The great PeopleSoft migration

'If your environment is stable relative to your business processes, you can maintain an application for quite a long time,' says BearingPoint's Tony DeSomma

He wants your business. SAP's Steve Peck says the company will offer credits to agencies that switch over to its ERP software products.

What should agencies be thinking as they consider life after PeopleSoft? Move to Oracle, or jump ship?

If all goes according to schedule, the Defense Department will complete the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System'estimated to be the world's largest human resources program'in 2013. Unfortunately, 2013 is also the year DIMHRS will become a legacy system, because that's the year Oracle Corp. plans to end support for PeopleSoft applications, the platform DIMHRS will run on.

Last December, when database vendor Oracle purchased PeopleSoft Inc., agency heads faced a tough decision. Should they stick with Oracle as the company migrated PeopleSoft users over to its own e-business platform? Or would the upgrade be so arduous, the new features so underwhelming, that making the switch would be untenable?

While Oracle has pledged to support PeopleSoft users in the short term, government IT managers are at a crossroads. Not surprisingly, other enterprise resource planning software vendors, such as Lawson Software Inc., Microsoft Corp., SAP AG and SSA Global Technologies Inc., smell an opportunity and have quickly started offering incentives to agencies in hopes of luring them to their platforms.

Whether agencies stick with PeopleSoft/Oracle or jump ship (see sidebar for one of each), there is considerable work to do. Tony DeSomma, managing director with the Oracle public sector practice of solutions integrator BearingPoint Inc. of McLean, Va., said the jump from PeopleSoft to Oracle would be 'more than an upgrade. It will almost be a new platform.'

Making a CIO's job even tougher is the fact that Oracle has not yet divulged any specifics about the architecture of its PeopleSoft replacement platform, code-named Fusion. Oracle developers are now working with PeopleSoft engineers to find a way to get the best PeopleSoft features into the new software, according to Michael Sperling, an Oracle spokesman. Yet such details are essential to determining whether Oracle's new direction will be in synch with agencies' own enterprise architectures.

In January, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison proffered a timeline of how the company would replace PeopleSoft with Fusion. Ellison said at least one new version of PeopleSoft, PeopleSoft Enterprise 9, will be released in 2006. Components of Fusion will be introduced in 2007, and the merged product should be completely rolled out by 2013, when Oracle ceases supporting PeopleSoft applications.

Beyond those dates, neither Ellison nor anyone else at Oracle has offered much guidance. But industry observers are predicting a major upgrade. The resulting software may resemble the company's Oracle 11i e-business suite, said Jim Shepherd. an analyst at Boston-based AMR Research.

'From a technical perspective, I would have to convert all the data from my current data model and change my technology environment, so effectively this is a brand-new implementation,' he said.

Why is that so? The most recent, pre-merger version of PeopleSoft, PeopleSoft 8, is a three-tiered Web architecture. On the top layer is a Web-based user interface. On the bottom layer is the data itself'held in a database such as IBM Corp.'s DB2 or Oracle. The PeopleSoft Application Server runs in the middle tier. This is where the data submitted by the users is processed and routed to and from the database.

When customers purchase PeopleSoft, they (or their contractors) design modules, called objects, that execute tasks specific to their environments, using a tool called PeopleTools Application Development.

PeopleTools allows administrators to modify panels, records and menus, and lets the organization generate reports. The objects are held in a metadata repository. When a form is called up through the application server, the PeopleSoft program consults the repository for the objects necessary to build that form.

Here is where agencies must ask the hard questions. Among them:
  • Can users retrieve their PeopleSoft objects and reuse them in other applications?

  • If they stay with Oracle, how much work will they have to do to keep their objects intact?

  • Will their underlying database need to be converted to suit the new application?

  • Will the applications that interface with PeopleSoft be able to hook into the new system with minimal fuss?

Experts say that in addition to evaluating the architectural implications of moving beyond PeopleSoft, agencies need to think about the business priorities of the new company.
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While PeopleSoft emphasized the service component of its business, Oracle has been de-emphasizing its own services, says Peter Russo, analyst for Pierre Audoin Consultants of New York. An agency planning to rely heavily on associated services for an ERP rollout may have to do some rethinking. Another factor to consider, according to Russo, is that Oracle has traditionally developed products to be as horizontal'or generic'as possible (although Oracle's e-Business Suite has long offered government-specific packages, namely Federal Financials and Public Sector financials). Only time will tell if the company can continue to adapt to the quirks of government accounting.

Competition swirls

As Oracle gets its road map in place, other enterprise software companies are making the most of the lull by offering packages meant to entice PeopleSoft users to migrate to other platforms.

SAP is focused on marketing its own human resources and financial software to existing PeopleSoft customers who already run SAP applications in the same shop, according to Steve Peck, head of public sector sales for SAP. In order to lure in customers, SAP will offer a credit toward the purchase of new SAP software.

But cost is only one factor in an agency's decision. A big part of the equation is how difficult and time-consuming a migration will be. Industry observers predict that a large-scale migration, even to Oracle's Fusion, could take from six months to a year.

Alhough mySAP, SAP's proposed replacement, is like PeopleSoft in that it is multitiered, the parts are anything but interchangeable. To migrate PeopleSoft to SAP (or any other package) would involve multiple chores, namely converting the database, recoding or migrating the business logic, and perhaps reimplementing the client software and external system interfaces. To help with the heavy lifting, SAP is working with IBM on a version of DB2 optimized for SAP software.

How much customers have modified their core software can affect ease of migration. A customer with a financial package running relatively unaltered out of the box will face minimal aggravation, said Michael Grim, who handles NetWeaver for SAP. On the other hand, if the agency went wild with PeopleTools, it may take a while to recreate those customized modules, Grim said.

Data conversion can eat up a major chunk of time in any migration, even if the customer plans to use the same database back end. Each ERP package has its own database schema format, so to make records readable by the new package, they must be reordered under the new package's schemas, Grim said.

Another area needing attention during migration is PeopleSoft integration with other applications. Interfaces would have to be re-established through the application server in SAP's NetWeaver suite. Here, short-term pain might lead to long-term gains, however. The NetWeaver platform allows administrators to set up connections through a hub-and-spoke model. Once a function is exposed through NetWeaver, it then can be tapped by future applications with minimal fuss, according to Grim.

Microsoft moves in

Like SAP, Microsoft is aiming to lure away PeopleSoft government customers who are wary of the shift to Oracle. According to Radu Burducea, an executive at Microsoft Federal, the company is particularly interested in converting midsize and large agencies to its Great Plains ERP suite.

Like PeopleSoft 8, Great Plains is a multitiered application, with data managed by a Microsoft SQL server. The heart of Great Plains is the Dexterity runtime engine, which calls up modular applications from the Great Plains Application Dictionary. System designers build the modules using Dexterity, which relies heavily on Microsoft's Visual C++ but also includes graphical tools for tasks such as user interface design and report creation. The platform also offers the advantage of being tightly integrated with Microsoft Office, allowing data from Great Plains software to be embedded within Excel, Outlook or other Office applications.

In order to help migrate to the Great Plains package, Microsoft offers a number of software tools, including eConnect and Integration Manager, said Bruce Johnson, Microsoft director of its Great Plains line.

The eConnect tool serves as the interface for other applications, which can be established through a combination of Visual Basic objects, Component Object Model, Microsoft Message Queuing protocol, Web services and Extensible Markup Language. Integration Manager helps map external data fields to corresponding ones within Great Plains.

'Generally, the customers are telling us it was easier and less expensive to implement Great Plains than it would have been to upgrade the PeopleSoft product,' Johnson said.

Ultimately, where agencies go with their ERP systems in light of Oracle's PeopleSoft acquisition may come down to how comfortable they are with their current software.

'If your environment is stable relative to your business processes, you can maintain an application for quite a long time,' DeSomma said. There is a reason agencies still run decades-old, Cobol-based applications long after the vendor that delivered them has gone out of business. It's because the applications still work fine'at least in terms of the overall objectives of the agency. It is not unusual to see a government implementation remain in place 20 years after support has ended for a particular product.

This is why DeSomma predicts that current large government implementations'either already in place or in development, such as DIMHRS or the Homeland Security Department's planned agencywide human resources system'will most likely continue as planned. 'The government is not one to turn on a dime. If an agency is committed in going in one direction, it will still go forward,' DeSomma said.

Such obstinacy may even encourage Oracle to support PeopleSoft past 2013. While companies try to draw a line in the sand, the reality is that customers have a say in the matter and many companies have extended support years beyond the original cutoff date, DeSomma said.

Still, change is inevitable. Even if PeopleSoft had never caught the eye of Oracle, chances are the company eventually would have directed its customers toward a major upgrade. While software itself doesn't wear out, Shepherd said, fundamental architectures do'and systems must keep up with these changes if they're to remain interoperable.

Keeping a system intact from now until 2013 is 'an awfully long time to hold onto an application,' Shepherd said.

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