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Oracle expands e-business software

The company is set to release a new version of its business applications next month, adding features that move Oracle into a market it has yet to tap.

Oracle will release a new version of its set of business applications next month, repositioning some programs to take advantage of a trend and adding features that move the company into a market it's not yet tapped.

The forthcoming release, Oracle E-Business Suite 11i8, will include warehouse- and transportation-management applications, which represent Oracle's first move into those areas, company representatives said Wednesday.

The applications are additions to the supply chain management component of the E-Business Suite. Supply chain management software helps companies automate order processing, inventory tracking and the planning of factory schedules.

The new products put Oracle in competition with software makers such as Manhattan Associates, EXE Technologies, Catalyst International and Global Logistics Technologies, which focus exclusively on this niche of the supply chain management field.

The new E-Business Suite release also includes changes that look to tap into a trend in which companies are outsourcing less-critical processes.

Oracle will repackage online-negotiation and data-sharing tools it originally designed for electronic marketplaces, adding them to the supply chain management software. Demand for electronic marketplace software has dwindled as many such ventures have flopped, said Don Klaiss, senior vice president of Oracle application development.

But Oracle sees increasing interest in these so-called collaborative applications from companies seeking to fine-tune their own operations by electronically sharing forecasts and plans with partners. Using the tools, companies can set up Web portals where, for instance, suppliers check their customers' inventory levels and send more parts when levels are running low. Other companies are linking their systems using Extensible Markup Language (XML)-based software to share data.

The reason for the interest in such products is that manufacturers are become increasingly specialized, farming out more and more tasks to subcontractors and outsourcing partners, according to Klaiss. These companies are seeking information technology systems to help coordinate the growing number of relationships and complex interdependencies in the production process.

"It's no longer the case that everything you're doing takes place inside your own company," Klaiss said. "The need to extend internal business processes and link to business partners is becoming more important."

Other new products and features in Oracle's collection of supply chain tools are designed to automate the maintenance of buildings and equipment, the setting up of leasing agreements and the coordination of ongoing service of complex manufactured goods, such as cars, planes and industrial machinery. The license fees for the supply chain tools start at around $30,000, Oracle said. The Oracle E-Business Suite is designed in a modular fashion that lets businesses license just those components they need.

As part of the 11i8 release, Oracle will also ship new data-analysis and reporting applications that the company had announced earlier this year. That set of tools, called Oracle Daily Business Intelligence, provides data warehousing features for many components of the Oracle E-Business Suite but doesn't require a separate database of its own. The product is cheaper and faster to set up than traditional data warehouse systems and offers better performance, Klaiss said.

Database sales still account for the majority of Oracle's revenue. But executives there say the company's applications business is an important market for growth. Oracle business applications, which compete with products from SAP, PeopleSoft and Siebel Systems, are designed to automate a broad range of business functions, including human resources, bookkeeping, sales, customer service and manufacturing. The company introduced its 11i suite, which ties in many Internet features, in 2000.