After nearly five years of official silence, Oracle finally showed little bits of its next-generation Fusion applications, including some HCM. With speculation rampant for so long, it's impossible to avoid making judgments about the elephant after getting a glimpse of just its tail. To me, Fusion HCM performs like our current generation of software, not the next.
In my 20 years, I've never seen an application development process kept as secret as Oracle's next-generation Fusion applications.
A few details previously leaked out. I reported in 2006 about the programming language, tool set and software for workflow integrations Fusion would -- and in fact does -- use. But that's nothing an HR person would care about.
Then, beginning two years ago, Oracle starting showing pieces of Fusion applications to select industry analysts -- under nondisclosure agreements so strict that others joked about the custody of their first borns.
One was Jim Holincheck of Gartner, who, now freed from his agreement, has written extensively about customer questions and details about Fusion HCM, which he probably knows more about than anyone not working for Oracle. Though that's still not a lot, as he is quick to admit.
Jason Corsello of Knowledge Infusion also has some informed speculation about what it all means for current Oracle EBS and PeopleSoft Enterprise customers, as well as the vendors competing with those products.
But he was never inside; nor was I. So these reactions are from peaking through the fence.
The whole point of creating a "next-generation" of enterprise applications is to leap over what the current generation of applications offers, fulfill old promises and set a new standard for innovation, functionality, new features, ease-of-use, etc.
From the short demos CEO Larry Ellison showed on stage at Oracle Open World -- and even after examining enlarged screen shots from them -- Oracle Fusion HCM seems to be only on par with our best current software.
All the functionality he showed I've seen before in demos from Taleo, Workday, SuccessFactors and other vendors. While we know there is so much more to be shown, what was displayed would make the new Oracle product simply competitive with what's already out there, not a leap over anything.
I truly hope we see that leap later when the full HCM is revealed, and all those vendors and others unnamed will have to scramble to catch up. But not yet.
Remember all the fuss vendors made in 2006 about how the new technologies of SOA (service-oriented architecture) and Web services would mean the dawning of a new era of easy application integration? And how long it took to explain and understand those terms?
Future integrations, we were told, would be done by our own business analysts (instead of an expensive system integrator), snapping modules together like Legos. Remember that promise from three years ago?
Never really happened, did it? Even Workday, using all that latest technology, had to acquire a systems integration company, Cape Clear, to integrate its HCM with legacy systems and even with other applications using all the same latest stuff, like Salesforce.com.
Yet there was Larry on stage, as though stepping out of a Way-Back Machine (Baby Boomers, never forget Rocky & Bullwinkle!), parroting that same old line: "With SOA, the advantage is Fusion can easily connect to existing apps, even SAP."
And then he repeated the second part of the three-year-old bromide: "Fusion is a modular set of reusable components that business people can use to adapt existing applications."
If Fusion makes all that finally come true, huzzah! Otherwise, what exactly is next-generation here -- except that Oracle is doing it?
Dozens of questions remain. And continuing the policy of limited communication on Fusion, Oracle made no executives available after Larry's speech to answer any of them.
Fusion was called "SaaS-ready." Is that like a television set that can't yet receive HD programs but is "HD-ready" and could with an additional purchase? More likely, it means that Oracle will make Fusion available both on-premises and SaaS-delivered, but who knows?
Larry said the application code was done. Holincheck says it's difficult to know how much is actually built, and no beta customers have implemented any of it. He writes that the planned breadth is a "relatively comprehensive HCM solution," yet he was only shown pieces of it.
Fusion was announced as being GA (generally available) "next year." In the software business that usually means Dec. 31, just before the champagne corks pop, but we'll have to wait to see. The original target date was 2008.
What will be the upgrade path for existing customers of Oracle EBS and PeopleSoft Enterprise? What will their pricing be for new or replacement modules? Nothing was said.
OK, some good news.
Larry talked about a "brand new" Talent Management application in Fusion ("a small app but interesting and very important"), and one demo showed a manager finding the right employee for a new project using actionable org charts, talent profiles and an easily filtered nine-box.
Clearly, Oracle's HCM team has gotten its message to the top, getting its application into the CEO's keynote address, no small achievement at a company that size.
He committed Oracle to a decade "and beyond" of Apps Unlimited, the program that since the takeover of PeopleSoft has continued to deliver new releases for its customers and Oracle's original ones. No one will be forced to migrate.
"You have a choice," he said, "stay or move to the next generation."
I was particularly taken by the concept of the Fusion applications allowing "management by exception," as well as the promise of them telling me whom to contact for what I need to know and how to do something. It's time for the big vendors to start fulfilling the promise of social networks in the enterprise.
Also good to see IM (instant messaging) integrated into a major application, something long overdue. Though I refuse to use it (already interrupted enough by the phone and e-mail), IM has proven to be an enormous productivity tool in many organizations. Especially since Gen Yers reportedly refuse to use e-mail because it's too slow.
Maybe that's the next generation in question.
HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chairman of the 13th Annual HR Technology® Conference & Exposition in Chicago, Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, 2010. Read a dozen bloggers' reports and HREOnlineTM articles about this year's event here. Speaking proposals for next year can be submitted online until Dec. 31. He is also host of The Bill Kutik Radio Show ®. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .