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Oracle to cast Web in lead role at show

At Oracle Apps World next week, the fanfare will be for the company's latest, Web-based software suite, and for progress on other lucrative software fronts.

    As Mardi Gras revelers carry on in New Orleans next week, Oracle will be right there with them, beating the drum for its Web-based software.

    At Oracle Apps World, which kicks off Monday, the fanfare will herald new customers for Oracle 11i, the company's latest, Web-based software suite, and progress on other lucrative software fronts including CRM (customer relationship management) and supply-chain collaboration.

    Analysts say the company will need to deliver a who's who, and not just hoopla.

    "We hope they announce a few more clients who are actually using (11i)," said Beth Barling, an analyst with AMR Research. "Instead of pushing the marketing hype of it all, they need to show that vendors are actually using it."

    Like rivals SAP, PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards, database heavyweight Oracle has been focused on promoting newer Web-based software that manages a wide range of business activities including sales, customer service, marketing, financials, manufacturing and human resources.

    The company has also made a lot of noise in its competition with software makers such as i2 Technologies, Ariba and Commerce One in the booming business-to-business sector. i2's core supply-chain software automates and manages a company's inventory and product-demand cycle, while Ariba and Commerce One develop software that helps link companies with their suppliers, customers and partners through online marketplaces and trading exchanges.

    Overall, analysts see a bright future for both the business-to-business field and the market for CRM software.

    Last month, Oracle introduced three new add-ons to Oracle Exchange, its online marketplace software. The company said the new software will help businesses save money by linking sales, marketing, manufacturing and shipping functions.

    An Oracle representative declined to disclose details about the announcements slated for next week, but said attention would be centered on supply-chain software, CRM efforts and the adoption of Oracle 11i.

    At the European version of its show this week in Paris, Oracle unveiled new developments on the mobile wireless, business-to-business and CRM fronts. Among other things, it introduced Support.Oracle.com, which provides the customer service application of the 11i suite as an online service.

    With the new service, companies can access customer service and support data over the Internet, initially at no cost. Oracle said the service is designed to be an alternative for companies that want to avoid the hefty cost, maintenance and implementation barriers to enterprise-level software.

    Chief Executive Larry Ellison devoted a good part of his keynote speech to touting what little systems integration work is needed to install Oracle 11i. He also reiterated the company's goal of saving $1 billion this year by using its own business software and said that Oracle 11i customers would reap similar benefits in cost savings and business efficiency.

    AMR's Barling, who attended the Paris show, said she's hoping for a "stronger message" from Oracle in New Orleans, with more proof that 11i has gained a solid following. The suite has its virtues, she said--"in terms of footprint, they have a really good story"--but Oracle can't simply claim that it has "everything" and that all customers need to do is plug it in.

    "Users are saying (11i) is complex and does need a lot of configuration no matter what (Oracle) says," said Barling.

    Epoch Partners analyst Mark Verbeck says that the adoption of 11i is going well and that where Oracle needs help is in generating more sales in other areas. "Oracle will want to get across some of the advancements they're making in CRM, supply-chain and e-procurement--(areas) where they are not as mature in the products as other (companies) are," he said.

    Some of the buzz ahead of next week's event has stemmed from the scheduling of an opening keynote speech to be delivered by Bill Clinton. The cameo by the former commander-in-chief sparked questions about the possibility of Clinton joining Oracle's board. But Oracle on Thursday told Reuters that it has not held discussions with Clinton about joining its board.

    Oracle expects to host more than 10,000 attendees at next week's show. Other speakers expected there include Oracle's chief financial officer, Jeff Henley; Cisco Systems' chief executive, John Chambers; and LoudCloud's chairman and co-founder, Marc Andreessen.