Many who live in New England cite autumn as their favorite season. The changing fall foliage is truly exquisite. On the other hand, the major storm that whipped through the region on October 29th causing widespread damage and power outages was, shall we say, unexpected. What wasn’t unexpected was that Oracle would deliver some interesting tidbits on product direction at the Fall SNUG conference on October 28th. Below are a few highlights – delayed by the weather.

Rodney Turner, sales consulting senior manager, human capital management solutions at Oracle, delivered the keynote address at the SNUG in Hartford, CT. This post briefly carries forward a few of the highlights of his presentation across the following three areas – PeopleSoft Feature Packs, PeopleSoft 9.2 and Oracle Fusion Applications 11g.

First, Oracle has begun delivering Feature Packs in response to customer demand for more frequent, incremental functional enhancements to the PeopleSoft product. Feature Packs include the typical patches and statutory updates delivered throughout a release. However, Feature Packs also deliver functionality that can be adopted at the customer’s option without requiring any changes to the plumbing – i.e. PeopleTools. The next PeopleSoft Feature Pack should be coming within the next 60-90 days and should include functionality intended to provide a stronger self-service experience.

Included in this next Feature Pack release will likely be an ‘Organization Viewer’ that will, among other things, enable PeopleSoft customers to manage matrix reporting structures. Improved usability is a big focus at Oracle so there’s a real push to enable customers to configure more and customize less. Oracle also expects to deliver functionality that will provide a 360 degree view of an employee, on one screen. At the applications level look for a Talent Summary, embedded analytics, and manager dashboards with key employee data that is totally configurable so managers can move things around the screen.  Enterprise Search functionality is also coming as part of this next Feature Pack. Finally, the upcoming release of PeopleTools 8.52 is slated to enable PeopleSoft for mobile.

Second, in addition to offering insight into what to expect in the next Feature Pack release Mr. Turner shared some highlights of the next release of PeopleSoft HCM 9.2 which is tentatively slated for 12-18 months from now – either towards the end of 2012 or first quarter of 2013. In the PeopleSoft 9.2 release, expect to see more around usability, more work centers, and more embedded analytics. Usability continues to drive product direction. For instance, today walking through a process in PeopleSoft Time & Labor might take several screens. In PeopleSoft 9.2 we were told customers would be able to configure Time & Labor so that they have much of those steps on one screen. In self-service, users will faced with less navigation in favor of being shown where they are in each step of a transaction as well as how many more steps they have to complete before they’re finished.

In addition, employees often have multiple transactions that are relevant from a life-change perspective and PeopleSoft 9.2 will deliver Activity Guides that provide the user with guided navigation that walks the user through the transactions. This is, of course, going to be completely configurable. Oracle also intends to deliver functionality in PeopleSoft 9.2 that will allow a user to initiate transactions in Outlook. Finally, Oracle is starting to scope PeopleSoft 9.3.

Finally, the speaker announced that Oracle Fusion Applications 11g is now generally available. In fact, Oracle has about 200 Fusion customers right now who were part of an early adopter program. The Oracle Fusion Application itself is not a light application suite. In other words, Oracle didn’t skinny it down to get it out the door and this is why it took 5 years to develop. They claim to have taken the best business processes and thought leadership from the market and incorporated it into the product.

Many modules are like-for-like in that the functionality is similar to what you would find in PeopleSoft, albeit executed a bit differently in Oracle Fusion Applications. However, there are several entirely new modules, such as Talent Review, which represent completely new areas of business functionality.

Oracle considers its Fusion Applications to be the new standard for business innovation, configuration, and ‘work’. That means adding fields to Oracle Fusion Applications will be more about configuration than customization. For instance, moving a field around a page requires a simple page composer as opposed to customization. If you are an existing PeopleSoft customer and you want to adopt a similar module in Oracle Fusion Applications, you’ll need to evaluate your current customizations and determine which are delivered out-of-the-box in Fusion as well as which will be configurations. The approach, as much as possible, is to provide customers simple point and click configurations as opposed to traditional customizations. However, it is assumed that customers can expect to have to do a small amount of customization, even in Oracle Fusion Applications.

In terms of the new standard for ‘work’, Oracle has designed the application from a user perspective of; what do I need to do, what do I need to know, who can help me and how can I get it done? This means customers should expect more dashboards and analytics embedded into each transaction. Social is also pervasive within Oracle Fusion Applications and being able to message people in the organization and manage work groups are all a part of the solution.

Oracle Fusion Applications will be offered on-premise and in the cloud and both private and public clouds are available. Oracle Fusion Application cloud customers can expect Oracle to deliver Fusion upgrades 3 to 4 times a year. However, Oracle expects most customers will take a hybrid approach and will deploy a module or a pillar in the cloud alongside and fully integrated with their existing PeopleSoft on-premise applications. For example, Fusion Talent Management and Project Portfolio Management can all sit alongside PeopleSoft. In terms of integrations, currently Oracle Fusion Applications integrate with PeopleSoft 8.9 and integrations into PeopleSoft 9.0 and PeopleSoft 9.1 are likely to be delivered within 4 to 6 months from now or Q1 or Q2 of 2012.

Mobile applications are being delivered across all product pillars of Oracle Fusion Applications.

Ultimately, the message Oracle seemed most intent to convey is that customers have choices. Customers can continue on their current path, can adopt a co-existence strategy by staying with what they have and simply adopting modules in Fusion, or they can embrace the full suite.  Oracle is not going to force a path and will continue to innovate across all product lines. Oracle has dedicated business units for each product, tasked with developing each line. Fusion is additive.

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