Friday, March 23, 2007

A Tsunami Is Building

I just finished a conference call with OAUG’s Fusion Council Steering Committee. These are good telecons, because there’s some lively debate that provides me with insight on the thoughts of other Oracle Apps customers. The hot subject for the past several telecons has been Oracle’s policy toward customizations in the context of migrating to Fusion Applications.

In short, Oracle seems to be taking the approach that customers will be on their own for migrating customizations to Fusion Applications. Oracle is telling customers to reconsider their customizations now in preparation for migrating to Fusion Applications. In addition, many of the technology platforms used for customer customizations (mod plsql, custom.pll, the embedded Oracle Reports server) are being removed from the technology stack. Although we’ve seen Oracle go through these cycles before, moving from "don’t customize at all" to "customize as needed for your business", this cycle is a bit different when considered in light of the fundamental changes taking place in the Oracle landscape as we move toward the overall Fusion vision (these changes have been discussed at length here and in other places; no need to do it again now).

Many Oracle customers have extensively customized their ERP applications. Those contracting with the U.S. government have unique contract and reporting requirements. Higher education customers may have multiple payrolls. Commercial business customers may have a unique business process that provides a competitive advantage. Forms and reports are frequently customized. The list goes on and on.

I do understand Oracle’s position: most customizations are unique to a single customer, so migrating all those customizations would require literally millions of unique efforts that would take a single organization (even Oracle’s army of developers) decades to migrate on a case-by-case basis. Herculean would be an inadequate adjective for an effort of this magnitude. The cost alone would be staggering, even for a piggy bank as large as Oracle’s. I get it, and I think most Oracle customers get it as well.

On the other hand, Oracle customers have invested significant time, effort and money in customizing Oracle applications to fit their particular business. Many customers, having heard Oracle’s position on migrating customizations, are feeling like they’re being left to fend for themselves. While they’re not looking for Oracle to migrate their specific customizations, they are looking for some type of guidance, framework or roadmap for migrating those customizations (Note: a roadmap for migrating customizations is much different from a warning to eliminate customizations in preparation for a migration to Fusion Applications). Unfortunately, no such guidance seems to be in the works. As a result, an ugly reaction is beginning to build up. It could result in a migration of customers away from Oracle applications in Tsunami proportions if it is allowed to continue. And it all comes down to a pretty simple bet...

Oracle appears to be betting that customers will work within whatever constraints Oracle lays out because the effort, money, time and business pain involved in moving to another ERP or CRM vendors is intolerably high. This perspective is a combination of "change your business to fit our technology" and "we’re the only game in town because it’s too expensive for you to go elsewhere". (Now, I must caveat this by stating that this is my perspective on Oracle’s thoughts looking in from the outside. I have no concrete evidence, no inside info, and no specifics. This is just the way things look to me.)

However, many Oracle customers are beginning to stress a different perspective. While it may be painful to move to another applications vendor, there is a strategic issue to be considered. If Oracle is not going to support the continuation of the unique and critical needs of a particular business in future releases, that business may find it worthwhile to suffer through the pain of moving to another vendor in order to satisfy those unique and business needs.

In a nutshell, this is the Tsunami I see building up with Oracle’s applications customers: if those customers don’t receive some type of roadmap for migrating their customizations to Fusion Applications, they’ll begin to migrate to competing applications suppliers. From my perspective, many customers are seriously considering just such a move. Not just one or two customers, but many of them. At this point, it’s just a matter of timing and who will go first.

I won’t kid you a bit...I’m a big Oracle fan. I like their products. I like the company. I want Fusion to work. Heck, I’ve been accused more than once of being a shill for Oracle. But, in this case, I just see a huge problem beginning to form as the result of what I consider to be a poor approach to a major issue. I hope Oracle fixes it before it’s too late.

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