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Oracle targets smaller businesses

The database software giant will later this week unveil human resources and financials applications designed to appeal to small and midsized companies.

Oracle is continuing its push to find new customers among small and midsized companies.

The database software giant will later this week unveil its FastForward Financials and FastForward Human Resources/Payroll, which are both Internet-based applications designed to automate a company's financial, accounting and human resources needs.

With its FastForward line, Oracle said it is targeting companies with revenues of $500 million or less and promises to get the financials and human resources applications installed within five days and 65 days, respectively.

Like other FastForward applications, which were first unveiled in August of 1998, the financials and human resources applications include software, implementation services, and education and support for the new system from Oracle or a service provider partner.

If Oracle can indeed get companies up and running using its financials application in the record five-day time frame, it will be a landmark accomplishment, say analysts. "Five days is a pretty quantitative leap, but how fast is too fast?" noted Rod Johnson, an industry analyst at AMR Research.

"It's very unrealistic that most companies are going to be able to get the training and the support (to install a new application) in such a short time frame," said Johnson. "Most companies can't even install software on a computer let alone train users and implement the software in five days."

Another analyst questioned the usefulness of the new applications. "Our jaws dropped when we heard that (Oracle could install the applications in five days)," said John Hagerty, an analyst also with AMR. "(The application) has to be so structured that the customer has no choice in regards to options or features they would like installed."

Despite the limited abilities of the new applications, Hagerty said there is definitely a great demand to install financial and human resource applications in short order, especially among dot-com start-ups.

Oracle, focusing on smaller companies as a new source of revenue, is entering an area already dominated by software firms such as J.D. Edwards, Lawson Software and Great Plains. Oracle rivals SAP and Peoplesoft have also been working to find ways to pare down their typically complex applications and make them easier to use and faster to install.

For example, PeopleSoft also currently offers its software through a program that targets small and midsized businesses; PeopleSoft applications are distributed with the hardware, software and services needed for quicker installation time.

Oracle said pricing for FastForward financials is $140,000 for 10 users. Pricing for FastForward human resources and payroll is $335,000 for 500 employees.

To date, Oracle has released about 13 FastForward applications, including e-commerce procurement software, sales compensation software and self-service purchasing.