At PeopleSoft's Leadership Summit in Las Vegas, CEO Craig Conway told the audience of 2,500 IT executives: "It's time for the enterprise software industry to move into an era of total ownership experience."
Total ownership experience? Once upon a time the computer industry peddled products, not amorphous concepts. Times have changed. As the technology for conducting business has matured, products are generally less innovative and more similar across vendors. Add in the economic downturn and a wizened customer base focused on getting rapid return on IT investments, and you have an environment ripe for feel-good concepts like total ownership experience, as well as the assorted on-demand computing initiatives and real-time enterprise.
According to Conway, total ownership experience will do for enterprise software what USB (Universal Serial Bus) did for printers. "As far as I can tell, the greatest advance in printers is the USB port, and it has everything to do with the ownership experience," Conway said. Similar to on-demand computing virtues, total ownership experience is all about automating business processes and reducing the number of people required to deliver and maintain IT solutions-or hooking up a printer to a PC. Conway pledged to dedicate 500 developers to improving the ownership experience.
During his keynote at the conference, Conway outlined three areas that impact total ownership experience. The first area is reducing the cost for enterprise software by making it easier to install, configure and maintain. Second, reducing dependence on companies that own standards. "When one company owns a standard, the dependency can become extortion," Conway said. "Microsoft is determined to continue that dependency. Its response to Internet-based applications with no code on client is .Net, which is a strategy to convince you to use Microsoft development tools, operating systems, middleware, Web services and databases. Enterprise software running on PCs is a home formula to make asbestos; you need to get enterprise software off of PCs."
Conway's answer to what he called Microsoft's "death grip on industry" is Linux. On Monday, PeopleSoft announced a strategic joint development initiative with IBM to port and optimize PeopleSoft enterprise applications to Linux running on IBM hardware and software.
It's fine to provide Linux, given customers are asking for it and PeopleSoft has lagged competitors in jumping on the Linux bandwagon. Beating up on Microsoft in touting Linux, however, seems beside the point. Apparently, Conway is more worried about Microsoft eating his lunch than Oracle or SAP. In fact, Conway has now joined Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Scott McNealy (Sun) as preeminent Microsoft bashers who wake up in the morning worried that an unbridled Microsoft will not rest until it dominates the operating system, database, and enterprise application markets.
The third area is eliminating middleware and the high cost of integration. Today, at least one of out every three dollars is spend on integration, according to Conway. PeopleSoft pledged to provide out-of-the-box integration with SAP and Oracle business applications, starting with its Supplier Relationship Management later this year.
"If every enterprise software company did the same thing, it would be the beginning of the end to middleware, and savings could be put in new technologies. It's the beginning of truly cross-functional applications," Conway said.
Clearly, this is an important initiative that can lead to cost reduction--like Web services-- but getting the vendors to scratch each others' backs has never been easy. Let's hope that PeopleSoft makes good on its promise and that other vendors follow PeopleSoft's lead in reducing the inter-application integration problem.
While those three basic areas provide a general outline of the total ownership experience concept, the specific methods to transform software installation and configuration from projects measured in weeks or months to days was mostly left to the imagination. Ram Gupta, PeopleSoft executive vice president of products and technology, said the company had identified 112 areas to improve within eight categories: installation, configuration, integration, maintenance, usability, quality, performance and upgrading.
In the area of software maintenance, for example, Gupta said the company is developing a "change assistant" tool that understands the configuration, patch and customization levels of the customer's application, accesses a tracking database to figure out what fixes are needed, and automatically downloads the fixes to the customer's test environment. Gupta also said the applications would have embedded diagnostic probes to capture vital signs and identify trouble spots and bottlenecks, and present a remedy. Another goal is to upgrade applications with zero downtime. The company is also looking at shipping pre-built configuration templates for specific business processes.
I talked to several analysts attending the event who cover PeopleSoft to get their impressions on the total ownership experience. The general consensus: good idea-like IBM's --but will it amount to more than just a good idea? "No one can fault the concept, but it's all about execution. I didn't hear enough to know if PeopleSoft can execute on it," said Joshua Greenbaum of Enterprise Applications Consulting.
Steven Rice, vice president of Human Resources, Americas, at Hewlett-Packard, and a PeopleSoft customer, said the challenge ahead for PeopleSoft is to simplify software and keep up with request for new features across its more than 170 products. "It's the 'and' equation," Rice said. "Focusing on lower cost of ownership and adding to the product portfolio in terms of capabilities."
Gupta told me some of the improvements would be available in November, but he was not specific about which ones. He also cautioned that changing the customer focus to ownership from the features and functions wars won't happen overnight. "The big bang won't happen--the total ownership experience is not something that will happen two or three years from now," Gupta said. "We will take advantage of hundreds of things that are being built into the code on rolling forward basis. It's a continuous innovation toward the objective of reducing cost and improving the end-user experience."
Still a bit vague, but headed in the right direction. The technology industry is ripe for automation, but it will take years to achieve in a consistent, reliable fashion, and it will require more than PeopleSoft's participation. Industry standards and vendors working together to automate functions across applications will be essential. Otherwise, we will end up with silos of automation that reduce cost and complexity, but only within narrow bands of functionality.
Does the "total ownership experience" concept sound like an important industry direction? What do you see as the major areas that should be automated? How will automation impact IT jobs in the future? Leave your comments in our TalkBack forum, or write to me at email@example.com. If you're looking for my commentaries on other IT topics, check the archives.