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Notes from the PeopleSoft Conference

You probably didn't know this, but PeopleSoft is 110% Internet. It has no code on the client. None. No Java, it's decaffeinated. Zero. Plenty of Javascript, but no code whatsoever. None.

Apparently nobody at the PeopleSoft conference knew this before, because Craigh Conway et al., told them about 4 jillion times.

Conway comes from Oracle, and it shows. In the Oracle school, you're taught to find an edge, something you do and nobody else does, and then make that edge the only thing you talk about. It doesn't matter how ridiculous or silly it is. The edge is what makes you better.

I asked Rick Bergquist, the CTO, one of the talents in the business, what it was about being 110% Internet that was so all-fired important. There are two things. First of all, bandwidth requirements are lowered, because only HTML code travels over the lines. So it runs faster over phone lines.

Second, casual users can run the product from very light machines--or, when traveling, on borrowed machines.

There it is. That's why PeopleSoft is so special and is going to be the Oracle-killer.

Conway has been effective. Every old-time PeopleSoft person says that the organization now runs much better than it did. It's just a shame that the new, disciplined marketing organization seems to have gone to the Commerce One school of marketing claims.

Last May, PeopleSoft claimed that it had a new, full-blown CRM module based on Vantive and ready to go. But all they really have is a call center module (scarcely full CRM), and even that, according to people in the know, only incorporates 60% of the original Vantive product.

Regular readers know my theory that success in the broad-based solution market these days is inversely proportional to how much your customers hate you. It's just a theory--impossible to prove-- but just look at the ERP/SCM companies that have really pissed off some customers, and you'll see what I mean.

The PeopleSoft conference did show once again that PeopleSoft customers really like PeopleSoft, no matter what their marketing or development organization is guilty of. I talked to one HR customer who had bought a whole slew of the new PeopleSoft HR modules that supported the new, competency-based HR paradigm. Didn't work. Isn't used. Doesn't matter.

But it does seem that customer opinion is less enthusiastic than formerly. This year, the press/analysts were barred from all but a few, selected user conference sessions, for the first time that I can remember. Apparently, they don't want to give us access to customers. This is extremely unusual, in my experience, and it can't help but leave a bad taste in my mouth. If customers liked PeopleSoft because, whatever their flaws, they were open and decent, the new PeopleSoft may eventually erode one of their greatest assets.

Still, some really good things, as always.

  • PeopleSoft has developed a quite good sales order module with really good support for promotions and deals which will make it a serious contender in CPG, if buyers are rational. Surprisingly, many large CPG companies have never been able to make a commercial application work for their customer-facing work, so the market is not terribly penetrated.
  • The portals product has been designed for today's markets and today's users, and it should be a hit. Bergquist has chosen to make it a simple extension of the PeopleSoft product, rather than give it many best-in-breed portal features (a la SAP Portals). I disagree with the approach, but it does have merit, and users like the simplicity and straightforwardness.
  • The underlying technical design of the product is really good, and it does help users who are willing to exploit it. One CIO in a financial services company has adapted the e-commerce module so that he can buy computers more efficiently. Nothing else, just computers. But computers are a big portion of his spend, and the benefit is clear.

The highlight of the conference was the Barenaked Ladies singing "If I Had a Million Dollars." So many more of us singing that this year.

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