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Users of older human capital management systems often carry a note of uncertainty in their voices when they talk about the future: Will the system continue to be supported and developed with the emergence of cloud HCM? But this was not the case with Jeremy Pelley, director of business applications at Scott & White Healthcare. In fact, Pelley was confident about the organization's recent decision to upgrade its Oracle PeopleSoft HCM installation from version 8.9 to the most recent release, 9.2.
"I think a year or two ago there was more concern" about the future of the legacy application, Pelley explained, but "seeing all the things they've put into 9.2 has helped alleviate that. Things might change one day, but right now we're very comfortable with the roadmap."
PeopleSoft typically has been labeled a "hard" application that's not as user-friendly as Software as a Service (SaaS) HCM products by both users and analysts. But Pelley said increased ease of use was a major factor in the decision to upgrade to 9.2 -- and Scott & White's HCM strategy has changed in light of the new release. The company's mantra going forward is "If PeopleSoft can do it, and do it well, we're going to look at PeopleSoft products first," Pelley said.
Lisa Rowan, program director for human resources (HR), talent and learning strategies research at Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm IDC, agreed that PeopleSoft 9.2 offers greater usability and said that and other enhancements serve as an incentive for PeopleSoft customers to stick with the product. "I think that PeopleSoft is giving [customers] a reason to stay, rather than thinking about abandonment," she said.
Scott & White's Pelley pointed to PeopleSoft's onboarding function as an area where he'd like to see further improvement in the future. But overall he is pleased with the new release, as well as with the fact that Oracle has become less aggressive about designing its customers' HR IT strategies, in his opinion."[Onboarding is] an area we're still hoping to be developed and designed a lot more," he said.
PeopleSoft HCM 9.2 models usability, upgrades after SaaS
Scott & White, headquartered in Temple, Texas, has been running PeopleSoft since 1996, and the organization upgraded the financials side to version 9.1 in 2012. For HCM, the choice was between 9.1 and 9.2, Pelley said, but the organization opted to go with the newer release because PeopleSoft HCM 9.2's improved user experience addressed pain points directly. For instance, enhancements to the recruiting module will make it possible for all resumes to be processed through PeopleSoft, whereas the previous version couldn't be configured to accept the more complex curricula vitae of physicians. The number of clicks involved in the recruiting process will decrease for both applicants and managers, he said.
The system's benefits management features also have been improved. "We rolled out life event changes through self-service in the last year, and we had some usability concerns. Our adoption rate without having to call [for] help to get through it was pretty low," Pelley said. "We felt what Oracle had done in the life events area made it much more user-friendly."
IDC's Rowan said the Update Manager is also a notable feature that allows customers to "adopt what they want from the packs, versus [having] to take it all."
Enhancements such as the Update Manager and the increased ease of use for both heavy and light users take their cue from SaaS vendors, Rowan said. "Even though PeopleSoft is not SaaS-based, they're moving in the direction of making it more SaaS-like to the areas where clients respond to the SaaS model," she said.
While it's not unique to the new release, Rowan pointed out that PeopleSoft customers have the option to deploy their systems in a hosted cloud model, which has a monthly payment plan and decreases an organization's internal IT management burden. Scott & White runs a hosted version of PeopleSoft HCM, Pelley said.
'PeopleSoft first' strategy
Scott & White will have to undertake only one customization after the upgrade is complete, Pelley said. "That speaks a lot to what's in the product [now] that wasn't in the product in 8.9," he said. "We're very impressed with the number of customizations we're able to get rid of."
Pelley also said that PeopleSoft HCM 9.2 will help limit the number of HR applications at Scott & White. Although he had been considering breaking off talent management functions and employing a so-called "best of breed" approach, the enhancements in PeopleSoft 9.2, in his view, level the playing field between the legacy product and specialty SaaS talent management vendors. The organization's "PeopleSoft first" approach to talent management will make it considerably easier to maintain application integration, he said.
For example, Scott & White signed with Taleo for performance management one day before the vendor's acquisition by Oracle was announced, Pelley explained. However, he now plans to reevaluate and determine whether the function can be moved back to PeopleSoft HCM -- even though Taleo is now in the Oracle portfolio. Recruiting was another area that might have been moved to Taleo, but "we felt the strides [PeopleSoft] had made had closed the gap tremendously between it and Taleo," he said.
IDC's Rowan pointed out, however, that currently there isn't any one product that "has it all" for comprehensive core HR and talent management. "In the landscape of what's available, there is no one answer for end-to-end," she said.
For instance, SAP's cloud HCM offering, Employee Central, doesn't have benefits management, timekeeping or payroll modules, Rowan explained. Similarly, Workday HCM currently lacks learning and recruiting capabilities. So, in both cases, users will have to "mix and match" products to address all of HR's core and talent management technology needs, she said.
As for Oracle's Fusion applications, the vendor's premier talent management platform, Scott & White's Pelley said, "[We] looked at Fusion a few years ago, and I think as Fusion matures, it will be something we're definitely looking at."
Oracle pushing less, consulting more in HCM
Describing the vendor's HCM strategy, Paco Aubrejuan, Oracle senior vice president for PeopleSoft development, said Oracle is "shifting to a more consultable engagement" with its HCM customers, rather than trying to push certain products. From Pelley's point of view, this isn't just lip service.
"I think Oracle used to come off as a strict company, and they kind of designed your road for you," Scott & White's Pelley said. "[But] in the last several years, we found when letting them know what we're trying to do, they've laid out what our options are, but they've not been nearly as high-pressure as in the past." He said he prefers this more relaxed approach.
Oracle is being careful not to alienate its legacy applications customer base, IDC's Rowan said. "I think they're taking an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary approach, and it's totally understandable," she said. "They want to make sure customers who have made investments in E-Business Suite [and] PeopleSoft don't have to make a dramatic, expensive change, and make it so that folks can ease into it. They are not pushing, but rather working with clients about what works best with them."
But as the vendor expands its cloud HCM portfolio while simultaneously continuing to invest in and develop legacy products, will it be able to successfully manage it all?
"Will it be difficult?" Rowan asked. "Well, they're doing it now."
Listen to PeopleSoft consultants explain version 9.2's new features
Read why one analyst said moving from PeopleSoft to Fusion HCM isn't a no-brainer
Watch an Oracle executive talk about PeopleSoft 9.2 at Collaborate 2013