SAN DIEGO–Imagine travelling across the Sahara with only a map to judge where you are.

The only problem with this map, however, is it shows where you were a month ago but not where you currently stand.

Business-wise, this is where Montage-DMC, a division of AT&T Canada, found

itself with its old e-business suite. It took the Ottawa-based integrator a month to get a picture of how the company was doing, according to Sylvain St-Pierre, vice-presidente-business solutions.

“”Essentially we were growing very quickly and the platform we had in place did not allow us to move quickly enough. It didn’t allow us to reinvent ourselves, which you have to do from time to time in this business,”” says St-Pierre, who is attending Oracle’s AppsWorld user conference this week. “”We didn’t have the flexibility, we didn’t have the capacity to move were we needed to go.””

No longer willing to stumble around in the dark, St-Pierre says it decided to dump its back office of Great Plains and custom-built applications for Oracle Corp.‘s E-Business Suite 11i. It hasn’t looked back since.

What once took a month is now done in days. “”That’s a huge improvement for us. Four, five times better than what we had.””

Not only was its month-end closing time slashed, but the billing cycle as well, from 10 to 12 days to two. So not only is it moving faster, but lighter, St-Pierre says.

“”We eliminated the paper flow in our business,”” says St-Pierre. “”We’re using Work Flow now for approval of time, approval of expenses and all that stuff is done using the Oracle workflow technology. Paper reports essentially have been eliminated.””

The journey began about 18 months ago when Montage-DMC began a phased implementation. St-Pierre says the first phase started when the human resources, business intelligence and accounts payable modules — to name a few — were implemented over the course of four months. The process went smoothly in part, he says, because it integrates 11i and deployment was done on new Sun hardware.

When it made the decision to switch, the company was in the midst of a growth spurt. St-Pierre says at the time the organizational overhead was tracking with revenue. After the install, however, the overhead curve flattened and the business has grown without incurring additional costs.

Despite being on the market for well over a year, few others are rushing to install or upgrade to 11i. Oracle senior vice-president and chief marketing officer Mark Jarvis says only 10 per cent of its E-Business Suite customers are on 11i. More than 50 per cent use version 10.7 (which was released in 1996 and won’t be supported after 2002), while 35 per cent use version 11.0.

Tom Wyatt, president of the Oracle Applications User Group (OAUG), sayspotential customers were scared off because many users of earlier versions heavily customized the suite. Customers had to investigate whether the latest version included the custom functionality, and if it didn’t they would either have to change business process like Montage-DMC or customize yet again.

“”As everybody knows the earlier releases of 11i weren’t as stable and productive as what I think everybody, including Oracle, would have liked,”” he says. “”And so people were a little bit hesitant to be an early adopter.”” Those days are over, however, and Wyatt says adoption will gradually increase.

“”The latest point release of 11i is fairly stable and people are seeing the business benefit of upgrading to it.””

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