The Social Connection

Oracle WebCenter Suite 11g connects business and IT users and embeds social components into applications.

By Caroline Kvitka

May/June 2011

Oracle recently released a major update to Oracle WebCenter Suite 11g. Caroline Kvitka, Oracle Magazine senior managing editor, sat down with Andy MacMillan, vice president of Enterprise 2.0 product management at Oracle, to talk about product developments. The following is an excerpt from that interview. Download the full podcast at

Oracle Magazine: How has Oracle WebCenter Suite evolved since it was first launched?

MacMillan: Oracle WebCenter Suite was originally launched to take advantage of the shift in the modern user experience. Websites and Web applications were being built differently, and we wanted to have a leading product to meet user expectations. Over the last couple of years we’ve acquired several related technologies and portal products. We’ve done a lot of work to bring the best of the best from those different products into Oracle WebCenter Suite.

Oracle Magazine: Oracle is calling this a user experience platform. What does that mean?

MacMillan: User experience platform is a little broader than what people would typically refer to as a Web development or portal platform. A user experience platform is a way to bring together user components and application components so that people can interact with them in a rich Web-like way, but it is also about how the components interact with each other. It’s the idea that it’s no longer enough to bring up, for example, a list of things on one portlet and then have a map on another portlet. People actually want to see that information blended together so that there’s a richness of the context that’s created by bringing different datasources, content, and business processes together.

Oracle Magazine: How have Oracle’s acquisitions contributed to the portal capabilities in Oracle WebCenter Suite 11g?

MacMillan: We acquired two great portal products from BEA: WebLogic Portal and AquaLogic User Interaction Portal. We also have the Sun portal technologies, and a lot of application-specific portals such as PeopleSoft Portal and Oracle Portal.

In Oracle WebCenter Suite 11g, we took a lot of those portal features, like the ability to surface high-transaction portlets in Oracle WebLogic Portal and to create business communities in AquaLogic User Interaction Portal, and we brought them into Oracle WebCenter Suite. In many cases we rewrote those core technologies, leveraging their heritage, and in many cases we had the original developers building and evolving those features.

Oracle Magazine: How have the content management capabilities in Oracle WebCenter Suite 11g evolved?

MacMillan: Content management in Oracle WebCenter Suite has a heritage from Stellent. That product, Oracle Universal Content Management, is a leading enterprise content management product in its own right. Initially with Oracle WebCenter Suite, we had a straightforward connection to that technology. You could store documents from the portal in the content management platform. In this release, we’ve exposed a lot of additional capabilities from the content management system in the portal. We have a richer document library and content previewing and markup capabilities. You can go to a piece of content in an Oracle WebCenter Suite portal, click on it, and use the Web content management capabilities from Oracle Universal Content Management.

Oracle Magazine: As a development platform, what does Oracle WebCenter Suite 11g offer?

MacMillan: Oracle WebCenter Suite is a Java application. It’s used as a development platform for building portal and Web applications. Oracle WebCenter Suite is built on Oracle ADF [Oracle Application Development Framework] and is used as a composite user experience layer to bring together Oracle ADF applications. I’m sure many of your readers are familiar with Oracle ADF and the role that it’s playing in Oracle Fusion architecture and Oracle Fusion Middleware. Oracle WebCenter 11g is really the front end or the user experience technology for bringing together Oracle ADF and non-Oracle ADF applications.

That’s important for a couple of reasons. One, Oracle WebCenter Suite is an easy and fast way to build powerful user experience components. You can bring in components that we’ve built in that model to mash them up and create a social experience. Two, many of our applications are building these Oracle ADF components through a common UI model known as our common user experience architecture, which is based on Oracle ADF. If you’re developing a new application, you can develop your own components, but you can also leverage components from other middleware and applications products and bring those into your Oracle WebCenter Suite composite application, which is a powerful concept if you’re building applications.

Oracle Magazine: What IDEs does Oracle WebCenter Suite support?

MacMillan: There’s a great connection between Oracle WebCenter Suite and Oracle JDeveloper, but we also support open development. If people want to build their own Web framework and connect to Oracle WebCenter Suite and use our Web services or our REST [Representational State Transfer] services, they can do that. Or if they want to build a set of standards-compliant portlets in Eclipse and build JSR-compliant portlets and deploy them into Oracle WebCenter Suite, they can do that.

Oracle Magazine: What capabilities are available for business or power users?

MacMillan: One of the main ideas behind Oracle WebCenter Suite is that developers are going to build applications but that power users or typical business users are going to want to customize, extend, and personalize them. There needs to be a relationship between how that is done and how development occurs.

We’ve done two interesting things in this area. First, our Oracle Composer technology allows business users to go into an edit mode from the browser and connect to datasources. They can drag components out of the page, move things around, and edit content. It’s really about allowing business users to take ownership of that experience and blend it to whatever their needs might be.

The second area is actually the relationship between Oracle Composer and the development environment. What we enable in Oracle WebCenter Suite is the idea that a developer can build a component or even a whole site. Let’s say I build a component as a developer and I publish that component into the application. Let’s call that version 1.0. The business user can take that component, put it on a page, mash it up, and customize it. Let’s call that version 1.1.

What’s unique about Oracle WebCenter Suite is that as a developer if I want to work on version 2.0, I can actually get version 1.1 very easily from the application space, frame that into my development environment, work on it, and create version 2.0. In the typical model, development would create version 2.0 based on development version 1.0 and all the business user changes would get overwritten. So there’s a relationship between business users and their ability to use browser-based tooling at runtime, and the developer experience at design time, that allows users to work together.

Oracle Magazine: What are organizations looking for in terms of Enterprise 2.0, and how is that reflected in Oracle’s Enterprise 2.0 strategy and Oracle WebCenter Suite?

MacMillan: We’re seeing a lot of interest in social computing, or Enterprise 2.0. Organizations are trying to bring those technologies to bear on business challenges and business opportunities, and in many cases, their key business processes and transactions are represented in their enterprise applications. So we have a unique capability to marry together collaborative capabilities and their enterprise applications to apply social computing to those business transactions.

Our strategy is really about connecting the benefits of social computing—the ability to have people quickly connect, and connect on the right topics, and provide rich context— to relevant business topics.

If I have a transaction in my enterprise resource planning system and I want to escalate that, I need people to collaborate. Collaborating around a transaction or escalation is a core use case, but others include increasing innovation and engaging customers. If I want to collaborate around my product development process, then I need social tools in the context of my product lifecycle management product. The big opportunity is to actually connect the power of these kinds of social concepts to key business drivers.

That’s really our strategy at Oracle. How do we provide that context, as well as the tools and the technology, for social collaboration around business activities? That’s where we’ve gone with Oracle WebCenter Suite.

Oracle WebCenter Suite has a whole set of rich social services—everything from activity streaming to blogs, Wikis, microblogging, tags, and intelligent collaboration. The value is realized when organizations connect that technology to the business problems.

Oracle Magazine: How do you see Oracle WebCenter Suite changing how organizations are working?

MacMillan: I have a vision for Oracle WebCenter Suite that I think we’ll achieve in two places. One is around the idea of business users being able to own composite applications. I love the idea that business users can take core components and bring them together in an environment and have the application that they need. This is very different than how it works today, where I’d have to live with a couple of different pieces or ask IT to write something for me.

Second, there’s a lot of debate about the business impact of social and the role of social. We have an incredible opportunity, and our customers have an incredible opportunity, to recognize and show the value of social by providing this business context. We’re just starting to see customers connecting social to their business process. That’s a vision that we’ll realize soon.

Next Steps

 LEARN more about Oracle WebCenter Suite 11g

 LISTEN to the podcast

Photography by Michael Browning, Unsplash