Cutting Out the GIS Middleman: GE Energy Cements Relationship with Oracle to Build Enterprise Applications

By Joe Francica

In past editorials (1, 2), I've speculated about systems integrators being the next likely group to embrace geospatial technology and begin to engage their clients with location-based solutions. At the GITA Conference in San Antonio, GE Energy announced that it is developing applications with Oracle 10g Spatial technology. While you may not think of GE as a systems integrator because of its reliance on its Smallworld solution in the utility and telecommunications marketplace, this announcement changes many things.

Speaking with several GE Energy executives at GITA, I learned that they want to cut out the "GIS middleman" by leveraging as much functionality in the Oracle Spatial stack as possible, to develop a "next generation" of spatial solutions. In particular, they want to use the Network Data Model (NMD) and Oracle's linear referencing system. In addition, GE expects to take advantage of Oracle's Fusion Middleware to reach deeper into the Oracle application stack for business intelligence. GE intends to build thin client Java-based applications that would effectively dive directly into Oracle. No GIS will be in the mid-tier, not even Smallworld.

GE executives won't try to encourage existing Smallworld clients to migrate to these new applications. Still, they will acknowledge that they are keenly aware of how pervasive Oracle technology is within their existing client base. As such, executives want to make it easier to address the needs of the IT departments that are now managing more of the geospatial implementations, and perhaps spatially enable more enterprise applications using Oracle Spatial and a services-oriented architecture (SOA).

GE Energy is in a unique position with utility customers. The company not only supplies the geospatial software, but other hardware and systems as well, including electrical transformers, billing and metering. GE Energy controls a hardware and consulting relationship with customers that might be characterized as monopolistic as well as opportunistic. Supply customers with transformers and throw in the network management piece as well. GE Energy's area of expertise is electrical distribution and the company can develop end-to-end solutions that would make it impossible for others to compete in that space.

However, GE likely sees that its Smallworld applications are encountering resistance since they are solutions that do not necessarily fit well in a standard IT environment like SOA. That's where Oracle comes in. GE boasts that its new applications will be 100% Oracle-based. GE Energy is not picking and choosing functionality; the company will use it all. Hence, future Java applications are intended to be very thin desktop clients. GE is using JDeveloper, a standard development platform already within GE.

GE is careful to point out that this partnership with Oracle is an effort to extend the Smallworld environment, which is primarily a toolkit whereby GE partners develop applications. GE is now going to deal directly with clients and productize the interface.

GE has not decided on how to brand the new solutions. Most likely it will try to separate the new applications from the Smallworld moniker. However, GE is picking a huge battle with other GIS solution providers like ESRI and Intergraph in an effort to swipe business, as utilities spend less time managing infrastructure and focus on launching new applications for critical infrastructure protection and mobile field service management. The deal with Oracle has been in the works for over two years. The idea is to not have any GE middleware in the solution. GE is focused on the electric utility client with approximately 500,000 to 700,000 connections. "There is a whole lot that utilities do with spatial data but we're going to grow into that," said Robert Laudati, GE's marketing manager. Future development may include advanced design tools and additional integration APIs, plus a vision of developing future markets in other utility domains as well as in telecommunications.

From Oracle's perspective, GE can become a very strategic partner because of its reach inside large organizations. Further, GE is leveraging more of the Oracle stack than some of the other GIS vendors that have long-standing relationships with Oracle.

Published Friday, March 16th, 2007

Written by Joe Francica



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