The DOJs High-Function Ability to Just Make Stuff Up

Opinion: Judge Walker's fuzziness on the terms in the Oracle-DOJ case doesn't necessarily bode ill for the DOJ's argument, Associate Editor Lisa Vaas writes.

When Judge Vaughn Walker said last week that he was still fuzzy on the meaning of terms that have been bandied about quite a bit already in the trial against Oracles merger with PeopleSoft, both Oracle and many antitrust experts quoted in the media leapt to the conclusions that a) the DOJ had simply made up its definitions, particularly that of "high-function software," and b) that haziness at such a late date on these terms—which are pivotal to the DOJs claims that the market is ruled by only three vendors—bodes ill for the DOJ.

"I think he understands that high-function is a phrase thats made up," Oracle attorney Daniel Wall told the Associated Press. "Were three weeks into the trial, and the government still hasnt been able to come up with a clear definition."

Ive been scoffing at the made-up term "high-function software" along with everybody else, but I thought it would be fun to get the DOJ on the phone to dissect some of this terminology.

Renata Hesse, chief of networks and technologies for the DOJs antitrust division, which brought the case against Oracle, concedes that the industry doesnt use the term "high-function software." That doesnt mean that the DOJ made it up, though, Hesse told me.

Rather, its a "descriptive term" the DOJ developed "to put some parameters around the information that we got from Oracle, from PeopleSoft, from customers, from system integrators, both during the investigation and trial, about how this marketplace functions," she told me.

/zimages/5/28571.gifIn his testimony, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison claimed that PeopleSofts Craig Conway blew earlier talks to merge the two companies. Click here to read more.

And just what exactly would the difference be between a made-up term and a descriptive term? You got me there.

Of course, if you talk to somebody who follows this space, all of those terms are familiar. Except the high-function software one, of course, with it being made up. Or descriptive. Whatever.

Paul Hamerman, a Forrester analyst, has just published a report on human resources management systems in which he dissects seven HRMSes to ascertain what exactly separates a high-function HR system from one that supports a midmarket customer.

The DOJ will be pleased to hear that Hamerman found a clear separation between the three top vendors—SAP, PeopleSoft and Oracle—and the midmarket players.

There are indeed global and local capabilities in these top vendors systems that are clearly superior to other systems. For example, the ability to handle statutory requirements in various countries, such as payroll calculations and compliance-related issues.

Theres just more depth to strategic HR functions around developing people, management their competencies and managing their performance when you deal with the top vendors HR systems, Hamerman found.

Next page: Scalability delineates high-function software.