PeopleSoft Gives World ERP Suite a Web Interface
March 23, 2004 Alex Woodie
While the younger generation has been widely lauded for its ability to program a VCR, it’s usually the youngest workers at Cargill who make the biggest stink about using a green screen to access the company’s PeopleSoft World applications. That should change soon, as Cargill, the world’s largest user of the venerable RPG-based ERP suite, implements new features in World that PeopleSoft announced last week, including a native HTML interface, as well as 250 other enhancements.
With sales close to $60 billion last year, and 101,000 employees, Cargill is one of the world’s largest privately held companies, with subsidiaries in many industries. Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Cargill has close to 10,000 seats of the PeopleSoft World software, as well as a seat on the World customer advisory council, which makes requests to PeopleSoft for product enhancements. One of the enhancements that Bill Gabby, the North American operations manager for the Global Financial Solutions division of Cargill, has requested has been for a “Web-inized” version of World.
The problem Gabby faces is that some Cargill users have difficulty using the legacy green-screen interfaces. It has nothing to do with stability or functionality available with World, which, Gabby says, has been great. Instead, “the green-screen, legacy interface tends to turn people off,” he says. “It’s hard to get people to look past that.”
In particular, Gabby deals with complaints made by younger Cargill employees when they’re introduced to Client Access and the 5250 interface for the first time. “People coming out of college are not used to a green-screen 5250 interface, but you hand them a mouse and a GUI screen, and they’re all over it,” Gabby says. “The younger generation tends to be less enamored with 5250 emulation . . . . It’s just noise I have to deal with.”
Gabby won’t be dealing with that noise once Cargill upgrades to the new HTML interface that PeopleSoft has developed. The company announced PeopleSoft World Version A7.3 Cumulative Update 15 last week at CeBIT 2004, in Hanover, Germany. With this update, users will, for the first time, be able to access the nearly 5,000 screens in the ERP suite, using a Web browser, a 5250 emulator, or both. Cargill is currently on World Version A8, but Gabby says he expects to see the HTML interface available for his version of World soon, too.
A NEW WEB INTERFACE
A Web interface has been the number-one request from World customers over the last 12 to 18 months, says Dave Siebert, PeopleSoft World general manager and group vice president. Previously, for customers who didn’t want to use a 5250 green-screen interface, PeopleSoft offered a full Windows client interface. Like the old Windows-based World client, which was developed using screen-scraper technology from PeopleSoft’s technology partner Seagull Software, the new HTML interface was also developed with Seagull technologies.
Unlike previous attempts at a GUI, PeopleSoft has Web-enabled every World screen. Additionally, the new World interface doesn’t require any software to be installed on the client machine. This flexibility marks a substantive improvement over previous releases, says John Schiff, PeopleSoft’s director of World product strategy. “You can deploy in either HTML, Java, or ActiveX. Companies can use their existing iSeries as the Web server. Or they can use Microsoft [Windows] or some other HTML server,” he says.
Because the new HTML screens are based on XML style sheets, users will be able to make changes to fine-tune the color, logos, and overall look of their new GUIs. There will also be toolsets available for further customization. The new Web front-end will still use the 5250 datastream under the covers, and therefore it won’t alleviate users requirement for interactive CPWs. Schiff says PeopleSoft looked at IBM‘s WebFacing tool, which converts interactive workloads into batch workloads, but they found it too invasive in the end.
PeopleSoft is also offering the same integrated calendar and automated field-formatting capabilities with the new HTML interface offered with the green-screen interfaces. The HTML screens are available in a variety of languages, including English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
A COMMITMENT TO WORLD AND OS/400
Among the other new enhancements in World Version A7.3 Cumulative Update 15 is integration with PeopleSoft’s Enterprise Performance Management application, one of the core business intelligence components of PeopleSoft’s pre-J.D. Edwards Enterprise product line. With the new integration, World customers, like Cargill, will be able to consolidate their World customer data into the Enterprise Performance Management data warehouse, which they can they use to make better, more informed decisions affecting various parts of their business.
Other enhancements were made to the Manufacturing and Distribution Management, Financial Management, and Human Capital Management components of the World suite.
Overall, PeopleSoft says, it made 250 new enhancements with this release, quite a bit more than the 150 to 175 new enhancements with a typical World release, says Siebert, adding that this is the result of PeopleSoft’s commitment to the World line and to the iSeries.
“Some vendors have questioned our support of World and the iSeries,” Siebert says, making a reference to statements that PeopleSoft’s unwanted suitor, Oracle, has made regarding the depth and longevity of PeopleSoft’s product roadmap. “I think this is a very strong message to customers that PeopleSoft is committed to three viable product lines.”
With the hostile bid by Oracle still hanging like a dark cloud over PeopleSoft’s J.D. Edwards acquisition, some former J.D. Edwards customers have also begun questioning PeopleSoft about its long-term plans. It is commonplace and healthy to have this kind of dialog with your vendor, and it is by no means a sign that there is a disproportionate number of unhappy former J.D. Edwards customers–who by and large were quite happy with that vendor, although they did kick and scream when J.D. Edwards tried to make them upgrade from WorldSoftware to OneWorld, and forced J.D. Edwards to promise to never kill World, which J.D. Edwards eventually did, and which PeopleSoft has done, too.
One of the World users who questions PeopleSoft is Bill Gabby, the Cargill manager. Gabby attended the PeopleSoft Connect conference last year, when PeopleSoft chief executive Craig Conway welcomed J.D. Edwards customers and explained how PeopleSoft’s World strategy would be good for customers. “Those were good messages,” Gabby says, “but I wanted to see actions, so I could be confident.”
In particular, Gabby identified three areas in which PeopleSoft’s commitment to the product could be confirmed. First and foremost, Gabby wanted to see the product “Web-inized.” He also wanted to see PeopleSoft market the World product (sound familiar?) and make database changes. Gabby says the company’s willingness to make changes to the World database would indicate its commitment to deliver extensive and useful enhancements in the future. “If you’re willing to make changes to database, then you’re confident [in the product’s market position].” This is an area in which J.D. Edwards had not opened up the database, Gabby says.
“So far, I’m aware of some marketing. They’re announcing the Web front-end. And they’re in talks about some database changes going forward,” Gabby says. “I’m seeing indicators.”
PeopleSoft World Version A7.3 Cumulative Update 15 will become available March 31. Anybody on Version A7.3 will be able to upgrade directly to Cumulative Update 15, which is free to customers on current maintenance agreements, the company says.