(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)
Oracle Fusion Applications (OFA) is an exciting entrant in the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application arena. It is based on leading practices leveraged from Oracle’s existing ERP suites, namely Oracle E-Business Suite, Oracle PeopleSoft, and Siebel. However, it fundamentally changes the architecture and approach for end-to-end ERP functionality.
To state that Oracle Fusion Applications is unique is an understatement. The application has been architected differently from any prior ERP application. It has been developed using industry-leading platforms that seamlessly work together. It can be deployed in multiple models, from on-premise to cloud, and various hybrid options in between.
This book will progressively explain each new feature of Oracle Fusion Applications. It will provide a detailed explanation of what each feature does, and how to configure it. Best practices are specified, where there are multiple implementation options to help the reader make an informed decision.
In this introductory section, we will put the uniqueness of Oracle Fusion Applications in context by looking at the evolution of ERP applications. We will look at the architecture and deployment models for Oracle Fusion Applications. We will then review the technology platforms on which Oracle Fusion Applications is built.
Changing the application’s ecosystem
Oracle Fusion Applications and the business functionalities that it provides have evolved. New business processes have usually been the trigger for driving change in systems and applications. However, in recent years, technology has opened up novel approaches to perform business processes, and in some cases, opened up entirely new business domains (for example, Cloud or Elastic computings).
There is a healthy history of business needs and technology advances complementing each other. However, within the age of computers, technology has led to business innovation. Business users have benefited from the computing capability and flexibility that technical developments have brought to businesses. The PC era put meaningful computing capability on the desktop. This drove a change from mainframe-based monolithic data centers to business processes that empowered the end user.
An inventory report was no longer something that arrived once a month. Business users now had the capability to get business information they needed, when they needed it. This capability profoundly changed the speed of business, and more importantly, the speed in which business decisions were made. Departments such as sales, engineering, and finance now had visibility to each other’s vital data. This led to efficiencies in business and ultimately higher profits and customer satisfaction.
This flexibility in the business domain during the client-server period soon extended to the consumer with the advent of the Internet. Consumers could now interact directly with businesses, which enabled a completely new dimension of customer centricity. Business users saw a delayed benefit of the Internet. The need to be interconnected outside the organization evolved with the advent of concepts, such as Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). This introduced business-process flexibility as well as business-process delegation. A need for business-process orchestration was realized.
The advent of elastic computing based on cloud-based computing models has created entirely new possibilities for businesses. Now, entire applications and their intrinsic functionalities are made available on demand, and can scale to business needs. This has opened up new avenues of doing business as well as business models that have never been seen before. Applications have started to evolve to embrace this new approach, and Oracle Fusion Applications is one such example.
The following diagram visualizes the evolution of computing paradigms and their impact on businesses. It shows how applications evolved along with changing business models. It provides an overlay with the functionality that was inherent within those applications.
The diagram shows a gradual migration of functionality away from the core of the organization to a highly distributed model. This evolution can be explained by the technology drivers that were available during each computing era.
In the mainframe era where computing resources were at a premium, applications were focused on computations. Interactions with the mainframes required advanced skills and training. There was marginal attention paid to the user interface and distributed computing.
With the advent of the client-server model, computing resources became distributed, and this led to the first era of true business applications. The client layer focused on presentation and simplistic data validation. The server layer provided data persistence and complex processing. This approach allowed the first wave of true ERP applications to be developed.
A whole host of applications from multiple vendors surfaced during this period. This included applications such as Oracle E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, Siebel, SAP, and Great Plains, apart from several industry-specific applications.
These server-oriented ERP applications had complex data structures, which resulted in large monolithic databases. Also, the business-processing logic was tightly coupled with the database structures resulting in applications that provided good business functionality, but they had two major drawbacks, which are as follows:
- They were hard to modify or customize
- Integrations outside of the applications were complex
Middleware and SOA
With the advent of the Internet, there was a move towards moving business applications to a web-based frontend. This resulted in the evolution of middleware that could insulate the data layer from the presentation layer. However, functionality provided by ERP applications did not fundamentally change. The Internet simply provided a powerful new mechanism for users to interact with the business applications.
Internet-based connectivity did provide new approaches for business-to-business (B2B) communication. This also led to progress in the areas of business-to-customer (B2C) capabilities. However, core business processes in the areas of Finance, Order Management, Supply Chain, and Human Resource Management remained mostly unchanged.
No more monolithic applications
The introduction of middleware provided a unique ability for business applications to communicate with each other. This communication could now be real time and could be orchestrated for multiple back-and-forth messaging patterns. This led to the development of standards that would allow the exchange of information between applications. It also resulted in a specialized approach in business processing, wherein niche applications for specialized functionality could be integrated with larger ERP applications. Typical examples of this were specialized customer service systems integrated with ERP systems, or asset management systems integrated with core financial systems.
The following diagram shows the separation of the presentation and data layers. Middleware orchestrates the business processes, and in many cases, also contains the business logic that is the core process for the organization:
While the middleware products were evolving, the SOA-based approach for service integration had also been maturing. The confluence of these two accelerated the ability to weave together functionality across applications.
The following diagram illustrates the realization of the SOA-based approach in the middleware layer. Middleware products such as Oracle Fusion Middleware provide comprehensive message transformation and routing capabilities. However, the ability to provide process orchestration is vital to aligning business processes with siloed applications.
As seen in the following diagram, when applications are connected using middleware, they appear as providers of functionality. This functionality is then orchestrated into an end-to-end business process by the middleware connecting these applications. The technology stack is now much more closely aligned with the business process than it has ever been in the past.
Middleware and SOA approaches allowed the orchestration of processes that spanned multiple applications. The large ERP applications that had appeared “monolithic” up to this point now resembled the silos of functionality. ERP systems started to appear restrictive as they were limited in their flexibility, but continued to be the primary storage of institutional data.
The immense flexibility provided by SOA (enabled by middleware) stood in stark contrast to the restrictions imposed by “big-box” ERP software.
The impact of Cloud
Cloud-based deployments provided the ability to provide elastic resource capabilities. This has several technical and cost advantages. However, from a business perspective, it opened up the possibility of a “plug-in” functionality that did not have to be developed in-house.
This was a tremendously liberating aspect for the business, and its impact is similar to the dawn of the Internet age. You could now browse for functionality that was required, and pay-per-use for the same. Using middleware, this functionality could be integrated with back-end systems. It is this empowering of the business that is now fundamentally changing the ERP space.
The uniqueness of Oracle Fusion Applications
The Oracle Fusion Middleware product suite has integration and process orchestration features required for this new generation of ERP applications. It provides the platform for integration and process orchestration that is vital to a flexible ERP.
Oracle has leveraged its Fusion Middleware capability to build Oracle Fusion Applications. However, Oracle Fusion Applications are different in the following unique ways:
- Leading practices: Oracle Fusion Applications is built on leading practices from Oracle’s stable of existing ERP products. It has those features that were considered the most meaningful and commonly used from these existing ERP product lines.
- Oracle Fusion Middleware: Oracle Fusion Middleware does provide comprehensive SOA-based integration. It is an industry leading middleware platform. Oracle Fusion Applications is built on this platform, and hence, inherits the value that technology stacks brings. Oracle Fusion Middleware brings some additional benefits to Oracle Fusion Applications, which are as follows:
- Standards based on the J2EE platform: This is important as using Java (as opposed to a proprietary language) opens up a vast community of people who are familiar with the technology platform.
- Web-based frontend: The UI is completely web-based. There is no thick client that needs to be deployed on client desktops.
- BPEL-based workflow: Prebuilt business process flows are built using BPEL workflows using the BPMN notification. This replaces the implicit workflow technology that used to be highly proprietary to the application vendor.
- Deployment: Oracle Fusion Applications has multiple deployment options. These include the following:
- On-premise: This provides a bare metal install on in-house hardware. This involves a full install of the technology’s platform and the entire application.
- Cloud model: This is similar to the on-premise model except that the application is installed on the infrastructure that is on the cloud.
- SaaS model: SaaS stands for Software as a Service model. The application is hosted by Oracle and the subscription to the application is on a pay-per-use model. The users are not responsible for maintaining the application.
The cloud models have the additional option of being single tenant (single business users for the entire application), or multi-tenant (multiple businesses running within the same application). Thus, Oracle Fusion Applications has a wide range of deployment options that can scale based on the needs of an organization. The uniqueness of Oracle Fusion Applications is summarized in the following diagram:
The combination of a technology platform along with leading business practices, delivered across multiple channels, makes Oracle Fusion Applications a unique ERP. It is best suited to provide the value that business users expect from their business applications.
The architecture of Oracle Fusion Applications
The architecture of Oracle Fusion Applications is shown in the following diagram at a high-level to set a baseline understanding. Components of this architecture will be discussed in detail throughout this book. Administration of key components and areas that need special attention will also be addressed.
The following diagram shows the foundational building blocks on which Oracle Fusion Applications is built. It also lists the guiding design principles that have driven the design and architecture of the overall application.
In this article we have discussed the evolution of Enterprise Resource Applications and the impact that technology has had on this evolution. We have also seen how functionality can be externalized to create a unique approach to business applications.
The architecture of Oracle Fusion Applications was reviewed, and the uniqueness of this suite of applications was also discussed.
Resources for Article:
- Remote Job Agent in Oracle 11g Database with Oracle Scheduler [Article]
- Introduction to Oracle Service Bus & Oracle Service Registry [Article]
- Oracle Integration and Consolidation Products [Article]