Oracle - PeopleSoft: A Foreshadowing of what is to come in the GIS Market

By Joe Francica

For those of you who think that the tender offer made last week by Oracle in the takeover of PeopleSoft, who themselves are attempting to merge with J.D.Edwards, has nothing to do with GIS, this article will hopefully provoke you to take a closer look.

There are two reasons this merger could affect a restructuring within the spatial information technology market space.The first involves how Oracle could penetrate a much larger user base with their location-enabled database that supports applications in human resources, financial systems, customer relationship management and other enterprise software solutions now sold by both Oracle and PeopleSoft.I have said for sometime that there is a growing awareness that you could eliminate the need for a client-side GIS system like MapInfo Pro, ArcView, or GeoMedia and simply use the tools provided by Oracle Locator and the more advanced Spatial module.The remaining component of a geographic viewer is no longer of much concern.You can build your own with open source tools or use Oracle's, albeit rudimentary viewer.But with built in spatial querying, a geocoding application, forthcoming topological data structure, and the ability to integrate other spatial tools along with specialized web services, Oracle is a GIS.

Impossible, you say! For some applications, this is true.Oracle will never be used for data capture, photogrammetry, parcel editing, and other data quality applications.For that you may always need AutoCAD Map, MicroStation®, or similar software.But that's not where the money is.The future is in applications.The future is in "business" applications where the deployment of location-enabled functions could be more readily available if Oracle succeeds in their takeover attempt..Let's be clear: when a local government initiates an online public website that shows tax information; that is a "business" application.It enables business to function more efficiently.

The second reason is that once that database vendors have created a complete and robust suite of spatial tools, existing GIS products could once again be relegated to second class status; i.e.niche spatial applications as mentioned above.Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, and SAP are likely to become the primary players in the spatial space.

Look at what's happening at each company.Although he wants you to believe that he will be around forever, Mr.Jack Dangermond, at some point, will not be running ESRI.Whether the company is sold or passes to a different leader is yet to be determined, but the outcome is not in doubt.

Basically, ESRI is a product-oriented company.This is fine, but the coming IT wave is in solutions.Mr.Dangermond is keenly aware of this and the company's continued development and publishing of data models for each industry segment is testament to this fact.Use the ESRI data models and you'll be up and running with a "solution" for hydrological data management, biodiversity, forestry, etc.The data models are great marketing and are, to a degree, helpful solutions that get you thinking about database architecture. Hats off to them for providing a huge library of models from which to choose. Yet, the foundation of the data model is a spatial database.In addition, ESRI has been more aggressive in establishing close ties to solution vendors, like SAP, and securing other relationships that keep ESRI products a "must have" proposition.

Now look at Intergraph.As much as they would have you believe that they are a solutions company, at the end of the day, their direct sales force sells products and the stockholders would have it no other way.Services pose a wonderful model with higher margins, but will you trust your services consultant to provide the best "total" solution if they are locked into selling you a product suite from the company for whom they work? In addition, Intergraph is having trouble finding a replacement for retiring CEO Jim Taylor.Let's see, leave a high-tech company in the Bay Area and move to Huntsville, Alabama? Sorry, you're talking to the wrong person.I live here in lovely Huntsville and wouldn't leave for the Bay Area.[I consider myself a fairly reliable expert on this front as I commuted to Berkeley for a year doing a job I held, so I know what I would be missing.]

At MapInfo, the company is struggling to get through a virtual "birth canal" between product and solution company.But will they ever get away from the perception of selling boxes only? The acquisition of Thompson Associates early this year will certainly help, but they are players in a niche market.MapInfo still needs to engage Oracle to be successful. And why wouldn't Oracle simply spatially enable all their CRM customers with their existing tools, cut a deal with Claritas or AGS and walk away? This is a tricky time of a company that led the way in "business GIS" for so many years.

And then there is Microsoft.Perhaps a linchpin in the marketplace, they have been moving toward a solutions orientation for sometime; they have many users who employ SQL Server for data management; they are putting a lot of emphasis on enterprise location services and they've got the money to do it.Their acquisition of Great Plains Software has put them in a position to continue their move into the application arena.

Larry Ellison, CEO and founder of Oracle, says he has no intention of absorbing PeopleSoft customers just to move them to Oracle applications. He simply wants to take market share from Siebel in the CRM space and rightly so.A PeopleSoft - J.D.Edwards company would be a foe he would rather not face.Ellison has turned to acquiring companies, something of a departure for Oracle that had relied on developing most applications internally. However, it is more of an indication of the continuing shakeout in the entire information technology business as the ripple effects of the IT bust of the late nineties begin to take affect.And GIS cannot be far removed from a similar consolidation of key players.

Published Tuesday, June 17th, 2003

Written by Joe Francica

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