by June 29, 2011 0 comments

Based on interaction with Edward Zou, VP Product Mgmt of Oracle’s Fusion Middleware Business

The basic purpose of middleware has always been to integrate applications and business processes from applications that are sitting on different platforms. But now, things are changing. There’s a lot more to middleware than that, according to Edward Zou, the VP, Product Mgmt for Oracle’s Fusion Middleware Business. We interacted with him to understand his perspective on the way ahead with this technology.

Limitations of an app-centric

According to Zou, Middleware goes much beyond integration. It has actually become the infrastructure to build a complete enterprise platform. That’s because, there’s a bit of change in the marketplace on how to build IT infrastructure or core platforms. To understand this, one has to understand the traditional way of building an IT infrastructure, in which applications formed the core. So, if customers deployed ERP, it became one core. Then, they implemented CRM, which became another core, and so on. The design of previous generation ERP packages was very functional with specific modules like cost accounting, production, inventory, etc for different groups. Even though this automated the workflow, it wasn’t flexible enough. Then, they implemented middleware to bridge these applications together.

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The problem with this approach is that applications tend to be built with a specific set of business processes or specific set of best practices. At the outset, they provide businesses with the required best practices, but these processes don’t exactly replicate what these companies are doing. There’s always some mismatch, and one of the reasons for this is that apps are running in their own silos. This is where today’s middleware comes in.

Building a platform-centric infrastructure

So instead of having the traditional, multiple application centers approach, customers are now looking at having a platform-centric approach. In this, applications just become an attachment to the platform. If you look at a platform as the center, the whole set of processes across the enterprise – whether you talk about content, business processes, or end-to-end visibility (that’s where BI comes in very strongly)- the requirement is to be able to see the whole process. Managements like to have a dashboard to see how business processes work, the human resources assigned, the orders and how are things working with customers.

Benefits of a platform-centric approach

With this new way of doing things (while we are not saying you should get rid of ERP), ERP is delivered as a service, wherein applications are decomposed and made available as services on the broader platform. The broader platform can help you build processes you need. In the previous generation, customers could customize their CRM or ERP applications, but after that, it was very costly to upgrade their applications. Having the platform on top minimizes application customization, which in turn helps reduce costs and gives more flexibility.

From a user’s perspective, Enterprise 2.0 is the layer which is bringing all these pieces together. The way people are doing business is changing. No longer is order management functionally siloed, but as a process and a bank of information, it is being used by a much bigger part of the organization. That’s what we see as the fundamental difference between how business is carried out today versus about 10-20 years ago where ERP or CRM were the centers. Today with collaboration, information is no longer siloed — it is available across the enterprise. Irrespective of an employee being the creator or the manager of this information, he or she will use it. This is true for the entire enterprise.

Content at the center

Typically, the content in an organization is spread across multiple sites, e.g. Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes have their own content, ERP has its own content, etc. Sooner or later, we have to merge this content with the applications on top of it. What Oracle is advocating is to start up with a common content repository and have ERP and everything else feed off it. So up front there’s a platform that is offering content as a service, and there’s a content repository feeding all applications. Instead of focusing on how to manage content, customers can focus on the functional part of it, with the content coming as a service. This will happen for BI, entity management, or even security. The idea is to move more and more common things to the platform and offer them as a service and let the functional applications feed off it. We will build the middleware and the platform and applications will feed off it.

What we have seen in India and other parts of Asia, i.e. India and China, is that packaged applications don’t suit customer requirements. Eg: In Orissa, they built a complete HR system using Oracle Fusion Middleware. They have built an HR system based on it. Infrastructure, portal, entity management was taken from this platform.

Earlier approach to middleware

It’s the applications that were purchased in the past. So in PeopleSoft for instance, there are some modules that will be based on C and others based on Java. In that case, the whole development process is much more complicated. For instance, if you’re using SOA BPM or SOA governance, how are those things going to help you build applications easier, more error free and more useful? The traditional SOA principles using traditional tools makes software much harder to change, much harder to upgrade. So according to Zou, Oracle definitely sees customers moving towards a service oriented approach. It’s a more componentized and modularized approach that’s sort of next generation and is in line with what Oracle is building.

Migrating to the new approach

There are several angles – one is where we talk about integrating traditional applications. We have a lot of adapters (150) which you can see as a packaged way to open up those applications and services. Second, is when you start integrating these applications/processes. Here, the key challenge is canonical data or business objects. A set of tools – AIA – allows them to predefine those canonical components and allows you to do integration much easier. On top of that many of these components, for instance BPM tools, BI tools can function as a layer on top of that. Again, the development framework can work with your PeopleSoft tool to do customization without changing the core in the middle. Given these different approaches, many of Oracle’s customers have been doing some road shows on how they can take advantage of Oracle’s Fusion Middleware and Fusion Applications. But don’t foresee customers giving up PeopleSoft today and adopting an application tomorrow. It’s going to be a gradual transition.

To sum up, from Oracle’s perspective, middleware is a set of tools to help companies build their next generation infrastructure. According to some analysts, for the APAC region, there’s roughly 16-18 percent growth year on year. In India, Oracle owns about 30% of market share here, and similarly, analysts feel that growth in this area is about 16-18 percent.

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