Ellison Raises Curtain - A Bit - On SFA Fusion Apps

Seeking to quiet the skeptics about the status of its next-generation Fusion applications, CEO Larry Ellison Wednesday used his closing keynote at the Oracle OpenWorld conference to lift the curtain a bit on the first three sales force automation Fusion applications the company plans to deliver in the first half of 2008.

Ellison also pitched Oracle's new Oracle VM virtualization software as a key element of the company's Linux strategy, and spent 30 minutes answering questions from show attendees on everything from Fusion, to Oracle's software licensing policies, to the company's next acquisition target.

While other Oracle executives at the conference have not gone beyond saying the first Fusion applications would debut sometime in 2008, Ellison went so far as to promise some Fusion application products in the first half of the year. "And that doesn't mean June," he said, hinting that the first will appear early in 2008. But he was careful to add that Fusion applications will become available a few at a time, not all at once.

Ellison also promised that Fusion will be able to work with current-generation Oracle E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, Siebel and JD Edwards applications through pre-built "integration packs" Oracle is developing. Fusion CRM applications, for example, will be able to work with E-Business Suite ERP applications using the packs. Ellison said Oracle surveys show that customers' top request for Fusion is that it be able to work with existing applications.

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Oracle provided a demonstration of three SFA Fusion applications: Sales Prospector that will help sales representatives mine customer and sales databases to learn what products are selling to whom; Sales References that will work with ERP applications to identify up-sell and cross-sell opportunities; and Sales Tools, social-networking software and templates that sales reps will use to share information, such as sales campaign strategies.

Ellison emphasized that embedded business intelligence will be one of the key features in Fusion. "These are more than process automation applications," he said. "It's going to help you make better decisions." The CEO said Oracle surveys also show that customers want Fusion to be available in both on-premise and software-as-a-service versions " which Ellison said they will " and deliver measurable business benefits.

But confusion about Fusion isn't disappearing. During the Q&A session one show attendee asked whether a Fusion version of PeopleSoft would be available. (There won't be one, although future releases of existing Oracle apps will become more Fusion-like as they tap into Oracle's Fusion Middleware capabilities such as business intelligence.)

On Oracle VM, announced Monday, Ellison touted Oracle's ability to offer virtualization running under Linux with a single management console as a competitive advantage against Linux rival Red Hat. (Oracle VM also supports Windows.) "This is a high-quality, highly optimized VM. It's also faster than any other VM around," Ellison bragged, promising to offer performance benchmarks on Oracle's Website. "We think VM is a dynamic enabler of grid computing."

During the Q&A session, during which Ellison took live questions from the audience, one attendee asked which company Ellison plans to buy next -" a reference to the more than 40 companies Oracle has acquired in nearly four years. Ellison asked the attendee to send him an e-mail and he'd tell him -" but only if he split any gains from stock sales. "That was a joke," he quickly added.

Asked who he saw as Oracle's primary competition in applications, Ellison cited SAP, several "clever startups in software-as-a-service" and many small but growing companies. And he said Oracle would always have competition no matter how aggressive its acquisition efforts.

And given the stories Ellison told about Oracle's early days during his Sunday keynote, one attendee asked whether Ellison had more fun then or is having more today. Ellison said the early days were fun, but stressful given the company's then-precarious financial situation. He said he finds leading Oracle today to be challenging as well as fun.

Singer Billy Joel, the headliner act at the Oracle OpenWorld party at the Cow Palace in San Francisco Wednesday night, introduced Ellison. Making light of the teleprompter-provided script that he was "happy" to be at Oracle OpenWorld, Joel said: "Considering the number of car accidents I've had in the last few years I'm happy to be anywhere."