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Oracle suite aims for simple self service

Oracle announce a new suite of Web-enabled applications that the company says will provide simpler self service, a friendlier user interface, and cheaper administration costs.

Oracle today announced a new suite of Web-enabled applications that the company says will provide simpler self service, a friendlier user interface, and cheaper administration costs.

Release 11i (with the "i" standing for Internet) combines two previous releases--11.5 and 12.0. Announced at the Oracle Applications User Group Conference in San Diego, 11i will ship this fall, the company said. Upgrading requires the company's Oracle 8i database.

11i includes a facelift with a new user interface designed to look like an Internet portal--similar to what Oracle's rivals SAP and PeopleSoft are moving toward with new, easier-to-use GUIs that are intended to appeal to a broader base of corporate users.

The release will give Oracle customers access to a host of new self-service applications, the company said. For example, a new Internet accounts receivable module will let users perform their own collections inquiries, cash applications, and bill disputes online.

The Redwood Shores, California-based company said the new applications will also help link customers to their suppliers, allowing employees to order business supplies and other products online using software for searching a supplier's catalog, for example. Companies can also use external links to negotiate best rates with preferred suppliers.

Included with 11i is also a configurator that enables customers to order products from a Web-based store.

Release 11i is the company's fourth generation of self-service applications, which first shipped in 1996.

The company said 11i, which integrates a customer's financials, human resources, and supply chain applications, will be tightly linked to the company's new customer relationship management software, CRM Version 3i.

CRM 3i is a suite of 35 integrated applications that let companies automate marketing, sales, service, call center, and electronic commerce applications. CRM 3i includes telesales applications, wireless field service capabilities, a customer care contact center, and a special call center application for banks. The release also includes software that lets companies bill customers online, as well as accept, route, and process payments.

Oracle executives have said the company intends to be second only to front-office market leader Siebel Systems by the end of this year, a lofty goal, analysts say. Siebel sold $390 million in front-office packaged software and services in 1998, compared to its closest rivals Clarify and Vantive, which sold between $130 and $160 million last year, according to Framingham, Massachusetts-based market research firm IDC.

But Oracle isn't the only enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendor planning to get into the front office fray. German software giant SAP plans general availability of part of its new field sales and services applications this summer, with a standalone front-office suite shipping by next year. SAP also intends to announce its e-commerce strategy at its Sapphire show next month in Nice.