It was less than a year ago that Larry Ellison informed Oracle users that the company’s 11i application suite would provide all the functionality they needed to run their businesses, without custom programming to add special features or tie in products from other software vendors.
Now, however, the brash CEO of the world’s second-largest software maker appears to be backing off that claim. Over the last few months, according to sources close to the company, Oracle has been quietly issuing a steadily growing number of APIs that allow users to connect Oracle’s 11i application suite to other companies’ products.
That’s welcome news to at least some Oracle customers. “Those APIs are critical for us,” says Mike Kaufman, Information Systems Director at Lenexa, Kan.-based clothing manufacturer Gear for Sports. “Without them, we’d be hosed.”
Ellison made his claims about 11i at Oracle’s Open Apps World conference in New Orleans last February, when he told Oracle users that when they glue together Oracle applications, legacy systems and third-party products, “there is opportunity for error.”
Few Oracle customers would argue with that. But while Ellison’s vision may be good “if you’re an all-Oracle shop or you’re starting from scratch, very few companies have that luxury, says industry analyst Joshua Greenbaum, of Enterprise Application Consulting in Daly City, Calif.
Gear for Sports, a privately owned company with 900 employees, has been using Oracle’s application suite since 1995. It has used Oracle’s existing Open Interfaces APIs to connect its Oracle 10.7 applications to third-party products that provided functionality not available from Oracle, such as a package from Rockport Inc., which tracks international shipments and tariffs. Gear for Sports has also custom-developed its own modules for specific functions not available from Oracle, including a system to handle the artwork that goes onto its jackets and caps, and a module to track the fees it pays to license the logos of sports teams and other companies.
Most users would happily use Oracle’s software straight out of the box if they could. Kaufman readily admits that upgrading Gear for Sports applications to Oracle version 11i will be a significant undertaking, because of the amount of customization the company has done.
Oracle’s new emphasis on interoperability could be a win for both Oracle and its customers. “Users demand interoperability,” says Greenbaum, “but they’d also like to minimize the number of vendors they use. If Oracle provides them with APIs to other products, it can cut out the EAI (enterprise application integration) companies, keep its customers happy, and possibly even pick up some consulting business to boot.”
Oracle’s competitors seem to have the same idea. SAP last month announced a new open-standards infrastructure that will make it easier for its customers to connect their SAP applications to products from other vendors.
Dan Orzech is a Philadelphia-based writer specializing in technology. E-mail him at email@example.com