Monday, December 29, 2008

Fusion Applications - Mea Maxima Culpa

As we come to the end of 2008, we also come to the time frame in which I originally predicted the first release of Oracle’s Fusion Applications. Yup, I predicted that the first release of Fusion Apps would be delivered by the end of 2008. I even wrote as much within the pages of this very blog. As I write this (December 29, 2008), it’s been pretty obvious that we won’t be seeing the first generally available release of Fusion Apps in 2008. Seems my prognostic skills could use some serious work.

Now I could probably make a case that I was at least partially correct. After all, we have seen some Fusion Apps released in the CRM space during 2008. But we all know that’s not the flavor of Fusion Apps I had in mind when making my prediction. I envisioned the first release of a fully-integrated suite of ERP applications under the Oracle Fusion brand, and I envisioned that release by the end of 2008. How I formed that opinion and the information I used to form that opinion doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I put a stick in the sand and it turns out I put the stick in the wrong place: mea maxima culpa.

So let’s see this for what it is…I was wrong. Now that we have that cleared up, there is some value in examining why my prediction was off. I’ve sorted the causes for my bad estimate into three buckets:

The Job Was Bigger Than I Thought

Building Fusion Apps is a bigger job than I originally believed it to be. When I first learned about Fusion Apps, I figured Oracle would simply take the best features from their existing apps product lines (PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, Siebel, Retek and the E-Business Suite) and integrate those features into a single suite of applications. However, having now seen demos of the latest iterations of Fusion Apps, it’s apparent to me that the job is much bigger. Fusion Apps will constitute Oracle’s deepest dive yet into enterprise social software: network meshes, interactive user interfaces, and widgets will all be part of Fusion Apps.

Quality Is Job #1

Oracle is taking a new approach to software release with Fusion Apps. It's really a spin off the old Ford Motor Company slogan that "Quality Is Job #1". For as long as I can remember, the driving force in packaged applications has been the pressure to bring new products to market as quickly as possible. The big secret for over a decade in the enterprise apps marketplace has been that the market typically rewards the vendor who releases new application features and functionality ahead of the competition: whoever “flies first” reaps the lion’s share of the market share. In the rush to market, product quality has suffered – ask anyone who has ever gone to production with a software version number ending with “0” (as in 4.0 or 10.0 or 11.5.0) for more information. In the case of Fusion Applications, Oracle has opted for a standard of higher quality in the first release. The concept is that Fusion Applications 1.0 should be a stable release, as near to zero defects (I’ve written previously my belief that it’s impracticable to achieve zero defects in an initial release) as possible. The impression I have from the people involved with Fusion Applications development is that they are willing to live with a longer development cycle in order to achieve a high-quality initial release. Personally, I like this approach – I’m willing to wait longer for a higher-quality product.

Good Things Have Happened Along The Road

Some good things have happened along the road to the first release of Fusion Applications, mostly because Oracle has continued to acuire products that offered opportunities for great synergy with Fusion Apps. Stellant’s enterprise content management products come to mind here, in that Oracle’s acquistion of Stellant provided Oracle with some innovative products that naturally fit well within the scope of Fusion Applications functionality. However, integrating those products constitued a change in development scope, which in turn may have affected the release date. I suspect the same type of thing has happened in the wake of the BEA acquisition. (IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This idea is total speculation on my part. I have no information directly or via rumor to support the idea that one or more of Oracle's acquisitions may have any relationship whatsoever with the release date of Oracle Applications - I'm just piecing the puzzle together. I could be way off the mark here, so please do not consider this to be verifiable information or any type of “news scoop”. If you happen to be a reporter or news professional and decide to run with this, I accept no responsibility if my personal speculation is in error and you wind up unemployed and/or looking like a blithering idiot).

So now you know what I think about why my original estimate for the first release of Fusion Apps was too optimistic: the job was bigger than I thought, there is an increase emphasis on product quality, and some good things have happened along the road. An interesting note: all these general categories are characteristics of well-managed iterative software development. The upshot here is that, while I have been disappointed for some time in the knowledge that we won’t see the first release of Fusion App in 2008, I do think that Oracle’s development effort has been and continues to be on a well-managed track. I'm not worried about the state of Fusion Applications development.

One more question that begs the asking here: if not now, when will we see that first release of Fusion Applications? Well, in the spirit of “once bitten, twice shy”, I hesitate to throw another date out. However, there are some signs you can watch for that will be indicative of the timing. First, watch for Oracle to provide a very limited release of Fusion Applications to a very small set of carefully selected customers. Second, you’ll see the Oracle development team incorporate the feedback from that small customer set into at least one or two additional development iterations. Once both these events occur, it’s likely we’re getting close to seeing the first generally-available release of Fusion Applications.

So, there you have it. I’ve shared my “mea maxima culpa” for my bad estimate, shared with you why I think my guess missed the mark, and provided some signs that may be indicative of the timing for the release of Fusion Apps. Comments, questions, thoughts? Hit the comments.


Noons said...

FWIW, I think you're spot-on in your analysis of why it isn't here yet.

If anything, I'd add the task is a lot bigger than the "much larger" you mentioned!

It's not by accident that it took all those companies - JDE, Peoplesoft, etc - a long time to get their products out the door: they were complex products, with extended and complex functionality.

For Fusion Apps to provide the same or equivalent - with the addditional "glitter" of a sort-of web 2.0 interface - is not an easy task, never was, never would be.

I'd be surprised if we see anything out this side of 2009.

Unless of course they decide to go for the "rough and ready" tried and tested release method you so well pointed out!

Have a great NY!

Your OCP Advisor said...

It's perhaps a blessing in disguise that Fusion Apps isn't available in late 2008. Very few companies have a budget to start an upgrade project and those who are going ahead wouldn't venture to an unknown (if not riskier) domain with Fusion Apps.

Having said that, the positives from the delay would be your observations that Fusion Apps would not only be best of breed but its pedigree would be enhanced by greater usability and lesser defects.

Oracle has been known to be a technology leader, innovator and coming out with rapid releases. I fear that the patience of the top management may wear thin if the delay is beyond a few quarters - a few good men might get their work e-mails changed involuntarily. If and when Wall St wakes up from the downturn, Oracle would expect a huge bump with the launch of Fusion Apps and capture the #1 spot in the Application market.

Anonymous said...

Hey Floyd,

You're forgiven. I also thought a flood of Fusion apps was going to hit us after OOW 2007. Looking back now, and reading the summaries of OOW 2008 presentations (I skipped this year) I'm kinda disappointed.

We've had a few discussions in our project about Fusion and how it would help us right now. Some of the guys said: "Fusion is a nice story, but they're actually rewriting the applications. In a year or so, we're going to see a lot of recently acquired applications integrated in EBS". To me that would seem a waste of energy and the opposite strategy of what Fusion is about (I think). On the other hand, 'simply' upgrading applications would seem cheaper for customers than upgrading the whole architecture. So I don't know what to think. Oracle can't expect their customers to invest heavily in new technology that hasn't proven itself yet, especially within the current economic situation, or can they? I mean, Larry just admitted last week he isn't selling his new hardware, so... Or am I just missing the point here?


psRoy said...

I think Oracle is building Fusion Apps primarily to attract new customers...and to give comfort to existing customers that a move to a game-changing new software is at least a possibility. Nevertheless, it will probably be a long, long time before such a move becomes feasible let alone justifiable.


Steve Romeo said...

I think Fusion ERP apps will be very interesting, however, I'm putting all of my energy into the CRM apps that Anthony Lye is developing. I'm also very motivated going forward with Fusion Middleware. I truly believe that these platforms (along with AIA) are game changers for the enterprise. They make a difference for us (both in features and flexibility of the enterprise)

Steve Romeo
VP of IT
2009 ComputerWorld Premier 100 Leader