Oracle improves app stability, support

Oracle Corp. is expanding the management functionality offered to users of its business applications and is working with members of the independent Oracle Applications Users Group to improve its technical support and software development processes.

The software vendor has made strides in stabilizing its E-Business Suite applications and making them easier to install and maintain, according to OAUG members who attended the user group’s Connection Point 2004 conference in Orlando this week. But several attendees said they still find the installation of service pack updates containing bug fixes and other modifications to be time-consuming and trying. OAUG board member Arthur Hunt said Oracle prefers to release large sets of software patches and updates instead of incremental fixes. Hunt, who is a manager of IT systems at Yale University, noted that Oracle’s approach requires a lot of regression testing to ensure that applications will continue to function after patches are deployed.

“We have found it hard, but we deal with it,” said Hunt, whose IT shop runs Oracle’s E-Business Suite 11.5.8 public-sector applications.

Nevertheless, Hunt added that rollouts of Oracle’s applications are getting easier and that the company’s technical support generally is good — as long as its internal troubleshooters have the necessary documentation. He also noted that Oracle’s support staff now can access Yale’s applications and do direct diagnostics instead of waiting for IT workers to send in event logs.

Installing updates could be easier if the various pieces, such as bug fixes or new functionality, were broken down and issued separately, said Brent Moody, an analyst for financial and administrative systems at Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Health Care Inc. The nonprofit health care provider uses Oracle’s human resources software.

To make the software maintenance and update process easier, IT staffers at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York use Oracle Applications Manager, a tool that runs scripts and is designed to help users identify problems.

Kimberly Sowers, an IT services manager at RIT, noted that Oracle’s human resources and payroll applications often require large patches for legal compliance reasons. As a result, the school’s IT managers must plan ahead so they have enough manpower for upgrades. But, she added, “at least it’s predictable.”

Oracle officials didn’t respond to requests for comment. One week ago, the company said it’s increasing the integration between Applications Manager and a separate Grid Control tool for managing systems with a mix of its software and products from other vendors.

In addition, Oracle’s internal customer advisory boards are working with the OAUG to get feedback on ways to improve its applications, said OAUG president Pat Dues, a project officer for the Las Vegas city manager’s office.

And for three months, several OAUG special-interest groups have been piloting a process that would enable users to click on a link on Oracle’s MetaLink support Web site to request software enhancements. Requests would be reviewed by OAUG volunteers for potential submission to Oracle’s development staff, Hunt said.

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