PeopleSoft to Embrace Integration

PeopleSoft is adding new features to its ERP software platform that will allow the applications to work better in heterogeneous software environments and improve their Web services capabilities.

PeopleSoft Inc. will add new features to its PeopleSoft 8 e-business software platform that will allow the applications to work better in heterogeneous software environments and improve their Web services capabilities.

The Pleasanton, Calif., developer next quarter will release Version 8.4 of its PeopleTools application development environment, which will include "out-of-the-box" support for SOAP (simple object application protocol) and the UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration) specification, according to PeopleSoft Chief Technology Officer Richard Bergquist.

PeopleTools currently supports SOAP and UDDI but requires the customer to do some XML coding. That coding will be built into the 8.4 release.

"Were expanding our capabilities to handle Web services," Bergquist said.

PeopleSoft will make another improvement to its integration capabilities in PeopleTools 8.4 by adding a Message Broker, to translate messages between disparate applications and guarantee message delivery. SOAP and UDDI provide the structure of the messages.

"It will take messages wherever it gets them and transform them into messages the applications can handle," said Bergquist.

He said the Message Broker would allow customers to reduce the time to do integrations and translate messages easily into a format the applications are ready to handle. At a higher level, it will also reduce integration costs between one application and another and allow customers to use business processes that span organizations, improving collaboration between customers, suppliers and partners.

The move by PeopleSoft follows on an announcement by SAP AG last month that it will open up its R/3 e-business applications by providing tools that let developers integrate SAP-defined business processes with those of third-party applications. Also last month, Oracle Corp. partner NetLedger Inc. announced new XML-based tools designed to help developers exchange business information with the Oracle Small Business Suite of applications.

"This is definitely part of a general trend in big applications being able to support a heterogeneous environment," said Joshua Greenbaum, principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting in Daly City, Calif., of PeopleSofts plans.

Greenbaum said PeopleSoft and SAP have come to the realization that most organizations have different vendors applications in their environments. Few go to the same vendor for everything.

"Nobody has a fully functioning integrated solution that can satisfy the needs of heterogeneous customer environments," said Greenbaum. "These are the first salvos in what will be a long-standing war to be both an enterprise applications supplier and an integration supplier."

Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., which announced a merger just this week with San Francisco-based COR Therapeutics Inc. and also acquired a U.K.-based company last year, would be a prime candidate to benefit from better application integration capabilities. The company uses PeopleSoft 8 for human resources management.

"Right now, we have Lawson financials and in facilities something called Archibus," explained Alan Heintz, director of human resource operations/HR IS at Millennium Pharmaceuticals, in Cambridge, Mass. "What it does is map people in cubes and assigns names and LAN numbers, so we can do facilities planning. We take that data—which is pretty painful right now—and load it into PeopleSoft. Anything that would make that transformation easier is welcome."

Heintz does not currently use any EAI (enterprise application integration) software and said he will look at the PeopleSoft options.

Heintz also said he is interested in any Web services upgrades PeopleSoft will offer. He has high expectations from PeopleSoft Web services, including the creation of a user-friendly environment for Millennium employees so that they can transact personal business with the company anywhere, anytime.

"What Ive experienced so far is that if you can buy a book on, you can use PeopleSoft self-service. Theres no training [necessary]; it comes naturally," said Heintz.

The self-service approach has also taken a lot of pressure off Heintzs administrative group, who has had to do most of the HR administrative work by phone, or by paper work.

"Now they come in and there [are] work lists there in the morning – someone wants to put in a new phone number or that theyre getting married, divorced, having a baby, adopting a baby. Its right there. Thats a huge thing for us," said Heintz. "I dont have to provide 24-by-7 phone coverage."

Michelle Miller, vice president of information systems at MedSolutions Inc., in Nashville, Tenn., said application integration support was one of the key reasons her company selected PeopleSoft 8 CRM, which it integrates with transactional processing systems and fax server software.

"In the current framework, they handled it better than anyone else did; theyre already ahead of their competitors," Miller said. She said MedSolutions has been relying on application integration tools built into PeopleSoft rather than an outside vendor.

Miller said MedSolutions plans to focus on real-time integration with business partners next year to get a better view of customer transactions, so it stands to benefit from the improved SOAP and UDDI support.

"Theres certainly a place there [for SOAP and UDDI]," she said.

With their new tools, PeopleSoft and SAP will compete squarely against EAI vendors and system integrators, as well as each other.

"Theyll compete against EAI vendors and system integrators but also against the mindset of corporate IT departments to do it ourselves," Greenbaum said.

He said nine out of 10 integrations are done with outside help today. These moves wont really change that even if they make the process easier.

"They should be able to make a difference relatively quickly, but its going to be a while before vendors like PeopleSoft have the confidence of the market to challenge the established EAI vendors that have the benefits of the Switzerland card—neutrality," Greenbaum said. "[Customers] will wonder how good a job can PeopleSoft do in having a proactive function in solving SAPs integration problems."

PeopleSoft product groups will support PeopleTools 8.4 at different intervals, starting with PeopleSoft 8 Financials in early March, followed by PeopleSoft 8 CRM later that month, officials said.