The information we deal with every day moves increasingly from the tactile world of paper, film, and photograph into the binary world of digital electronics. This movement makes much of what we once thought was tedious easy. No longer do we add up columns of numbers or spend hours looking through index cards for a name. The ease with which such things can now be done on a computer is astonishing. This ease comes at a price, however. The more things move on to computers, the easier our lives become. There was a time when getting information off the London Stock Exchange would have taken days. Then it became hours, then minutes. Today, we can get prices in real time, that is, instantly. At the same time, some companies are becoming larger than most nations and global business means having to deal with global business practices. A multinational company will need to know how the financial world is shaped in London, in New York, in Beijing and in Tokyo. Dealing with such radically different systems means using software that is flexible and able to withstand new ideas and changes in the world. Oracle Corporation believes it is the company that can provide this software. Already the world's leader in database applications, Oracle has for the past few years been establishing itself as a financial application powerhouse as well. Oracle's vice-president for financial applications, John Wookey, was recently in Hong Kong and discussed the firm's plans. In February, Oracle released version 10.7 of its Oracle Financial Applications package. Although proud to be a success in the database area, Oracle now sees itself as an applications company, one that can provide serious solutions to a multitude of business problems. After all, Mr Wookey said, a modern business needed to combine its accounting needs with many others, including its database needs. The group he heads is not small. 'We have 270 people spread all over the world, with domain experts in many countries,' he said. In trying to meet the needs of modern companies, it is necessary to understand local conditions. Most accountants know that every company and country has its own way of doing things. A financial officer in New York or Hong Kong must deal with the conditions of many other areas, and needs all the help he can get. This is what Oracle hopes to be able to provide. In Japan, for example, Oracle has put a great deal of effort into meeting various requirements. 'Out of 52 items required in Japan, we met 34 features. We worked closely with Toshiba, Nippon Steel and others,' Mr Wookey said. Now, Oracle will work on the remaining 18. One of Oracle's advantages was the fact it was a truly global company and knew what such companies need. Mr Wookey pointed to the fact that Sun Microsystems, Cisco and others also used Oracle's financial products. 'With GL [Oracle's general ledger application], corporate headquarters can consolidate things more easily,' he said. 'We believe that it will be possible to automatically transfer financial data in real time. Within 12 to 24 months there will be real-time financial management. It will be possible to sit in Hong Kong and oversee a global business.' The future of financial packages would emulate the future of most of computing: it would become easier to use, it would be 'immediate' and accessible from almost anywhere. 'Letting people get information fast is what we are all about,' he said. Oracle's objective was not to restrict when or how people obtained information; they must be able to have it easily and at once. Oracle is also one of the prime movers behind the much discussed network computer (NC) that will need virtually no administration, thus saving companies millions in administration costs. Other network specialists such as Sun and IBM are also behind Oracle in this. In modern English, the word oracle has two, rather opposite, meanings: one is infallible guidance and the other is an ambiguous or obscure response. Mr Wookey knows which definition his company stands for. Time will tell the rest of us.