Agriculture picks PeopleSoft 8 applications

Agriculture picks PeopleSoft 8 applications

By David Essex

Special to GCN

With the release of PeopleSoft 8, PeopleSoft Inc. has upgraded its flagship enterprise resource planning product for the Web. One of its first tests is getting underway at the Agriculture Department.

PeopleSoft 8 contains 59 brand-new applications along with upgrades of 108 other applications to conform to Hypertext Markup Language and Extensible Markup Language standards, said Jon Gearhart, industry director for PeopleSoft Public Sector. 'We had to write thousands of HTML pages,' Gearhart said.

The new collaborative apps are all designed to extend PeopleSoft's ERP applications to handle electronic commerce transactions among suppliers, employees and customers, company representatives said. Users access the apps through a portal personalized according to their roles in the organization.

PeopleSoft 8's applications, including this human resources app for selecting benefits, have been rewritten for the Web.

The top three ERP vendors'Oracle Corp., PeopleSoft and SAP America Inc.'disagree over the purity of each others' Web architectures, but several industry analysts said PeopleSoft 8 has been truly rewritten for the Web.

'The Internet architecture of PeopleSoft's Release 8 provides a huge improvement in use and deployment options and sets a new industry standard for the application user interface,' said John Hagerty, vice president of AMR Research Inc. of Boston. But Hagerty faulted PeopleSoft for not rewriting its customer relationship management module for the Web.

New property tax and budget preparation modules will be released before the end of the year, Gearhart said.

Officials at Agriculture have high hopes that the department's upgrade from PeopleSoft 7 will make human resource processes, such as benefits administration and payroll, much faster and easier for its nearly 50,000 full- and part-time employees.

'What we're really hoping 8.0 will [do is] open up more self-service to our employees,' said Hans Heidenreich, USDA program director in Beltsville, Md. He said the rollout is a prime example of Washington's push toward electronic government.

Heidenreich's team of 13 federal employees and six contractors are starting the rollout this month, and he expects to finish within nine months. Setup will be much smoother than it was for the old client-server version, which required shipping CDs to USDA field offices for client-side installs, he said.

Home-grown feel

With PeopleSoft 8's Web architecture, most of the effort goes into setting up Web and application servers in the National Information Technology Center in Kansas City, Mo., Heidenreich said.

He anticipates that difficulties will center on getting PeopleSoft to work with a homegrown payroll application at the National Finance Center in New Orleans, which also handles payroll for other departments, including Commerce, Justice and Treasury, Heidenreich said.

Those interfaces were hashed out for PeopleSoft 7 and are likely to carry over to Version 8, he said. The only other application needing to be integrated is a custom database of USDA's sites, and that work is going well, he said.

Heidenreich plans to go beyond the self-service features in PeopleSoft 7 by adding health benefits and recruitment. With the latter feature, internal and external applicants will be able to post resumes and submit applications over the Internet.

Other expected benefits of the PeopleSoft upgrade are faster paperwork processing and the ability to decentralize security in field offices.

Heidenreich said PeopleSoft 8 appears to be a near-total rewrite to Web standards, though he noted that development and security remain on the old client-server architecture'not necessarily a bad thing, in his view.

The biggest improvements are the browser-based screens, which he said are more intuitive than the old windows. 'It's a lot easier for [users] to see what they have to do,' he said.


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