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Fusion Applications: Project Portfolio Management

Last week I was privileged to attend Oracle’s first Fusion Applications Pre-GA Validation Workshop in the UK. This is the fifth such exercise that Oracle has undertaken, the first four being held at Redwood Shores. The event was split into six streams, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Supply Chain Management (SCM), Financials, Human Capital Management (HCM), Project Portfolio Management (PPM) and Procurement. Given Prōject’s focus on Oracle Projects, I was attending the PPM stream.

On the first day we had a very enthusiastic presentation from Chris Leone, Group VP of Fusion and GRC Applications Development. He gave us a very detailed background about where Oracle currently are with their development of Fusions Applications and why they are doing these Validation Workshops. The key piece of information from Chris’ presentation was that Oracle are committing to deliver Fusion Apps at some point in 2010. Obviously, all the presentations were prefaced with Oracle’s “Safe Harbour” get-out clause, but everyone I spoke to is confident that they are going to hit that date.

The second presentation was delivered by several people from the “User Experience” team. The User Experience (or “UX”) is now very much part of the application design process for Fusion Apps. In fact, wireframe versions of the user interface are trialled in the various usability labs, well before any code is started. The main target for the UX team was to improve user productivity in a number of ways, but the main one is in reducing page navigation and the “click count” required to perform a given task. As Oracle Projects users will know, you have to navigate down through a large number of screens to gather all the information that you need to perform a given task. Comparing the productivity in like-for-like processes being performed in the legacy apps and Fusion Apps there was a significant improvement across the board. However, the biggest improvement was for Projects, with a 60-70% improvement! I was already getting excited and I hadn’t even seen the product. I’ll talk about the details of the new User Interface in a future blog.

The next day we started using Fusion Applications Project Portfolio Management for real. I should state up-front that the code that we were using was actually frozen back in August for the first Validation Workshop. Since then lots of bugs have been fixed and a lot of tuning has been performed. Needless to say the software that we were using was quite slow and did bomb out on a regular basis. But, the point of the exercise was still valid: for customers and partners to get an early look at something that has been talked about for nigh on two years.

The first version of Fusion Applications Project Portfolio Management is split up into the following sub-modules:

  • Project Costing
  • Project Contract Billing
  • Project Control
  • Project Performance Reporting
  • Project Integration Gateway

One immediately obvious change to the OP modules is that Billing has become Contract Billing. Fusion Applications now provides an Enterprise Contracts Model which various modules such as Purchasing and Projects use to provide Contracts support. The main upshot from this change of focus is that Customers are now associated with a Contract, rather than directly with the Project. A Contract Line can be associated with one or more Projects and Tasks, and vice versa. This has an impact on the billing process which is greatly improved, with screens that are much easier to use.

All of the Projects modules leverage the Fusion Middleware to provide embedded analytics (Essbase) and Web 2.0-type collaboration features, such as workspaces, wikis, forums, instant messaging and presence (WebCenter). The embedded BI is incredibly useful in helping the user make better informed decisions within the transaction system, rather than having to swap over to a full data warehouse. Having said that, it’s not a replacement for a data warehouse, it’s another tool for improving productivity.

Now for a bit of bad news (which should be taken with a smallish pinch of salt, safe harbour statement and so on). There are some features which are not going to be in Version 1 of Fusion Apps PPM. Once of the key missing features is the lack of Programme Management, ie: you cannot group Projects together into a hierarchy of parent and child projects. This came up again and again in the labs and is something that Oracle will be addressing as a priority in the next version. The reasoning is that they have concentrated on the financial aspects of Project Management for Version 1; in Version 2 they will be concentrating of Project Execution, Project Collaboration and Resource Management.

Another missing feature is that, for now, there is no equivalent of Oracle Time & Labour, so labour costs will have to be entered through the screens or uploaded using the new version of WebADI called “ADFDI”. This new desktop integration tool provides similar functionality to WebADI, but has been re-written to take advantage of the new SOA-based architecture by calling the relevant Web Services to download and upload data.

However, there is some good news. Oracle will provide a “migration” path to Fusion Applications from the Applications Unlimited products. We weren’t given any details about how this would be achieved, but I assume that they will be using the same method as they are using for integration, the Application Integration Architecture. Using AIA will also allow you to implement just part of Fusion Apps, while remaining on E-Business Suite for everything else. This could be a relatively low risk way of moving over to Fusion Apps over a period of time.

Finally, on the subject of implementation, we were shown a new product that will become essential for SIs and ISVs: Functional Setup Manager (FSM). I will talk about FSM in detail in a future blog, but essentially it’s a tool to help you completely manage the configuration of your application and the creation and entry of reference data. It’s sort of like a CASE tool for Fusion Applications. You can pick the modules and options that you want to implement and then allocate configuration and data entry tasks to your team using the collaboration features. A Functional Lead will have an excellent overview of the configuration activities using the FSM. Once a configuration is complete, all the config data can be exported as a compressed XML file and applied to another environment. The nice thing for SIs and ISVs is that the FSM is completely customisable and extensible.

In summary, it’s still early days for Fusion Applications. I have to say that I was extremely impressed with what Oracle has done so far, and I am looking forward to maintaining my part of the ongoing Validation Workshops next year. Fusion won’t be for everyone and Oracle have promised that they will never force you into migrating. However, I think that all organisations should give Fusion Applications some serious consideration in the near future.

Finally, I would like to thank Colleen, Brian, Simon and Kouros from Oracle who made last week an excellent experience; it was very informative and (at times) very entertaining.

23 Nov, 2009 by

Fusion Applications

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