.

Relative to PeopleSoft and JD Edwards, R12 delivers superior capability in most of the functional areas we evaluated (except services procurement) including: supplier on-boarding and management, catalog management, supplier portal, workflow/process management, requisitioning, order management / visibility. Oracle and PeopleSoft both delivered adequate e-Invoicing or payment capabilities on a basic level (not true EIPP) and Peoplesoft was still superior in the area of services procurement in our last evaluation.

Some of the more interesting additions to the R12 suite include the Oracle Business Intelligence Applications (OBIA) that provides an end-user platform for creating custom reports. Oracle still lacks a true spend analysis capability which includes data cleansing, enrichment and classification though this BI-based approach is at least a start (for internal, Oracle-based information). While not all Oracle procurement users will consider OBIA, all R12 customers will certainly take advantage of some of the features resident across the core capabilities of the suite. This includes the new professional buyers work center that facilitates a drive to self-service by reducing the buyer workload. It also provides a significantly enhanced UI that streamlines access to information as well as providing tighter control over process flows. Prior to R12, "touchless buy" was the primary focus of Oracle Procurement. With R12, Oracle aims to build off of this core tenant and streamline the overall buying process. R12 also includes new capabilities that make sourcing, buying, managing and tracking complex services spend easier. It allows, for example, deliverable, milestone, rate and progress-based tracking of specific services contracts.

So how does R12 stack up overall? Since its original design was written in 2004, it's surprisingly sprite relative to the long-history behind its code base. Given this, it really did represent some of the best-in-class thinking about eProcurement at the time (kudos to the team that was behind it -- at least we know where the developers are now ;-). It was the first Oracle procurement release based on a web application format with a consistent user experience (in previous releases, users needed to use an Oracle forms interface which relied on legacy client/server capabilities combined with Java applets). And as those who are behind it will tell you, Oracle did not base R12 on what they thought was necessary in the market -- they based it on extensive customer research. At the time, Oracle really was gunning for Ariba (not parity with SAP), although Ariba, as we know, is a moving target.

Before closing out this long post, it's worth paying special note to the UI in R12 that was codenamed the "blues". It basically took the style and feel of PeopleSoft and migrated it over to the Oracle product. Internally, this project was codenamed "swan," which is an appropriate moniker given the grace with which Oracle pulled off the UI, which in many ways was functionally superior to others at the time of the R12 initial release. But this market moves quickly as we know. Stay tuned for Part 3 and Part 4 of this series when we examine some of the core functional capabilities and enhancements of Oracle R12 Procurement.

- Jason Busch

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