PeopleSoft’s Latest Gambits Make Sense, Unfortunately

Joshua Greenbaum

Updated · May 22, 2003

This year's award for the most obvious marketing campaign goes to PeopleSoft for its new Total Ownership Experience (TOE) initiative.

If it weren't for the fact that the problems PeopleSoft wants to address — complexity in the implementation and use of enterprise software — are so endemic to the industry, I'd be tempted to suggest a hearty laugh at PeopleSoft's expense. After all, a marketing initiative aimed at improving the customer experience implies that the current experience isn't up to snuff. Which in turn means that enterprise software, even PeopleSoft's, isn't meeting this most basic of goals.

Unfortunately, this pretty much defines the state of the market: Complexity and cost are still too high for most products. If PeopleSoft can flesh out it TOE idea with a little more substance, it may really be on to something.

Ever since the dawn of enterprise software, customers have desperately sought simplicity, and been rewarded with complexity. While the industry has gone a long way towards solving these problems — witness the decline in the ratio of software license spend to consulting spend — there's still a lot more the vendors can do. As PeopleSoft CEO Craig Conway puts it, the goal is to become the “USB port” of the software industry: self-identifying, self-installing, universal. It's a truly worthy goal.

My only beef with TOE (other than the fact that way too many bad puns come to mind every time I use the term) is that PeopleSoft's initial description is long on theory and short on substance. Conway says there are some 112 different “things” that PeopleSoft has identified as comprising the customer experience. The very short list that he gave was a little vague: self-installation, auto-upgrade, automatic bug-fixes, improved user experience. Every one of these is a good idea, a very good idea, but without more specific details it's hard to judge whether PeopleSoft has actually taken these good ideas and made them into good products and good features.

Doing Away With EAI

How TOE will actually play out is a lot harder to imagine than PeopleSoft's other big idea: the elimination of the enterprise application integration (EAI) market. They didn't really put it that way, but that's the effect of the other major announcement at the company's recent user conference.

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PeopleSoft wants to do away with the current requirement to engage third-party integrators and EAI vendors in order to tie PeopleSoft's application to the likes of SAP and Oracle. The idea ends up being a key part of TOE, though it wasn't really pitched that way. PeopleSoft plans to ship its products with pre-built integration, taking over responsibility for these interfaces and guaranteeing that, no matter what SAP and Oracle do to their applications, PeopleSoft will make sure the integration works, out of the box. Almost sounds too good to be true.

Like TOE, it was hard to get real details from PeopleSoft on exactly what applications would be interfaced to which APIs. But it's clear that, at a minimum, PeopleSoft knows a thing or two about interfacing to its rivals' systems. The first two implementations of its Enterprise Services Automation suite required interfaces to Oracle and SAP, and it's safe to assume that PeopleSoft knows how to turn that experience into a “productized” set of APIs. As with TOE, the sky's the limit on how far PeopleSoft can choose to go with building out its own EAI capabilities. We'll have to wait and see if PeopleSoft can bring to market the right interfaces in a credible fashion.

But I have to give PeopleSoft the benefit of the doubt, for now, and you should too. One thing this company doesn't do is run the hype-flag up the flag pole too often. Remember, this was the company that took a lot heat as the release of PeopleSoft 8 was delayed and its competitors took pot shots at PeopleSoft 7's client/server technology base. At the time the delay looked bad, but considering the fate of those that rushed new technology to market too early, PeopleSoft's reticence was most wise indeed. If they can do as well with TOE as they did with version 8, it's going to be a very good year to be PeopleSoft.

Joshua Greenbaum is a principal with Enterprise Applications Consulting, a technology and marketing consultancy in Daly City, Calif.

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