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During Sunday's keynote, launching this week’s Oracle Open World conference in San Francisco, CEO Larry Ellison announced a major new release of their Fusion platform. Five years in the making, it is set to eventually replace all Oracle, PeopleSoft, JDEdwards and Siebel middleware as well as all as all the applications that run on them.

A Services Architecture to Rule Them All

“We have taken the best of Siebel, Oracle, PeopleSoft and JDEdwards and re-implemented them on top of a modern middleware platform,” said Ellison. “We will begin delivering Fusion to customers at the end of the year and the new Fusion applications will be generally available in the first quarter of 2011.”

All of the mentioned Oracle-owned ERP suites have their own proprietary middleware. This complexity is being eradicated via a unified Fusion platform that utilized a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). That, said Ellison, makes it easy for Fusion apps to interoperate with other tools such as SAP.

To facilitate east of use, the user interface is simple and is built like a modern web-based application.
“Fusion doesn’t look a whole lot like the Oracle E-Business Suite,” said Ellison. “It has a modern familiar interface with collaboration and social networking built in.”

The company began by reworking the entirety of its middleware structure. Ellison explained, for example, that the middleware shipped to customers was not the same as that which was used inside the Oracle E-Business Suite. Thus two large and completely separate middleware teams had to be maintained. This duplication of effort has now been eliminated. To achieve this, Oracle developers were asked what they didn’t like about the middleware the running at customer site. Those issues were fully addressed in the new version of Fusion.

“We discovered what internal developers found wrong with the middleware we were giving to customers,” said Ellison.

Fusion v1 -- The Largest Oracle Release Ever

A vast array of applications exists above this middleware foundation. This encompasses every facet of financial management, human capital management, sales and marketing, supply chain management, project portfolio management, procurement management, customer relationship management (CRM), business intelligence (BI) and Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC).

The huge scope of Fusion Version 1 amounts to 5,610 database tables, over 10,000 automated business processes and over 100 product modules to be made available simultaneously. Ellison termed this the largest software release ever from Oracle.

This new platform can be delivered on-premise, in a public cloud, private cloud or in a hybrid arrangement.

Driven by Business Intelligence

A key design principal is for the new version of Fusion to be business intelligence (BI) driven as opposed to just having BI functionality built in. What Ellison intends with this is to create a new generation of ERP suite that goes beyond the current generation’s focus on process automation.

Older ERP tools, for instance, merely automated a process such as purchasing, hiring or vendor interaction. Oracle’s concept is to have Fusion be able to say which vendors are best, which are consistently on time and which are lowest cost.

“Information age ERP, CRM and HRMS provides insight as to who you should buy from,” said Ellison. “This is the first time an ERP system has been built on top of industry standard middleware. If you know Java, you know Fusion.”

A Configurable, Agile Mammoth?

According to the Oracle CEO, Fusion offers an unprecedented level of configurability and simple integration with third party systems.

For example, instead of having to ask developers to make changes, Fusion applications will be accessible by business managers who can adjust them to suit their needs (also a key mantra for Microsoft's SharePoint 2010).

Ellison gave a salesforce.com example as well as a dig at this competitor staffed with many an ex-Oracle employee. He claims Fusion’s sales force automation capabilities are better than those found in salesforce.com. Saying that while you can’t adjust territories in salesforce.com, it can be done rapidly by a business user in Fusion.

The home page for a sales director, for instance, shows basic sales and CRM data, relevant HR material and has business oriented events and alerts posted like a social media page on one side of the screen. Everything contained on that screen would be tailored to the sales directors needs.

As these applications are BI centric, they also tell you what you need to know, what you need to do, how to do it and who to contact.

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Oracle Fusion Apps - CRM for Sales Manager

Fusion v1.0 for Enterprise v2.0

“Collaboration is fully integrated into Fusion, and process automation is built in although it goes well beyond traditional process automation,” said Ellison. “The BI capabilities of the system tell you what processes to focus on to address a particular situation.”

So should everyone move to Fusion on January 1, 2011? Surprisingly, Ellison said no. He is conducting a very controlled roll-out with about 50 to 100 customers using it during the first half of next year. His advice to customers is to continue on their current path, watch how the early deployments go, take a cautious approach and deploy Fusion when it makes good business sense.

“We will continue to invest in the Oracle E-Business Suite, Siebel, PeopeSoft and JDEdwards for some time to come, “he said. “Move to Fusion at a time of your choosing.”

He estimates that this will be over the next five years for the current customer base. Some may dip their toes into the water with brand new modules like Talent Management, which have no counterpart in the Oracle E-Business Suite.

In the meantime, Oracle continues to refine its magnum opus. Ellison said more testing had gone into it than any other product in company history.