Why Oracle Fusion Applications are more important than the iPhone 5

 Yesterday the world waited breathlessly for a technology product launch that didn’t end up happening, and everyone seemed to be really disappointed. Today, a major long-promised launch did happen, and it feels like almost no one will notice.

The big news out of Oracle Openworld 2011 this year – other than thehuge snub against Salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff – is the realization of the software company’s plans to create a unified set of enterprise applications under the Fusion brand. After spending much of the last few years gobbling up every major competitor in sight – PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, BEA and Siebel – Oracle can now boast a product suite that is truly built on the best in the industry. It makes the various rumours about Apple’s iPhone 5 seem trivial by comparison.

I haven’t been to Openworld since the BEA acquisition, when Oracle was already beginning to look like a very different company. Charles Phillips was still a co-president, a calm force during the chaotic cries of analysts and customers. Larry Ellison was still getting over the fact that his big foray into grid computing with Oracle 10g did not necessarily change enterprise IT as promised. Oracle was still trying to out-Red Hat the real Red Hat with its Unbreakable Linux plan. Underneath everything that was going on in the Moscone Centre in San Francisco that year was the sense that somewhere in Redwood Shores was a huge warehouse filled with boxes and boxes of software from different manufacturers that were ready to spill out into the street.

Despite Ellison’s arrogance and Oracle’s aggregation as a self-styled “industry consolidator,” there’s no question the company has been smart about its approach on certain steps of the journey toward Fusion Applications. Where many CIOs and IT managers might have worried about what would happen to their investments in JD Edwards and the like (and I know a few in Canada still running them), Oracle promised lifetime support. Even this week, during the conference there has been as much talk of coexistence with legacy environments as there has been of upgrades. Oracle is also showing willingness to offer its applications in the whatever way customers want it: on-premise, hosted or through a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model.

To demonstrate it is staying current with the trends, Oracle execs have added social media-like aspects to Fusion Applications, and even made them available on the iPad. Business intelligence capabilities have been emphasized as part of the value. Still, most Oracle customers will probably walk away from Openworld feeling more reassured than excited, but that’s surely better than disappointment.

In some ways, you could say the availability of Fusion Applications this week is simply the final step in Oracle’s biggest integration project, but there’s still room for innovation. Being able to work with ERP and HR systems on a tablet is great, but that’s still a fairly large interface. What if Oracle, given that it possesses such a powerful application suite now, were to become the first to create a workable design that it could be optimized for mobile phones – something that could be offered on the iPhone 5 once it finally comes out? Such capabilities might not generate international headlines, but they would have a profound impact on what people could do with technology. Much like Apple, Oracle needs to decide which of those things is more important.