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Interview: Nothing but 'Net

Interview: Nothing but 'Net

Carol Ptak is in the thick of PeopleSoft's efforts to transform itself from, as she puts it, "that HR company that, oh, by the way, does some supply chain" to a major player in ERP and analytics software. Ptak learned manufacturing from the ground up, starting out as an assembler on a plant floor.

From there, she went on to plant management and then established her own consulting firm before joining IBM Corp.'s worldwide ERP solutions group. In addition, in 2000, Ptak served as president and CEO of APICS -- The Educational Society for Resource Management. She joined Pleasanton, Calif.-based PeopleSoft last year and now has worldwide responsibility for the company's manufacturing industry strategy across its entire product line.

Ptak recently spoke with Computerworld's Tommy Peterson about how her company and others are responding to customers' needs.

Q: What sorts of technological issues do you see PeopleSoft having to address?

I see it from two sides: There's what customers tell us they need, and then there's the flip side. Take the example of Post-it notes -- which is, until it comes out, customers don't know they need it. Post-it notes were really a disruptive change, albeit not something that changed the world. But still, they weren't something that somebody went to 3M and said, "You know, we really need a little piece of paper that's got glue on the back that sticks but doesn't stick." But after 3M developed it, everybody went, "Oh, gotta have that."

So the job is really twofold -- first, listening to what customers are saying and translating that into changes. The other half is looking at what we've got and helping our customers understand what's there.

Q: So, what are users saying they need right now?

People are going for anything that will increase revenues or decrease costs with some level of surety that that's going to happen in the very short term. It's [which] technology is going to address a real business issue for them.

Users don't think of the kind of big systems that PeopleSoft and its competitors sell as quick fixes. It depends on the size of the company. What I'm seeing is that the big companies out there are buying point solutions. They're buying something that fixes a very finite scope of issues they have in the company. The smaller companies, the under US$2 billion companies, are looking for full-suite integration projects, but they're looking for them to be completed in under a year. The expectations are of time to implementation of six to nine months. So it's a big project for that company, but it's also very quick. The old 18- to 24-month project times just don't hold anymore. They need to have whatever it is you're going to do up, running and producing the return on investment within a year.

Q: Was that a tough transition for PeopleSoft to make?

No, actually. Our architecture allows you to deploy more quickly than our competition, because it's a pure Internet architecture. I was with a customer recently that was looking to outsource some of their manufacturing to Mexico. One of the things that really resonated with them was that because of our pure Internet architecture, if something happened in Mexico, they didn't have to send a tech across the border in order to fix something that's running on the client machine. All you need is a browser. With the security issues in going across the border, if a tech has to go over there on what's a 20-minute job, he's going to be gone all day. So that was a big savings for them right there; it was a big determinant of how much tech support they were going to have to add. Folks recognize that the Internet is the future, and I believe we're the only ones that have a pure Internet architecture.

Q: What kinds of advantages do you see as inherent in an Internet-based architecture?

First, there's a big difference between Internet-enabled and pure Internet architecture. Pure Internet architecture means that this technology was designed from scratch to run over the Internet. There is absolutely no code on the client.

Think about what's happening in the industry today and how companies have to collaborate much more closely with their customers. They need to get information out to their customers and do it in such a way that it's very easy and inexpensive for the customer to receive that information. What's easier than giving somebody a user ID and a password for a Web site? There's no integration and training of the supplier.

When our customers say they are Internet-enabled, it means that you're having to download code; it means thicker clients. For our customers, you look at the number of PCs that you would have to upgrade. And they ask, "How big of a client do I need to run the code?" With ours, you only need a browser. If you've got older machines, we say great -- you don't even have to upgrade all those machines. All you need is a browser.

Q: What does the real-time enterprise mean to your company and your customers?

We see real time as meaning that there is no time lag between an event and the implication of the event. I need to know as soon as something happens in my supply chain that I've got a problem. I need to know right away when I have an opportunity with a customer.

Q: What's the capability for the real-time enterprise right now?

It varies. It always gets down to how many integration points are there at the customer site and how often do they want them refreshed. We're living in a very heterogeneous world.

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