Oracle's support tools designed to reduce the complexity around upgrades is meeting with mixed success, according to members of the independent Oracle Applications User Group (OAUG).

While Oracle has made strides in stabilising its applications and making their installation and maintenance easier, some users still find the installation of service packages a time-consuming - and trying - experience. Oracle prefers to release large sets of patches requiring extensive testing for backward compatibility instead of more incremental one-off fixes, is a common complaint.

Arthur Hunt, an OAUG board member who is also a manager of IT systems at Yale University, noted that Oracle's method of releasing its updates requires considerable retrogressive testing to ensure nothing is broken after deployment. "We have found it hard, but we deal with it," said Hunt, whose IT shop runs Oracle 11.5.8 public-sector applications.

Nevertheless, he said, the company's applications improve each year, with rollouts getting easier and Oracle support generally good - as long as the necessary documentation is provided to Oracle troubleshooters. Hunt also noted that Oracle support staff can dial into Yale's software and do direct diagnostic work rather than having internal staff send their event logs.

Doing the upgrades could be made easier if the various pieces, such as bug fixes or new functions, were broken down and issued separately, said Brent Moody, an analyst for financial and administrative systems at Health Care. The non-profit health provider uses Oracle's human resources software.

To make the rollout process easier, staff at the Rochester Institute of Technology use Oracle's applications manager tool, which runs scripts and is designed to help companies pro-actively identify problems, said Kimberly Sowers, a manager of IT services at the school. She said Oracle still needs to change security controls in the tool to allow access to it from less senior users.

Sowers noted that Oracle's human resources and payroll require large patches for legal compliance reasons, and "so we do plan to have the manpower to support the upgrade. At least [the process and timing is] predictable."

Despite those issues, Oracle has been working to improve its support and development processes. The company's internal customer advisory boards have been working with the OAUG to get feedback needed to improve its applications, said OAUG President Pat Dues, who is also project officer at the city manager's office in Las Vegas, an Oracle shop.

Moreover, for the past three months, several of the OAUG's special interest groups have been piloting a new process to offer feedback to Oracle on enhancements that should be made to the E-Business Suite.

Now in beta with the human resources group in OAUG, the process would allow any Oracle customer to click on to a special link on the Oracle MetaLink support website and request an enhancement. That request will then be reviewed by OAUG volunteers for potential submission to Oracle's development staff, said Hunt. A more open pilot will be available by October, he said.