Oracle Integration: What You Need to Know
For wholesale companies running Oracle, understanding how to integrate Oracle with your other third party applications can be challenging––not only because of the complexity of the Oracle application landscape, but also because Oracle actively encourages customers to use its own integration tools to meet their integration needs.
Oracle: History and Background
A brief tour through the history of Oracle will help you to better understand the company’s application landscape and what the options are for Oracle integrations with third party applications. Like many enterprise software vendors, Oracle has morphed over time, acquiring former competitors like PeopleSoft and JDEdwards, and expanding its application offerings. Today, more than 420,000 companies around the world use Oracle in various forms. Oracle offers a number of applications and application suites, including Oracle Fusion and Oracle E-Business Suite. It also continues to provide support and count among its install base the customers of those companies that it has acquired over the last three decades. Oracle started out in the late 1970s as a database company, and today it sells numerous functional modules and application suites that use Oracle RDBMS as a back-end. Over time, Oracle’s ERP application suite expanded to include Financials, Human Resources, Manufacturing, Supply Chain Management, Projects, CRM, Procurement and more. Today, these applications are marketed as the Oracle E-Business Suite. Oracle’s offerings are highly complex and have historically been considered the best fit for enterprise-level customers. More recently however, the company has begun transitioning to cloud offerings such as DaaS, SaaS, IaaS and PaaS. These, along with the Oracle Accelerate partner solutions for medium businesses, have helped make Oracle a somewhat viable option for mid-sized businesses. As of 2012, Oracle held about 13% of total ERP market share, second only to SAP. Oracle has significant market share in a variety of industries, including retail, manufacturing, wholesale distribution, communications, education, financial services, health sciences, hospitality, public sector, utilities, and more.
Oracle the Consolidator
But there’s more to Oracle than the E-Business Suite. Since its inception, Oracle has had a strong focus on acquisition as a growth strategy. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison himself once referred to the company as “the primary consolidator in the software industry.” This is not just an empty boast; Oracle has acquired approximately four dozen application, database and middleware providers over the years, with acquisition activity heating up in the late 1990s through early 2000’s. The most famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) of these acquisitions took place in January 2005, when Oracle acquired its major US-based rival, PeopleSoft via a hostile takeover that took nearly 18 months to complete. PeopleSoft itself had acquired JD Edwards in 2003, which was largely focused on small and medium businesses in the manufacturing and wholesale space. In 2005, Oracle acquired Siebel Systems. With these acquisitions, Oracle was able to position itself as the leading domestic US provider of software applications and RDBMS systems. These acquisitions also set the stage for the rollout of Oracle Fusion applications in 2011. Today, the two primary Oracle application suites on the market include Oracle Fusion applications, a full suite ERP system that combines the best of the functionality of Oracle, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards and Siebel in one user interface; and Oracle E-Business Suite. As a result of its acquisition strategy as well as organic development and growth within the company, there are more than 40 application suites and product lines that fall under the Oracle umbrella, including Oracle Fusion, Oracle E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft Enterprise, Siebel, JD Edwards EnterpriseOne and World, Hyperion, Primavera, and many others. Each of these has multiple releases or versions which may be in use, and each of these may have differing integration paths and considerations.
Integrating with Oracle E-Business Suite
For the purposes of this article we’ll focus on Oracle E-Business Suite and Oracle Fusion integrations with third party applications as these comprise the majority of Oracle customers. Oracle has taken a somewhat different approach to integration than many others in the ERP industry. Over time, the company has recognized that integration with third party applications adds a lot of expense to ERP projects, both at the time of initial development, as well as future upgrades. Because of this, Oracle has “productized” integration with many third party applications using Oracle Application Integration Architecture (AIA) along with their Oracle Fusion Middleware integration layer. These integrations are built and supported by Oracle, and are the preferred method of integrating Oracle with third party applications. However, when this isn’t an option, custom integration is possible. How this custom integration should be accomplished will depend on the version of Oracle you are running, as well as what specific third party application you want to integrate. Oracle E-Business Suite (EBS) handles integrations a number of ways. Overall, Oracle uses Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) to integrate business functions and applications to provide support for specific business processes. Integrations between third party applications and Oracle EBS can either be pre-built application interfaces or integration accelerators which reside in the Oracle Interface Repository or Fusion Middleware layer. Modifications to the applications themselves (an option Oracle discourages in favor of using its prebuilt tools) or custom-built interfaces can also be built using protocols appropriate for each environment or task, such as PL/SQL, XML, EDI, Java, and others. Oracle Fusion Middleware is Oracle’s integration product that allows integration between Oracle applications and third party applications. Developers can also build new composite applications using Fusion Middleware. Oracle Fusion Middleware works with E-Business Suite and the Oracle Fusion applications as an integration layer. It includes numerous components and tools, such as Oracle Identity Management that provides services and interfaces that facilitate third-party enterprise application development, Oracle WebLogic Server for building Java based tools, Oracle SOA Suite for building composite applications to enable specific business processes, Oracle WebCenter for building web interfaces and applications, and many others. Oracle EBS Adapters can also be used by Oracle partners to integrate third party applications with the E-Business Suite using SOA to ensure integrations meet business needs without excessive customization. EBS Adapters are a component of Fusion Middleware. Oracle Adapters support all modules of Oracle Applications for versions 11.x. Connectivity is available via PL/SQL APIs, tables and views, XML Gateway and Custom Queues that allow custom interfaces to be built between Oracle and other applications.
Creating an Oracle Integration Plan
Now that you understand some of the general considerations that can impact your integration of Oracle with third party applications, you can create an integration plan for your particular situation. To do this, you need to identify:
- Your business needs: what should the integration allow you to do?
- Which version of Oracle (or subsidiary products such as PeopleSoft or JD Edwards), and what specific applications are you running?
- Does Oracle provide a supported integration tool, or is an interface offered by the third party vendor?
- If no integration tools are available, does your organization have the IT expertise to develop and support your own interface?
- Has your current system been modified or customized? Could they impact your integration plans?
- Do you have future upgrade plans? Could these impact your choice?
Generally speaking, the best option with the least long-term issues is to use an ERP vendor’s supported integration tools rather than writing a custom interface. If this isn’t an option, the interfaces supported by the third party vendor would be the next best choice. Only when these options are not available, or when they do not meet your business needs, should custom interface development be considered.
General Cautions about Your Oracle Integration
Custom integrations of third party applications with Oracle are subject to the same challenges that would be faced with any ERP integration, including differing information architecture, conversion of data between systems, challenges at upgrade time, and cost to perform and maintain the integrations. Because of these challenges, and the complexity of its own application landscape, Oracle has made it clear that the preferred method of integration is using its own integration tools through the Oracle Fusion Middleware layer and AIA tools. Are you considering integrating Oracle with a third party application? What challenges have you experienced? We’d like to hear about it in the comments.