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Oracle changes tune on integration

The software maker launches an effort to make its business management applications compatible with other systems, finally getting into line with rivals on the need for interoperability.

SAN DIEGO--Following in the footsteps of rivals, Oracle is launching a Web services-based effort to make its business management applications more compatible with other business systems.

Oracle Co-President Charles Phillips discussed the initiative during a keynote speech here on Tuesday, where thousands of the software maker's customers and partners have gathered for this week's annual Oracle AppsWorld conference.

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The Redwood City, Calif.-based company has released a new product called the Customer Data Hub, which is designed to help companies instantaneously gather information from Oracle systems and other business systems in one centralized place, Phillips said. The hub uses communication standards known as Web services to talk to incompatible applications and create a "system of record" for customer data, such as orders, contracts and service history, he added.

The emphasis on interoperability is new for Oracle, which has long said that mixing and matching incompatible technologies is generally a bad idea. But Phillips, speaking after the keynote speech to analysts and the media, acknowledged that hodgepodge technology is often unavoidable and that people have criticized Oracle for its earlier stance.

With the introduction of the new product, Phillips said, Oracle effectively recognizes one of the biggest problems plaguing the information technology industry--software programs that don't work together. "The whole 'i' word--integration--is off the table," as an issue that might deter a company from buying Oracle's software, he said.

The new product may also help Oracle sell applications to companies using its rivals' products by making it easier to tie everything together, Phillips noted.

One Oracle customer expressed enthusiasm for the company's move toward interoperability. "It's a huge benefit," said Basheer Khan, senior director of IT at Vertex Systems, a Los Angeles firm specializing in Oracle consulting services. "Before, people would buy the (Oracle) suite and build their own bridges. Now Oracle is providing the bridges for them."

Yet many of Oracle's rivals in the business applications software business, including SAP and Siebel Systems, acknowledged the problem long ago and seem to have a head start on Oracle in this area. In Oracle's other main business area, database software, both IBM and Microsoft have already adopted Web services as a way to link incompatible systems.

Siebel's approach, called the "Universal Application Network," involves working with a group of partners that specialize in application integration technology, including Microsoft, IBM and Tibco Software. SAP is also collaborating with IBM and Microsoft on incorporating their respective Web services software into its products.

Oracle's approach is different from that of its business software competitors because it uses its database and technology infrastructure as a foundation for the centralization tool, Phillips said. However, the release of the hub doesn't mean that Oracle is moving away from its traditional approach.

"We still think an integrated suite is the best option," Phillips said, plugging Oracle's set of programs. "This is an acknowledgement that some customers can't get there as quickly." The price of the customer hub, which requires an Oracle database and application server, is still being determined, but will likely be based on the number of employees in a customer's company, Phillips said.