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Oracle Shakeup Muddles Fusion Outlook

The head of Oracle's Fusion Applications project is no longer in charge, following a reorganization at the enterprise software giant that's prompting new questions about the future of its much-hyped business applications suite.

John Wookey, responsible for leading Fusion development, resigned late last week over what a source close to the company characterized as "divergent strategic visions" held by he and CEO Larry Ellison regarding Oracle's next-generation business applications suite.

Thomas Kurian, senior vice president for Oracle's Fusion Middleware group, will now assume responsibility for Fusion Applications development and report to Chuck Rozwat, Oracle's executive vice president. Ed Abbo, who previously reported to Wookey, will continue to lead Oracle's Applications Unlimited program, also reporting directly to Rozwat.

Rozwat will now have responsibility for all application and database development and will be the single direct report to Ellison.

So now that the company has reorganized its hierarchy to Ellison's taste, what remains unclear is just how Wookey's departure will impact the timeline for the delivery of Fusion Applications to enterprise customers.

For the past year, Wookey repeatedly claimed the Fusion suite would be available sometime in 2008. But some analysts and industry watchers said his abrupt resignation probably means Fusion Applications' debut will be put off until sometime in 2009. Many were, and still are, expecting a formal announcement during Oracle's OpenWorld conference in November.

But at least for now, it appears the development and launch schedule for Fusion Applications remains on track.

Wookey "has been saying substantial portions of Fusion Applications will be ready in 2008, and that's still the plan," said a source close to the Fusion Applications group who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the full suite was available next year. It won't be January but sometime in 2008."

That optimistic outlook is bolstered by reports that Wookey will remain with Oracle in some capacity, helping to sort out the transition through the end of the year. Another positive sign is that Steve Miranda, senior vice president of applications development and a 15-year Oracle veteran who previously reported to Wookey, will be staying to head up development for Fusion Applications.

"This was fairly amicable," the Oracle source said. "Others, even in executive positions, have been walked out. That's not the case here. Wookey is going to stay on and help to make this a smooth transition."

Either way, Wookey's falling out with Ellison regarding the plan for one of the most important product releases in Oracle history is bound to raise some serious questions and concerns from its installed customer base.

In fact, Oracle has put its customers -- especially those acquired in the PeopleSoft takeover in late 2004 -- in the awkward position of having to wait on it before they make any significant technology investments.

Even before the leadership shift, Oracle has given customers mixed signals, continuing indefinitely its Applications Unlimited program, which provides enhancements and support for PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards and Siebel business applications, and releasing only sparse details about what the next-generation Fusion Applications will really do and support.

"Many of these customers look to Oracle's investments to decide on what technology they invest in now," said Gartner analyst Yvonne Genovese in an interview with InternetNews.com. "There's already confusion about Fusion among Oracle's installed base. This could impact the rate and speed at which customers invest in new applications."

Genovese said discord within the group and Wookey's resignation may have resulted from what she viewed as top executives' differing explanations and expectations for Fusion.

"When you listen to Larry or [President] Charles Phillips, Fusion Applications sounds like a completely new product with new applications, new U/I, new everything," she said. "But Wookey said they were going to leverage a lot of what they have, more an upgrade than a new product. "It could be that a chasm developed over time about what Fusion really is."

"Both sides have reasons for communicating their views," she added. "Wookey wants to protect the installed base and keep that revenue number. Larry and Charles want to say it's new, and a new revenue stream, to the guys on Wall Street."

Whether Fusion Applications is actually intended as an entirely new suite, a hybrid of new and enhanced applications or simply an application integration architecture, Oracle and its reshaped development team still have plenty of time to get their story straight.

"Oracle has left the definition so loose, they can deliver pretty much whatever they want and call it Fusion," Genovese said. "It might just be some financial applications and analytics. That might be all Fusion is for a first pass. It might be a full suite of completely new apps. They get to determine and define what it is on their own terms."