PeopleSoft Ends Its Era

Tuesday, February 1, 2005
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This column is more personal than most because I grew up in the HR technology industry with PeopleSoft, first meeting founder Dave Duffield in 1989 when the company had 11 employees. Now it has 12,500 (or did when writing this in December), and its death and acquisition by Oracle seems personal.

This is my second obituary of an HRMS pioneer. The last was 1991, when Information Sciences (InSci), the first mainframe package vendor, was acquired by Computer Associates. But its heyday was in the '70s and early '80s.

PeopleSoft flourished in the '90s by introducing the very first packaged application using the new client/server technology for -- of all things -- HR! PeopleSoft made HR sexy and kept it that way (and itself flourishing) by later taking it to the Web. While the company name reflected its first product, the "people" part stayed equally true as it expanded into the entire ERP suite.

That's because Duffield was a hugger: physically, emotionally and managerially. PeopleSoft was his third software start-up and he arrived in 1987 knowing how to do it. He physically embraced employees and customers, and they loved him for it, especially when his business methods and ethics reflected the same sentiments.

No one who attended will forget the 1999 PeopleSoft Connect user conference when Duffield welcomed his new CEO, Craig Conway, on stage with a big hug, and Conway physically recoiled from the embrace. While Conway did make the top echelon at PeopleSoft run more like Oracle (his background), he never changed the spirit in the ranks. PeopleSoft remained a one-of-a-kind place to work, even without the leader the troops loved.

Enough reminiscing. What is the bottom line for PeopleSoft customers? In a few years, there will be no PeopleSoft HRMS. Of course, many companies will still be running it, but they'll be patching their system with bailing wire, getting tax and regulatory updates from an independent service, and maybe some help from Oracle or a third-party maintenance group.

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Oracle will definitely produce a Version 9.0 to replace the current 8.9 -- probably not the architectural upgrade PeopleSoft was planning, but certainly a functional upgrade of some sort. After that, the "unified code base" being offered will be the Oracle HRMS with some functions and features cherry-picked from PeopleSoft. You cannot unify Oracle's product, written in Java, and PeopleSoft's, written in its proprietary PeopleTools.

So eventually, and it may be years down the road depending on your circumstances, PeopleSoft customers will have to choose between migrating to Oracle, SAP, BPO or something else. But when it comes to Oracle, remember that, while some may call the company the "Evil Empire," that's certainly not true of the HRMS group, whose people and products are solid. In fact, Oracle's senior vice president, Joel Summers, had his first vendor job working for Duffield at his second start-up, Integral, and is one of the most fair and honest software executives in our business.

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