An Independent Payroll Software Review and Analysis
If size were the sole selection criteria for payroll and business software then Oracle would be the only choice possible. With around 108K employees across the globe, this Redwood City, CA-based company is a true hardware and software giant. Now specializing in enterprise software products and particularly well known for its database management systems, Oracle began in 1977 as Software Development Laboratories and has reached its present stature through combination of organic growth and one of the industry's broadest and most aggressive acquisition strategies (which to date has netted 70+ solutions company-wide). Co-founder (and still CEO) Larry Ellison describes the 2011 fiscal year as the company’s, “fastest growth in a decade,” and the company posted GAAP total revenues of $35.6B (up 33% on the previous year).
However, the ‘bigger they are…’ adage may apply, and certainly Oracle has not been without its troubles in recent years, especially of the legal kind. Rivals SAP sued them for copyright infringement in the largest piracy suit of its kind worldwide and only recently settled at $1.3B. The U.S. Department of Justice brought a suit for fraud in 2010. The shoe was on the other foot, as the Oracle-owned Java sought $6.1B in a recent court battle against Google. And finally there is the story of the New Jersey school that sued Oracle to the tune of $20M for a failed ERP implementation (not so much of a financial difficulty as some of the other suits, but probably a much bigger PR disaster). Add the legal and reputational damage to the fact that the large-scale ERP purchases that the company’s success is built upon are declining, plus Oracle’s somewhat belated embracing of cloud technology and the giant may be stumbling a little.
Size can sometimes come at the expense of cohesion. Oracle’s HCM products cater to 40M employees across 14,000 client organizations in 140 countries. While this does represent a significant market share (in fact CedarCrestone's 2011 HR Systems Survey found that between Oracle E-Business Suite and PeopleSoft, nearly 50% of the sample use Oracle products) that share is made up of multiple (and overlapping) HCM software offerings; including PeopleSoft, JD Edwards (World & Enterprise One), and E-Business Suite. In an attempt to pull together some of these disparate applications into a ‘best-of’ suite – without sacrificing those solutions that cater to specific market segments – Oracle has developed Oracle Fusion Applications (OFA). In addition to the payroll and HR functions, OFA also includes applications for customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain, and financial software.
Given that the vision for OFA was to allow customers to access functions across a range of Oracle’s legacy products via a choice of on-premises or on-demand deployments, it’s not surprising that OFA was not quick off the mark. Announced in 2005, simultaneous with the acquisitions of PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, and Siebel Systems, Oracle spent years working out the kinks of deployment models, integration and upgrade points for Oracle's already existing applications. OFA was only released to early adopters towards the end of 2010 and made generally available in June 2011. Unfortunately, OFA ran into problems with customer acceptance with many raising concerns that OFA was being forced upon them with no regard to the energy and expense that customers had already expended to deploy those legacy systems. This response led to a rapid fielding of Oracle Applications Unlimited, basically an assurance of continued releases and lifetime support for those systems that otherwise might have faded with the emergence of OFA.
Ironically enough, it is the Oracle Applications Unlimited ‘roadmap’ that has effectively announced the fact that next generation releases do not appear to be planned for any of Oracle's legacy solutions. Of course, updates and support will be ongoing (that’s the whole point of the Unlimited program) but major architectural changes do not seem to lie in those applications' futures. After all, Fusion is Oracle’s core strategy.
So, despite the usual legal and strategic difficulties that can encumber any global corporation, Oracle remains focused on the future and is leveraging Fusion and a number of other initiatives to ensure its continuing advancement within (and domination of) the payroll and business software market. As a parallel top priority to Fusion, Oracle has also moved into hardware with its acquisition of Sun Microsystems; seeing the integration and optimization of hardware and software as an end-to-end opportunity to "own the technology stack." Between this diversification and the cloud opportunities afforded by Fusion, Oracle is far from an ailing giant. In fact, the company may just be in the process of making some fresh strides.
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