PeopleSoft plans technology blitz to simplify apps

PeopleSoft last week outlined an initiative to reduce the cost of installing its business applications, simplify the process of...

PeopleSoft last week outlined an initiative to reduce the cost of installing its business applications, simplify the process of integrating them with other systems and streamline user upgrades of the software.

At PeopleSoft's 2003 Leadership Summit conference in Las Vegas, the company said the plan also included the development of technologies designed to automate further its software support operations and improve application quality and usability.

Craig Conway, PeopleSoft's president and chief executive officer, said in his keynote speech that the software company would spend "hundreds of millions of dollars" on the effort over the next few years. Application projects and other IT operations remain too "people-intensive", he added.

PeopleSoft executives did not disclose much in the way of specific product plans. But their vow to make application maintenance and upgrades less of a chore struck a chord with Vicki Silvera, director of information systems at Vail Resorts Management.

When Vail Resorts upgraded to Version 8.1 of PeopleSoft's human resources, payroll and other employee-related applications two years ago, some of the software required monthly patch downloads, Silvera said.

At times, patch management became "a maintenance nightmare," she added. Since then, Silvera has worked with PeopleSoft to address the patch issues and said she has seen "a concerted effort to increase quality assurance".

The idea of streamlining the software upgrade process is also of interest to George Muller, chief information officer at Imperial. The sugar maker runs a mix of PeopleSoft 7 and 8 ERP applications, and Muller said any technology that could reduce costs and time-consuming procedures for his IT staff "definitely gets me excited".

But Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting, said PeopleSoft needed to prove it could back up its lofty rhetoric.

"PeopleSoft's customer initiative looks good on paper, but we need more substance to truly evaluate its potential impact," he said. "The industry standard for solving these problems largely consists of talk and no action, so if PeopleSoft can set a new standard, all power to them."

Rick Bergquist, PeopleSoft's chief technology officer, said the company would build packaged connectors into its applications so users can connect them more easily to software from rival suppliers such as SAP and Oracle.

For example, he said, the next release of PeopleSoft's supplier relationship management module, due later this year, will support out-of-the-box integration with SAP applications.

Bergquist called PeopleSoft's plan "the beginning of the end of middleware". Another PeopleSoft executive said the built-in connectors would require less work on the part of IT managers than the AppConnect integration tools that the company announced last August.

But AppConnect will continue to play a major role in enabling the promised integration with rival applications, according to PeopleSoft. And Bergquist said specialised connectors may be needed to help users integrate PeopleSoft applications with homegrown or heavily customised systems.

PeopleSoft is also working to embed diagnostic tools in its applications to help IT managers track software patches and automatically download newly issued ones. In addition, Conway claimed that users would eventually be able to upgrade their applications with zero downtime.

PeopleSoft maps out Linux strategy

PeopleSoft also used last week's conference to unveil plans to make all 170 of its applications available on Red Hat's version of Linux, starting in the fourth quarter.

David Sayed, technology product marketing manager at PeopleSoft, said the move was prompted by an increased interest among IT managers in using Linux beyond basic file and web servers. "Now customers are telling us they want to run enterprise applications [on Linux-based systems]," he said.

PeopleSoft anointed IBM's Intel-based servers, DB2 database and WebSphere application server software as its primary development platforms for the open-source operating system. But the software company said it would also support its applications on other servers running Red Hat Advanced Server.

Like other application suppliers, PeopleSoft is recognising "the competitive aspect of having a Linux solution," said Stacey Quandt, an analyst at Forrester Research. "There's obvious demand in the market."

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