Q&A: PeopleSoft CTO on Linux and enterprise software

Rick Bergquist explains why PeopleSoft is porting its applications to Linux, and how it sees the ERP market developing
Written by Simon Sharwood, Contributor
PeopleSoft's chief technology officer, Rick Bergquist, tells ZDNet Australia's Simon Sharwood why the company has taken the Linux plunge, where the future lies for enterprise software and why some installations are failing. What do you think is the most important innovation to improve enterprise software?
We think a change in mindset is the most important. When Japanese carmakers came to the USA, they said better cars meant better quality and reliability. American cars were all about style -- where do the fins go? -- and the Japanese took market share very quickly. If you look at enterprise software today, I think that PeopleSoft, SAP and Oracle all have adequate features and functions. It's hard to tell the difference with the untrained eye. So what's needed is a new mindset that's not about packing in new features but instead delivers better product that is cheaper to feed and care for and can be changed when you want to. How do you achieve this mindset?
I think it's a case of asking where customers' greatest pain is. We ask ourselves: "is the customer delighted?" and work until they are. An example: our last version of CRM required over a dozen clicks to add a customer. The new one needs three. We think that's a change that makes people very happy. What does you development team have to do differently to deliver?
We used to measure the developers on feature count and link their bonuses to customer satisfaction. We've changed the way we measure their output and now we need to achieve higher customer satisfaction ratings before bonuses are available. PeopleSoft has announced it will port all its applications to Linux. Does that pose a technical challenge?
Linux is now ready for prime time. It is now supported all the way up and down the value chain. We believe it has all come together with sufficient reliability and depth for enterprise customers. From a development point of view, we already support several operating systems so adding RedHat Linux on Intel isn't a big chore. What sort of customers do you think will choose to run PeopleSoft on Linux?
We see three advantages for Linux. First up is licensing cost, then there is reliability. Thirdly is that it creates competition between server vendors, where before choosing Unix meant tying yourself to a single supplier. Any one of those advantages by itself can be enough for a company to move to Linux. So we can see all sorts of customers will look at it. One industry we think will be our earliest adopter is financial services. It's a very computing-intensive industry where they are sensitive to cost. Microsoft's acquisition of Great Plains and Navision make them a player in your industry. How do you think that will impact your business?
Microsoft is very good at certain types of products sold in certain ways, usually to a mass market. We don't understand how a company can change what it has in its genes to come into a market like ours. There's been speculation that the market for ERP is saturated. Who's buying today?
When the Y2K crisis hit, we saw big companies buy new software and smaller companies patch their existing software. That old software is now running out of steam and small-and-medium sized businesses know it. So that's a market that's important to us at the moment. Some high profile PeopleSoft installations have come off the rails in Australia lately. How do you explain this and prevent it in future?
We believe the variability comes in the use of the product or in the project management, because we have plenty of sites where the software works just fine. We have a list of 12 factors that contribute to a good implementation, and when we see a troubled site, at least one of those 12 is missing. Interestingly, when we have some of our people working on an implementation, the customer satisfaction is always higher. So the reason we have a consulting business is to deliver higher customer satisfaction.
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