Making Oracle Applications Easier
When British Telecommunications PLC decided last year to upgrade to a
newer version of Oracle Applications, Oracle Corp.'s suite of back-end
business management software, the London-based communications company
faced an expensive "wither and die" migration process for its data,
says systems development accountant Chris Lacey.
That approach would create two diverging Oracle Applications
implementations: one with several instances of the old version
containing the historical data collected before the change, and another
running on the new software version that combined invoice and ordering
information from departments within the company's wireless division.
Then, at an Oracle user's conference last spring, Lacey came across
Crystallize Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich. The start-up's software automates
the process of merging different implementations of Oracle
Applications, changing the underlying database fields and restructuring
What previously required custom scripts, a raft of consultants and a
brute-force approach can be done in-house within a few months, claims
Joshua Greenbaum, a principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting in
Daly City, Calif. "Crystallize is trying to solve an age-old problem
that has typically been solved the hard way," he says.
Using Crystallize's software, British Telecom was able to combine its
multiple instances of Oracle Applications before its planned upgrade.
The process took five months instead of the year or more that Lacey
predicted, and he estimates the company will save as much as 1 million
pounds because of the unified data stores. In addition, he says,
historical data can migrate into the new software, allowing the company
to provide better customer service because of that integrated database.
At the center of Crystallize's software is a patented rules engine
developed by CEO and former Oracle consultant Helene Abrams. The rules
describe patterns common to most implementations of Oracle
Applications, she says.
The engine focuses on many areas, including undocumented Oracle
processes, like the sequence of loading relational databases, and
general database-merging techniques, including more than 27 methods of
data mining. The software confirms each rule by examining live data,
she says, and constantly updates the repository with each customer
The basic capabilities of Crystallize's software, says Abrams, are
copying, changing, filtering and merging data. Those processes are
combined into more than 20 applications that focus on specific business
Users first describe their company's business logic, then use
Crystallize's software to search existing databases to uncover the
underlying database rules encoded in triggers and procedures. They then
combine those with the built-in rules in the repository and generate
the commands to perform the conversion. The source data is "frozen,"
then transferred to a temporary store while it's converted. A cutover
process picks up the interim transactions and populates the data into a
new implementation of Oracle Applications.
Risks and benefits
Greenbaum says Crystallize takes away two major causes of pain: the
high price of converting financial systems and the long time frame
required. And because it's a packaged set of processes, he says,
Crystallize software has a better chance of working well the first
Lacey warns, however, that his project still required significant
resources. British Telecom had to put people versed in the firm's
business processes and its Oracle software on the project. In addition,
he says the number of machines needed to hold the interim data transfer
was larger than he expected. The project took five months -- one month
longer than planned due to problems gathering those necessary human and
Another caveat: Crystallize's rules engine is version-dependent,
acknowledges Abrams. Right now, it works with Oracle Versions 10.7,
11.03 and 11i.
The company's goal, says Abrams, is to spread the same approach to
other database-driven applications, such as enterprise resource
planning and supply-chain management packages, allowing customers to
update and change the software installations in concert with new
business structures and changing data needs.
There's no product that competes directly with Crystallize's offering
for Oracle Applications change management, says Joshua Greenbaum, a
principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting.
The traditional brute-force methods for integrating Oracle Applications
databases require using internal IT staff or hiring consulting firms,
he says. That approach can be expensive and time-consuming. But by
packaging the process, Greenbaum explains, Crystallize can give
customers a completion time and projected cost with a high degree of
confidence in hitting those marks.
Another advantage to Crystallize is that the migrated data is clean and
accurate. Maintaining data integrity, normalization and removing
duplicate and garbage data are of key importance in this kind of
project, says Greenbaum. Crystallize is good at making sure that the
data is right, he says, and the company backs it up with testing and
validation. The brute-force method that many consultants use can't
offer the same promise of accuracy, he says.
IT consulting firms are likely to adopt a packaged software methodology
in the future, says Helene Abrams, CEO of Crystallize. Her company is
working with several large consulting firms, she says, training them on
Crystallize's tools and hoping to form working relationships. Abrams
says she doesn't see consultants -- or for that matter, Oracle itself,
a natural choice to enter the market -- becoming competitors.
Greenbaum agrees, adding that consulting firms have a billable-hours
business model, not a software licensing model. He says Crystallize's
future competition is more likely to come from a company similar to
itself: an Oracle third-party partner.
The market for Crystallize's software is limited. Since it's focused
solely on particular versions of Oracle Applications, the number of
potential customers ranges from about 5,000 to 7,000, says Greenbaum.
And only those companies that have a business need -- a merger, a spin-
off or another change that makes it preferable to modify the underlying
database structures of their back-end applications -- are likely to be
But even if another firm was to tackle the same problem, Greenbaum
says, it will take the right combination of Oracle experience and start-
up talent to build the necessary products. "It was an opportunity that
existed for a long time but waited for the right entrepreneurial
outlook to take advantage of it,"he says.