PeopleSoft wants to be more aggressive in the Internet space

PeopleSoft has been making headlines of late with announcements of a new president and the upcoming release of its flagship ERP product, PeopleSoft 8.

The company is promising to follow a stronger direction, including a renewed commitment to customer service and a more aggressive Internet focus. David Achtemichuk – who has been vice-president and general manager of PeopleSoft Canada Co. since April – met with ComputerWorld Canada senior writer Gail Balfour at PeopleSoft’s recent conference in New Orleans, to discuss the company’s newest strategies and products.

CWC:In some ways, the release of PeopleSoft 7.5 last year seemed like a bigger step than 8 will be.

Achtemichuk: Yes, that’s because when we released 7.0 we basically divided it into two major components – one being 7 and one being 7.5. The first was primarily a technology release: the three-tier architecture, the Web components and capabilities. In 7.5, it had all the new business functionality.

But 8 still is a huge release. The key differences for 8 are going to be -not surprisingly – the whole Internet client where we’ve completed the transition from the Java client through e7.5 (the latest release) with the HTML thin client, to now release 8 being a full, 100 per cent Internet client.

CWC:The term ‘100-per-cent Internet’ was heard a lot at this conference. Does this refer to more than just Web-enablement?

Achtemichuk: In today’s world many of the functions are available to be deployed over the Web, but the Java scripts that are currently there in 7 make it quite difficult – it requires a very large client to perform many of the functions. So the architecture in 8 basically says that all the functions that are in the PeopleSoft system right now will have been moved more to the server. And the only requirement right now is for the client to be much thinner, running more of a browser environment, and [customers] can perform 100 per cent of the functions with PeopleSoft, using that thin client.

CWC:How does that functionality translate into everyday business processes within an organization?

Achtemichuk: From a business perspective…if I want to roll out the browser to more of my users internally, I can now take that even a step further and have all the users in my organization get access to what they need to. In addition to that, what about my suppliers, what about my customers? We are not just having the architecture that’s 100 per cent Internet, but we are also delivering pieces of the application that are tailored to those user groups. So, for example, a series of panels that are specifically tailored to a manager in an organization vs. an employee, or a customer, or a supplier.

CWC:What are some of the other additions in the new release?

Achtemichuk: The second major technology difference, I think, will be on integration, [the] re-architecting the product to be much more of a publish/subscribe-type architecture. As we move into the Internet world, we need to be able to interact and communicate with a lot more applications and a lot more data sources.

There will be additional functional components as well. During this time period there will be new Internet applications – in addition to eStore and eProcurement, there will be two or three more e-business applications. There will also be hundreds of enhancements and more robustness in the existing product lines that are there.

CWC:Will this be the first time PeopleSoft has done beta testing?

Achtemichuk: It’s the first time we have officially had something called a beta program. Previously it was typically known as the Early Success Program – we rolled it out under a controlled release limited to a half-dozen customers, or so. They would take the product and then work with us to announce a general availability date. Now, I think it will be more of a robust program and it will get out to more beta customers.

CWC:What led up to this decision?

Achtemichuk: [Previously] it wasn’t as formal a program. Now, we are putting a lot more emphasis on having more customers in beta, and having a very formal process of closing the loop back and incorporating all those (new product) features before going ahead and launching it.

From a Canadian perspective, there are two or three customers who are talking with us now that are interested in the beta program and some of the modules.

CWC:What would you say is the main difference between ERP customers in Canada vs. the US?

Achtemichuk: It may come down to a couple of key cultural differences. And from the marketplace perspective on a distribution level, we have many more of our key customers that are in the middle marketspace. I think it’s fair to say that since we have been in Canada, we have focused more on the up-market space. So the real opportunity, I think, for PeopleSoft in Canada to expand is going to be in the middle market.

CWC:How do cultural differences between the two countries have an effect in this market?

Achtemichuk: I think Canadian buyers are typically more reserved and have a ‘show-me’ type of perspective. And secondly, they have been slower to adopt e-commerce strategies within their organizations. So at the end of the day, we have many opportunities still on our plate that are pure ERP sales, instead of e-commerce sales. Much more communication and education needs to be focused on getting [customers] to define their e-commerce strategy and looking at our products as part of that strategy.

Also, because a large percentage of our market (in Canada) is mid-market, customers are looking for PeopleSoft to have a stronger role as a one-point contact. So, ‘Don’t just sell me software, but provide me a way where I can go to one place for software, for implementation’ – and maybe nine months from now that will have expanded to include application service provider (ASP) provisioning.

CWC:ERP has been traditionally viewed as monolithic, expensive and complex. Do you think people’s ideas of this market still need to change?

Achtemichuk: There is definitely still an impression of that. Given the lifecycle we are at in selling ERP, those organizations that have not bought ERP yet would be some of the slower adopters. So inherently, I think they have that additional challenge of getting over those objections and what they think of ERP.

That is going to be one the advantages, quite frankly, in the approach we are taking with Release 8 – of ‘skinnying’ down that backbone and moving some of that functionality out to the e-business applications.