PeopleSoft makes its e-commerce pitch

PeopleSoft has discovered electronic commerce and the Internet.

At the opening of its annual user conference on Monday, PeopleSoft announced its strategy for extending its enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications outward to embrace the Internet and allow PeopleSoft users to conduct business more effectively, company officials said.

While announcing the overall framework for its "e-business" strategy and the creation of a dedicated e-commerce business unit, PeopleSoft's management has yet to reveal a number of vital details for how the company will allow a new and broader set of users access to data and information stored in its ERP suite.

In fact at a press conference held on Monday announcing PeopleSoft's Business Network the familiar refrain was "we'll announce that in the first quarter of 1999".

What PeopleSoft is saying at this point is that the company has created a new electronic commerce business unit that "is thinking like an Internet start-up, working out of a garage," which for the past four months has developed an architecture that includes three main elements:

-- the e-business backbone, which describes how the company will tweak its enterprise applications to become the e-commerce backbone. The adjustments will include applications programming interfaces for developing e-commerce applications, new messaging-agent technology and ways to integrate EDI services.

-- the e-business Extensions: an expansion of business procedures --supported by PeopleSoft's ERP applications -- that can be conducted electronically over the Internet, extranets of intranets. The extensions will include a new set of self-service, Web-based applications allowing employees inside an enterprise to conduct, for example, human resource and maintenance procurement tasks. PeopleSoft also said it will partner with other software companies to deliver applications that allow for the coordination and management of supplies among business partners and for selling products on the Web.

-- the PeopleSoft Business Network, a network of content, information and service providers offering applications that link to PeopleSoft's ERP suite and integrate internal and external data, applications and services into "seamless" Web-based procedures. These procedures can be navigated via a browser-based, easy-to-use interface.

Henry Morris, an analyst with IDC's enterprise applications program said what is unique about PeopleSoft's e-commerce initiative is the attempt to tie a number of merchants and services providers into a common network.

"What's going to be important are the details and the business plan," Morris said.

However, at this point PeopleSoft is not revealing who its Business Network initiative partners will be, how its new applications and services will be priced, when the new application will be delivered and with which release of PeopleSoft's applications the new products will work.

"We'll announce that in the first quarter of 1999," said Mark Vershel, vice president for e-business strategy at PeopleSoft.

The PeopleSoft Business Network will initially be available in the US and while the company has plans to take its e-commerce initiative global it is not saying yet when it will do so.

In a demonstration of a "work in progress" company officials showed how the new type of Web-based applications allow each user's desktop to be individually configured ("My PeopleSoft") based on roles an employee takes on within an organisation. Roles can include "manager" or "employee." The applications then let users view and manipulate content based on the roles, which for the managers include management task to-do lists, visual representation of the status of the department's budget and news relevant to the industry the user is in.

The applications and its underlying roles, which PeopleSoft calls e-business communities, link to PeopleSoft's ERP suite as much as well as with a number of outside data and content sources and services via a "variety" of yet-to-be specified formats and methods.

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