Earlier this week, GE issued a press release "GE Energy to Introduce New Oracle-Based Product Portfolio for Electric Disturbition Utilities". I had heard rumblings of such an announcement in the days leading up to the release and was very anxious to understand what GE Energy would be announcing.
At first glance, this announcement seems to suggest another significant paradigm shift in the Smallworld application. The most recent significant paradigm shift was the move to the Smallworld Application Framework (SWAF). Some customers are still preparing for the SWAF upgrade. To be faced with an announcement like this (Smallworld on Oracle/Java) might come as a bit of a shock. But if you read the press release carefully, you will see that this announcement is geared to small- and mid-sized electric utility companies.
If you are a larger utility company that has invested considerably in VMDS and Magik technology, Bob Gilligan states that this new product line will complement the current Smallworld offerings. I find it significant that Mr. Gilligan used "complement" and not "replace".
Clearly GE Energy needs to grow more license sales and it seems to me that offering Smallworld in an Oracle/Java environment will make the sale more appealing to smaller users who do not have the resources to commit to learning another database and programming language. Having said that, I suspect that as some of the mid-sized utilities start asking the Oracle/Java application to do greater and greater things (especially around long transaction management and customising the data model), it might be a more natural step to direct them to VMDS/Magik. I think VMDS/Magik will go away at GE Energy's peril. I am of the opinion that the current VMDS/Magik package provides better solutions for some of the Smallworld user's business requirements than Oracle/Java is capable of.
GE Energy may spend more energy developing the Oracle/Java side of things because that is where the revenue growth may be, but I would strongly urge them to continue to support VMDS/Magik either directly or via some Open Source framework so that the Smallworld user community can service it.
I have included some highlights (with my comments) of the press release. I have formatted direct quotes from the press release in Georgia font. All other comments are mine.
The highlights of the announcement include:
- GE Energy is collaborating with Oracle to expand GE’s geospatial product portfolio by developing a network design and maintenance application based on Oracle® Database 10g, Oracle Spatial 10g and Oracle Fusion Middleware.
- This solution is designed specifically to meet the needs of the small- to mid-size North American electric distribution market.
- One can take a half-full or half-empty view of this press release. The statement above makes me lean towards the half-full view. It seems that GE Energy is trying to increase its market share and trying to offer something that the smaller utilities are asking for. My half-full view continues when I realize that there are opportunities in this approach for current Smallworld customers. Let's say your large utility acquires a small- to mid-size utility. Would you rather integrate your GIS system with another Smallworld platform or with an entirely different GIS vendor? I think that any move that keeps Smallworld viable in the market place and does not take away the product that already works for current customers can only be good for the entire Smallworld user community.
- GE Energy has been working with selected customers in the development of the application and expects beta testing to commence later this year.
- I'm looking forward to seeing how beta testing goes.
- As a result, companies increasingly seek products to meet their needs with minimum customization, ease of install/upgrade and low maintenance.
- said Bob Gilligan, general manager of GE Energy’s transmission and distribution business. “Our new approach will complement our current offerings and result in products that leverage Oracle’s spatial software."
- GE Energy’s Smallworld Core Spatial Technology* remains a key technology for large utilities and telecommunications customers with complex solution needs. No existing products will be retired as a result of this new offering. The addition of applications based on Oracle Spatial will provide more options for companies with specific IT requirements.
- This is an important statement that no existing products will be retired. I think it is very important that GE Energy repeat that statement until it becomes very clear to all of its current customers. I have frozen this statement in time as a PDF file. In my view this is a very import statement and I will do what I can to hold GE Energy to it.
What is not included in the announcement:
- VMDS/Magik will be retired.
- Actually, the press release states the current CST will continue to exist for customers with complex networks.
- GE Energy’s Smallworld Core Spatial Technology* remains a key technology for large utilities and telecommunications customers with complex solution needs. No existing products will be retired as a result of this new offering.
I would be interested in your comments.