Oracle looks to planning apps for its next billions

The vendor sees the potential for big money in the world of project planning software

Oracle is devoting two full days and 70 sessions at the upcoming OpenWorld conference to its Primavera PPM (project portfolio management) software, which is used to track and manage the torrent of people, assets, timelines and expenses associated with projects and services engagements.

It's no accident that Oracle has decided to give such a high-profile showcase to Primavera, which it acquired last year. While PPM software may not be sexy, demand for it is growing explosively. Forrester Research expects what it defines as the "project based solutions" market to reach $6.5 billion by 2010, up from $4.25 billion in 2007.

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That growth is being fueled by a number of factors, such as the general march toward service-based economies around the world, according to a report by Forrester analyst Ray Wang.

Second, many companies invested in PPM applications around the year 2000, and are now looking to replace the systems as they become outdated, Wang wrote. In addition, vendors' products have created highly specialized products for various industries, presenting a choice for customers who instead were forced to customize other software tools to fit their requirements.

Oracle, which declined a request for comment on its plans, competes with many other established PPM products from CA, Compuware, Planview, and other companies. But Primavera was a long-standing and major independent player in the space. It has 76,000 customers and its software is used to manage projects with a estimated value of $6 trillion, according to Oracle.

Oracle's purchase of Primavera made sense for a number of reasons, such as the fact that Oracle's own Projects software is often used for cost management on large construction projects that employ Primavera's software for scheduling, according to a research note by Gartner analyst Matt Light. The acquisition therefore means less need for Oracle to support rival products like Microsoft Project for project scheduling capabilities, Light said.

Oracle also gained fresh inroads into the installed base of its bitter rival SAP, where Primavera has many customers.

While it's not publicly known what Oracle paid for the privately held company, various estimates pegged Primavera's annual revenue at about $200 million, and Oracle is no doubt hoping to increase that number substantially.

At OpenWorld, the company will likely give customers a long-term Primavera product road map and also offer a sense of how it plans to weave the technology into its wide range of financial, human resources, BI (business intelligence) and PLM (product lifecycle management) applications, said 451 Group analyst China Martens via e-mail.

"The ultimate goal is to make PPM use more widespread, not limited to a group or department, but fully deployed as a enterprise app to track projects from start to finish with input from and visibility into useful information held in other apps," she said.

Oracle could also stand to sell more PPM licenses as infrastructure projects funded by government stimulus money begin to ramp up later this year and next.

One thing that remains to be seen is how Primavera's technology will work alongside the project management software Oracle is developing as part of its next-generation Fusion Applications, which are nearing an initial release after years of development.

Overall, though, Oracle should have some success spreading the use of PPM, according to another observer.

"There's a huge audience that hasn't really taken advantage of enterprise [wide] PPM," said Forrester analyst Margo Visitacion. "This is just an incredibly easy upsell for Oracle to do."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.