Like the mainframe, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software soldiers on, though companies complain bitterly about its inflexibility. Oracle just took a significant step toward softening that rigidity with its new Application Integration Architecture (AIA), announced by Oracle president Chuck Phillips at the company's Collaborate '07 User Group Conference.

AIA is a framework in which the functionality of Oracle's vast application portfolio – Oracle E-Business, PeopleSoft, Siebel, and JD Edwards – can be recombined and tailored to enterprise needs. To jumpstart this, and deliver business process expertise, the company is creating Process Integration Packs (PIPs), which are pre-built workflows that embody horizontal or vertical sets of business processes. The first two, available now, integrate Siebel CRM with the Oracle E-Business Suite.

Oracle vice president of development and strategy, Jose Lazares described AIA as "an open standards-based platform that we expect to be leveraged by Oracle, our partners, and our customers to deliver best practices and industry-specific, cross-application business processes". The PIPs draw on the functionality of Oracle's Fusion middleware and are "pre-packaged and delivered as products that can be sustained and delivered over time." According to Lazares, the first PIP verticals will be telecommunications, resale, financial services, consumer packaged goods, and high-tech manufacturing.

Anne Thomas Manes, an analyst at Burton Group said Oracle had "done a beautiful job of service-oriented design. They've defined a set of XML vocabularies that their applications can now share". She noted that, with Oracle's multiple acquisitions, AIA has solved a problem faced by many large enterprises: creating arrays of interoperable services in a diverse application environment.

The announcement appears to target hardcore Oracle shops that already licence multiple Oracle applications – and have the stomach for multiple PIP licences as well. But the potential for greater flexibility is there, because both the PIPs and the Oracle applications interoperate using standards that are application-independent. Ultimately, Oracle wants to create an ecosystem of third parties that can licence their solutions in the AIA mix.

"Any application within our portfolio and/or third party application can be plugged in, as long as they map to the common object model and service definition," said Lazares. "Ultimately, system integrators, ISVs, and customers can actually start to build out capabilities beyond just the context of Oracle applications," he said. The business process management (BPM) tools included with Oracle's Fusion middleware offering can be used by customers that want to create new processes or connect to third party applications. To do so, however, they will need a full licence for Oracle's SOA Suite.