Oracle boosts tech integration offering

In a move that could represent a change of strategy, Oracle Corp. has unveiled a set of products that will help customers link its E-Business Suite applications to third-party and homegrown software.

Traditionally, the company has pushed customers to install as Oracle-centric a set of applications as possible. But at its AppsWorld 2004 user conference in San Diego, the company Wednesday unveiled the Oracle Data Hub, which it bills as a way of reconciling different pieces of data and creating a single, accurate master customer image.

Users are free to install the software with or without having any E-Business Suite modules in place. In a keynote speech, Oracle executive vice-president Chuck Phillips broadly outlined Oracle’s integration strategy, saying the “goal here was a system of record that transcends any particular application.

“The goal is higher-quality information,” he said. Phillips also explained that Oracle already had integration technology, “but didn’t package it as much as we could have.”

Adding more specifics today, Oracle said that the hub would offer real-time access to customer data without having to be routed between a transaction application and a warehouse. The Oracle Data Model in the E-Business Suite will function as the backbone of the hub and will support third-party software.

Oracle is also including a Customers Online application that will function as the repository and manage the source system. And there will be a library component to clean and format the data for use.

U.S.-based restaurant franchiser IHOP Corp. is already planning to go live with the hub in March to boost efficiency in how it serves its customers, said Patrick Piccininno, vice-president of IT at IHOP. The company intends to tie together its systems, which include ERP software from Lawson Software, to get better information on customer spending habits and deliver that data via dashboards based on Oracle portal technology.

IHOP’s intention is to bring rich data into a consolidated view and create a “single source of truth,” said Piccininno. “In our business, we have four or five views of what the customer looks like. We’re trying to drive to a single source of truth with this.”

Oracle does indeed appear to be shifting strategy, at least in terms of its public message, said Henry Morris, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC. However, he noted that companies such as SAP AG, with its NetWeaver middleware platform, are already pushing integration technology.

Morris also said that Oracle will have to help companies do more than just collect this data, for example by showing them different ways to analyze and exploit the data effectively. “It’s not just an issue of bringing all the data together like in a data warehouse, but making a decision about it on an ongoing basis,” he said.

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