Enterprise applications vendor PeopleSoft has always been such a nice company: friendly, and sort of warm and fuzzy. Even the name sounds cuddly. Not for PeopleSoft the flash yachts of Oracle's Larry Ellison or the Teutonic rigour of SAP. So, imagine the audience's surprise last week in New York when, at the launch of its PeopleSoft 8 suite, chief executive Craig Conway stood up and actually started being nasty about the opposition.
"Oracle has become a sociopathic company. It blatantly lies about things. Larry Ellison is maniacal," Conway thundered. A Bruce Willis-style white vest would have offset the new tough guy image perfectly, as he strutted around in front of a surprised crowd that had been expecting the usual optimistic blurb that accompanies a product launch. Instead, the audience was confronted by a man verbally machine-gunning his competitors.
"In 1990, Dun & Bradstreet Software had 13,000 customers. Where is it now? By the way, SAP has about 13,000 customers too," he sniped.
The reason for this new-found confidence is that PeopleSoft has spent the past two years completely rewriting its software as an internet-only application suite. This means no PC-based client software and no applets to download from a server. All you need is a web browser or XML-enabled device and you can use it.
"Customers will not be buying client/server software a year from now," said Baer Tierkel, the company's vice president of marketing and strategy. "There is a dramatic return on investment proposition from moving to an internet architecture."
The end for client/server software?
Are we about to see the demise of the last decade's dominant IT architecture? Some analysts are sceptical. "The internet model will replace client/server, but it will be 10 years before people totally abandon client/server," says Jamie Snowdon, research manager for analyst IDC. "All people need at the moment is the look and feel of the internet. I don't understand the argument that says you have to have an internet-only application."
There could be advantages to PeopleSoft's approach, however. "If you are rolling out an application to many countries, one of the biggest problems can be local support," says Nigel Montgomery, research director at AMR Research. "The advantage of a browser is it's a lot easier to manage, with a lower cost of ownership. However, to say client/server is dead is not a reality."
Perhaps it is simply a case of horses for courses. In a report entitled Net-Enable or Client/Server, analyst Gartner concludes: "The choice of client/server versus net-enabled applications should be business-driven. Consider architecture and functionality, developer skills and degree of risk. The coexistence of these architectures provides increased accessibility, as well as insurance against production failure due to unpredictable internet instability."
Maybe the truth lies not in the technology, but in the marketing. "We live in a tough neighbourhood," says Conway. "Oracle spends 11 per cent of its revenue on marketing. In 1999 we only spent 3.5 per cent of our revenue on marketing. That will change. We have to be combative, confrontational and competitive in our marketing and advertising from now on."
Some might argue that when Larry Ellison ordered private detectives to snoop in his competitors' dustbins, PeopleSoft was forced into playing it tough to keep up. While the new image may impress some, PeopleSoft must wait for users to make up their own minds about its net-only business applications.
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