Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Starting in the Middle

During the Cold War, US and Russian analysts spent millions of hours analyzing one another’s public pronouncements trying to understand what was really going on with the other side.

In the same manner today, we often find ourselves trying to understand what Oracle is trying to communicate (or not communicate) through their many announcements, white papers and presentations.

One area where this applies for me is the topic of Oracle Fusion Middleware (OFM). It's clear that there is some confusion around this moniker. So, I’ve been sorting through the loads of information on the web to come up with a coherent view of OFM that both explains it for me (duh) and at the same time allows me to communicate the proposed value of OFM more effectively with others. It all started with Fusion.

Several years ago Oracle introduced the word “Fusion” as a new term. Fusion, they said, would help companies reach “The sustainable competitive advantage achieved by continuous blending of business insight and process execution.” If that phrase leaves you wondering what was just said, welcome to my world...

At the highest level, Fusion is Oracle’s planned architecture (and strategy) for dynamically integrating disparate systems and functions in the organization to provide needed business value. It's key contribution is helping business applications adapt to the real world business processes in a more rapid manner.

Here's one simple example. Today you have a Procurement process that has several sub-processes like A->C->B->D. There's a problem though. You need to respond to market or regulatory changes quickly and that requires you to add additional steps and re-order these sub-processes. Today you call in the developers and plan a project. But what if you could do this with a minimum of software development using powerful tools and existing functionality already in the application? And even better, what if you could include both software and human workflow processes in the mix? If this sounds interesting, then let's move on. Otherwise, thanks for the read...

But there’s more than the term "Fusion"! And right now that “more” is Fusion Middleware. Unfortunately there is a linguistic issue that needs to be discussed.The controversy centers on the term, “Middleware”. It’s unfortunate but true that “Middleware” connotes different things to different persons. EBS, PeopleSoft, Seibel and other application users probably assume that Middleware isn’t of much interest to them because it sounds technical and of little business value. Database purists, on the other hand, see Middleware as one more application they have to interact with. At least some software developers are comfortable with the term, so all is not lost.

The reality is that Oracle Fusion Middleware is still trying to fit in. Like a new kid, OFM, has a funny name, looks uncoordinated and isn’t yet fully understood or accepted by the rest of the Oracle classmates.

A quick look shows that OFM consists of a large family of products that don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other. What they do have in common is that they can extend the business processes of the organization, leverage the strengths of the Oracle Database and generally rely on the Oracle Application Server for their livelihood.

And what really holds them together is that they are the building blocks for more powerful applications. Both the kind your business needs today and the ones that Oracle hopes to offer in the future. But this doesn't mean we should just sit and wait for some future Fusion applications release. Let's find out if there's any real business value available now in OFM.

Next week I'll take you on a look under the hood of Oracle Fusion Middleware. We'll look at what's there and where this new business value might be lurking.

Rob McMillen - Fusion Middleware Practice

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