PeopleSoft CTO looks back on a decade of change

TORONTO — Rick Bergquist, PeopleSoft Inc.‘s chief technology officer, once dressed up as Ben Kenobi.

The occasion was a PeopleSoft user conference in Los Angeles last year, where the enterprise software company was promoting its PeopleSoft 8 software, built on Internet architecture. (CEO Craig Conway appeared as John Travolta in his Saturday Night Fever, disco suit years.)

Bergquist’s Kenobi get-up was supposed to be a metaphor for slicing and dicing the competition and carving out a bigger space for PeopleSoft in what’s become an increasingly competitive landscape.

Bergquist certainly knows how the industry has changed in the last decade. He joined Pleasanton, Calif.-based PeopleSoft in 1988 as employee No. 6. He spoke to Computing Canada during the company’s Thought Leadership Workshop Tuesday about the changing nature of the software business and how PeopleSoft intends to remain one of the big providers.

Computing Canada: What did you do originally at PeopleSoft, when you joined almost 14 years ago?

Rick Bergquist: I actually programmed PeopleTools — the development technology for building the applications. I was one of the three developers for PeopleTools. I programmed those over time, took control of basically the tools and technology group and was responsible for running that, and these days, as chief technology officer, it’s figuring out what’s next. I get to keep my job as long as we stay current.

CC: How do you stay current?

Bergquist: You have to take in a lot of input. We’re fortunate, being a premiere provider of systems, so we talk with all the hardware providers, we talk with every VC firm that’s got a company they want to show to us. We get good insight into what a lot of creative people are dealing with. We’ve got a 4,000-strong customer base. They’re all solving business problems every day. If they don’t have a solution, they’ll come to us and talk about it.

CC: How has PeopleSoft changed since you joined the company?

Bergquist: On the one hand, if you look at the core values of the organization, it’s remained relatively constant. Our founder, Dave Duffield felt we needed to innovate, to have the most modern technology and to enable that. But it wasn’t just for technology’s sake. We had to provide great business solutions that could help organizations run there business more effectively. There was a focus on the products that would change the way organizations are running. Then there was a focus on making sure that customers were successful.

All those things are what you need to succeed today. Customers are looking for business solutions, they are looking for ways that they can use technology differently and more effectively. Whether that is to reduce cost or to grow, both of those are options.

What’s it all about is treatment of customers. Generally, better treatment of customers gives you better loyalty and it gives you a customer that keeps coming back.

CC: How has technology changed in the last decade or so, and what has it meant to PeopleSoft’s offerings?

Bergquist: Fourteen years ago, the best technology was client/server. We were replacing mainframe systems. The compelling thing there was we had a user interface that mere mortals could understand. We had lower training costs than the prior systems.

If you look at mainframe systems, they were all written in Cobol. IT had an infinite backlog. Users thought, ‘If I don’t get it the first time, I’ll never get it.’ Systems ended up having all these features that no one ever used. We changed that with our PeopleTools technology.

If you look at PeopleSoft 8, the change is you make use of the browser because it’s ubiquitous. You can deploy to your customer, you suppliers, your partners. You could never do that with client/server. It was your machine, your network. The browser enabled us to change the business paradigm with collaborative business applications. Yes, we’ve changed the technology, but we’re making uses of it that were never possible before.

CC: How has consolidation changed the industry?

Bergquist: I think you’re going to see more and more consolidation in the industry. The reason for that is that there’s a lot of synergy between the various products working together. If someone were to have one product out of our product suite, then what they’d have to do is deal with the integration and integration changes over time as we enhance our product. Most of our customers would say, ‘I’d prefer not to deal with that.’

We have to have competitive products, but at the end of the game, we’d probably win versus a single-point solution because we’ve got the integration. That’s the compelling advantage.

CC: PeopleSoft bought Vantive for its ERP offering two years ago, and more recently SkillsVillage, which has since been integrated into your enterprise service automation (ESA) offering. Is it possible for a pureplay software vendor to even survive in today’s industry?

Bergquist: What you’re seeing is great technology from good companies, but they didn’t have sustainable business models. We’re basically separating the wheat from the chaff, identifying the key things that will augment our product lines, then being opportunistic. We’re in a good position to do it.

Each of our product lines has a list of things (it needs). What can I do that will provide more value to those products? Then we’re just sorting through those things available to deal with those things.

CC: How much through of PeopleSoft’s growth is internal, and how much is driven by acquisitions?

Bergquist: I think the majority of the growth was from internal mechanisms (but) Vantive was a big boost that brought us into a new product line. There don’t appear to be any big product line opportunities, but we’re open to everything. We analyze each as it comes.

CC: What is the role of wireless in enterprise applications?

Bergquist: People have been mobile with laptops for sales force automation. But if you ask most salespeople, they’d rather have a PDA-like device. RIM (Research in Motion) is one of the leaders there. It’s probably my favourite device right now. It’s relatively low bandwidth, but it continually provides you updates. We see wireless not as replacing what’s happening on the browser, but as an adjunct.

I think the issues we’re seeing IT organizations grappling with are: what’s the right device?; how do I protect it?; how do I deploy it, while having a low cost of ownership? There’s certainly value out there, but you just need to provide a solution for all those things.

CC: What are your customers looking for in these troubling economic times?

Bergquist: Lower cost of ownership is very critical is today’s world. Companies are very concerned about cutting their costs today. All new software, I would say, goes under extreme scrutiny on a return on investment basis these days. So we make sure we can show all our customers and our prospects how they get return.

The other concern people are looking is how quickly can software go in. The quicker they can live, they can start reaping return on investment sooner. Our timeframe for implementations has got shorter. We’re averaging 12 to 14 weeks for new implementations. Twelve years ago, it was probably nine to 12 months.

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