Business User Friendly Composite Applications: SharePoint or WebCenter?

I’m sure you’ve heard it before … business users complaining they have to log into 5 different applications to figure out the complete status of a particular work item. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get all the related information you needed from the different application systems all in one screen? Log in once – see it all – get your work done faster! That is the promise of composite applications.

So have you tried building composite applications using SharePoint or WebCenter? If so, have you asked IT how long it is taking them to build these composite applications along with the requisite backend integrations? And after that is done, have you asked your business users if it meets their needs? Oh, and what if they need to change something or modify it? Do they really have to go back to IT to request for a change? Or can they personalize it themselves?

To help us get to the bottom of this, we asked Vince Casarez, Sr. Vice President of Technology at Keste, for some insight on building composite applications. With over 22 years of experience helping customers deploy user engagement solutions, Vince has helped hundreds of customers improve productivity, optimize business processes and drive innovation. Read on to hear his recommendations and strategies.

Q1 – What do you think are the main challenges when trying to build composite applications with SharePoint?
A1 – If you’re looking for a composite that contains ribbon bars and a Microsoft look and feel, then the barrier drops a bit.  But application integration is not a strong point for SharePoint.  And if you have large content management needs, then you’ll constantly run into one roadblock after another.  The expectation from all of the customers that I’ve worked with is that the composite application has to fit in with their company branding guidelines, be extremely easy to use, and integrate the core disparate applications that they have in their environment.  As a result, they demand strict adherence to the latest standards so that they don’t have any vendor lock-in.  And finally, they want the solution to be as adaptable as possible.  They don’t want the composite to result in one more system that IT has to manage.  They expect to be able to “customize” the composite in a way that allows them to keep improving the overall system.  Where I’ve seen SharePoint fall down is on standards.  In fact, if the apps aren’t .Net based, I wouldn’t even consider using SharePoint.  Second, application integration is really only for non-enterprise applications.  If you have Siebel, JD Edwards, SAP, E-Business Suite, or PeopleSoft, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you.  And finally, customization of the SharePoint look and feel or the user experience is just not there.

Q2 – On the same note, why in your experience has Oracle WebCenter been a preferred platform to build Composite Applications?
A2 – We’ve seen WebCenter since its inception and from the very start, WebCenter had application integration or composites as a key design point. There is tight integration with Oracle’s SOA Suite and Identity Management Suite for secure interactions capable of delivering a role based experience to the users.  And they’ve spent time to ensure that all the capabilities are applicable to SAP as well.  At Keste, we have customers that have integrated WebCenter and SAP directly.  We also have customers that are using WebCenter to front-end SalesForce.com applications with Siebel and Oracle E-Business Suite.  We would never attempt to do any of these with SharePoint.  Also, we’ve found that integrating into our customer’s brand identity is easily done with WebCenter.  And finally, some of the new capabilities make it very easy for users to tailor their experience to get exactly what they want.  The customization capabilities are quite extensive and very easy to understand and use.

Q3 – When it comes specifically to Oracle Applications, why do your customers overwhelmingly choose Oracle WebCenter over SharePoint to build composite applications?
A3 – I touched on this a little bit above.  Our customers have very diverse environments.  They don’t just have Oracle Applications, but if they do, they always engage us to leverage Oracle WebCenter over SharePoint.  The reasons are focused on the core of the integration requirements.  They have many applications built in many different technologies requiring a standards based approach to pull everything together.  They have a myriad of content systems that they are looking to aggregate into a common repository that can live underneath their applications, as well as be the foundation for their document collaboration, as well as be published out to their different web site properties.  While SharePoint attempts to deliver on a portion of these capabilities, it just doesn’t deliver on the breadth that’s required.  And then if you roll in security integration, customization, and business process management and business intelligence, there is no other choice for our customers that can grow with them.

Q4 – Which platform provides a more robust enterprise class platform, both from a scalability and management perspective?
A4 – We do have customers with large SharePoint installations, but we often get requests for a WebCenter Portal deployment to deliver a more scalable solution to their entire employee or partner population.  Don’t get me wrong, there are many SharePoint departmental portals that our customers are using and aren’t ready to replace.  But they do see and demand WebCenter Portal as their scalable solution for composite applications, enterprise wide team-based collaboration, and the foundation for delivering their enterprise dashboards.  We’ve also seen in our new Keste Center of Excellence, WebCenter Portal runs nearly 5-times faster on Exalogic and Exadata than on traditional hardware.  As Oracle continues to improve this platform, we expect even more performance improvements.  So the combination of Oracle WebCenter and Oracle Exalogic & Exadata, there is no comparison as to the right scalable, enterprise platforms for customers to choose.  It’s Oracle, hands down.

Q5 – Can you talk about some of the Composite Application deployments that your customers are using with Oracle WebCenter?
A5 – Yes, we have customers in the high tech, pharmaceutical, medical, and industrial manufacturing all using a WebCenter Portal solution as the composite face of their application.  Qualcomm delivers communication devices to the transportation industry to help manage the goods that are being shipped and monitor the shipments along the way.  They often sell these devices to direct customers as well as smaller trucking companies.  We’ve built a WebCenter Portal that provides an easy way for customers to purchase these devices online and purchase applications that are add-ons to these systems.  All of the information is being driven from Oracle E-Business Suite and has extended systems that need to be integrated as well.  It allows customers to reallocate the device to another customer when they sell the truck or the device.  So the system is used to help manage the full lifecycle of the products that Qualcomm sells to their customers.  The second customer that I’ll discuss is a fortune 100 company that provides an integrated solution that enables storage, delivery, and management of network information.  The WebCenter Portal we’ve delivered integrates with Salesforce.com, E-Business Suite, and Siebel to provide a sales quoting solution to all their employees and partners to accelerate their business initiatives in the coming decades.  The system involves configuring products and pricing out of E-Business Suite, then orchestrating the information into reviewable WebCenter Portal composites.  The sales rep is able to quickly select the products and assemblies needed and submit the quote for pricing approval.  Once approved, the sales rep is then able to print the quote using Oracle BI Publisher or send it directly to the customer.  In summary, the composites our customers are demanding are not simple one or two page screens, they are critical interfaces to drive their business forward that demand a complete user experience platform to deliver.

Thanks Vince for sharing your recommendations and strategies around composite applications. For more information about Oracle WebCenter, visit http://www.oracle.com/moveoff/sharepoint 

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Oracle WebCenter is the center of engagement for business—powering exceptional experiences for customers, partners, and employees. It connects people, process, and information with the most complete portfolio of portal, Web experience management, content, imaging and collaboration technologies.

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