The latest version of Oracle PeopleSoft human capital management (HCM) and financials software, PeopleSoft 9.2, will be generally available this month after several years in development. So what can users expect to see in this new release?
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In this podcast, SearchFinancialApplications associate editor Emma Snider caught up with Anne Meyer and Larry Zagata from MIPRO Consulting in order to flesh out some of the most significant new features for both the HR and finance side in 9.2. MIPRO is a Milford, Mich.-based consultancy that concentrates solely on PeopleSoft implementations and upgrades.
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Other topics covered include what benefits users can expect to reap if they choose to upgrade to the newest version and how they should approach an upgrade.
But in the wake of Oracle's cloud-based Fusion applications, is it wise to continue upgrading PeopleSoft HCM and finance systems? Meyer and Zagata also touch on how organization leaders can decide whether moving to a cloud-based system might be the better choice, as well as the feasibility of opting for a hybrid cloud and on-premises approach.
Emma Snider is the associate site editor for SearchFinancialApplications.com. Follow her on Twitter: @emmajs24.
I'm Emma Snider, associate editor of SearchFinancialApplications. Today I'm talking with two team members from MIPRO Consulting: Anne Meyer, who is the practice director for PeopleSoft Human Capital Management, and Larry Zagata, who is the managing partner and vice president for solution delivery.
MIPRO is a consultancy based out of Milford, Mich., that focuses solely on Oracle PeopleSoft implementations, upgrades and optimizations. Today we're talking about the latest release, which is PeopleSoft 9.2.
Emma Snider: I was hoping we could start off with going over some of the most important new features contained in PeopleSoft 9.2.
Anne Meyer: Sure, I'll take the lead on that one. In PeopleSoft 9.2, speaking specifically of HCM, they really have focused on making it an environment that is very productive for the users, so there was definitely a concentration on increasing user productivity and they've accomplished that in a few ways. One pretty significant enhancement is called the Work Center -- it's the capability to have high usage users have a one-stop shop for all the activities they do. So they basically have their own configurable, personal dashboard where they can execute transactions, where they can get information through reports and queries, [and where] they can set up alerts. So if I'm a timekeeper and I want to be sure that people are not taking paid time off beyond a number of days within a certain period of time, I can set up alerts that let me know when that happens, and then I can take actions on those alerts. So it's a much more productive environment for the user.
Larry Zagata: And I would say on the financial side, Work Centers are also one of the most advanced features that they've included in 9.2. Beyond just the 9.2 application, it also takes advantage of the latest toolset, 8.53, and that toolset enables end users to really improve not just productivity, but also their ability to embed information throughout PeopleSoft, utilizing personal dashboards, utilizing related content which allows them to pull in information throughout PeopleSoft. It eases the navigation [and] improves their business intelligence capabilities in terms of improving the way they actually do business.
It sounds like this is a pretty significant release. Is that fair to say?
Meyer: I'd say it's significant in that it is really focused on user productivity. I wouldn't say it's significant in the fact that so much has changed from the internal infrastructure that it's a difficult release to get to. So it's significant in that the mindset of Oracle with PeopleSoft 9.2 is really focused on the user. When I listened to them talking about 9.2, they constantly referred to the fact that they've listened to the customers and this is what the customers asked for. So I think it's significant in that way, but the underlying structure has not undergone a significant change.
So, then, might upgrading to 9.2 be an easier upgrade than some have been in the past?
Meyer: Yeah, I think so, and also as some people have upgraded recently to 9.1, the underlying toolset has added a lot of capabilities to make that an easier upgrade.
What are some advantages that customers can expect to gain by upgrading to 9.2?
Meyer: Well I think, like we said, the productivity, which is very important to a lot of people. Also it's
becoming more and more configurable. PeopleSoft was always very configurable, but now the underlying transactions themselves can be configured. You can have things like activity guides that guide a user through an activity, and the one that they deliver happens to be in benefits with life events, so when it's time for me to record a marriage or a birth I can do that online and I have a guide showing me how to do that. What's really cool about that is that an organization can change the activities in the order that they appear. I could have new activities that are very specific in my organization. It's becoming much more configurable from a transactional standpoint. I think that's a big advantage, because it eliminates the need to customize.
Zagata: I would add, as we talked about earlier with tools 8.53, [with] the ability to streamline navigation, users can really avoid traditional menu paths and enable relevant, actionable content within their actual transaction paths. So it's much easier for them to be able to navigate, [and] get the information that they need to do their job without having to follow traditional menu paths [or] having to pop up new windows. So there are a lot of advancements in terms of that usability.
Meyer: And, also, just from a system maintenance [perspective], there's a much more flexible way to get your maintenance. Customers that have customized in the past can't apply these large maintenance packs because it affects too many things. Now Oracle has a new mode of delivering maintenance where you can actually just take one patch that you'll sign on; it'll figure out what the prerequisites are for that patch, and deliver that to you. So when you actually need it, it's not having to go through a major application of an upgrade patch, upgrade bundle.
I know it's difficult to generalize because PeopleSoft implementations have been around in some companies for quite a while and have been pretty highly customized, but is there a ballpark timeframe that you would say users could expect it would take to upgrade to this latest release?
Meyer: Yeah, you're right. It's difficult to say because we've had rapid upgrades with clients with very little customization and we've done that in a matter of a few months, and then we
have other organizations that maybe don't have a lot of customizations. But they take advantage of the upgrade to rethink their business processes. So I don't think I could give you a pat answer on that because it does depend on the organization, what they're trying to accomplish with the upgrade and if they're customized or not.
Zagata: And just to elaborate on that a little bit further, you can certainly take just a pure technical upgrade approach to do it yourself on the latest release. But if you're going to re-evaluate your entire business processes, if you're going to look at eliminating customizations, if you're going to look at taking advantage of all the new features and functionality and eliminating any third-party applications you have or integrations -- all those factors are going to play in terms of the length of time it's going to take to upgrade.
Are there any potential snags that you found in the release that could give users some trouble?
Meyer: We did do testing of both the financials and the HCM in the pre-release version and, as [with] all pre-releases, we found some things that didn't work as expected, but it wasn't anything major. We logged it all with Oracle and development followed back up with us and told us how they were addressing the issues. So we didn't see anything major, you know, a button wasn't working the way I expected it to and things like that, but it seems pretty solid. I think they did take a little extra longer with 9.2 than they anticipated, so I think it's been tested really well by the partners and also the pre-release early adopter customers.
Mark Hurd has been quoted a few times saying that he expects there's still going to be a PeopleSoft track at Oracle OpenWorld 2022, 10 years from now. But in your opinion, at this point does it make more sense to start moving over to Fusion HCM, or another cloud-based HCM system from an Oracle competitor, or to stick with your PeopleSoft system?
Meyer: Well I guess that depends on the organization and what's driving them to either move to Software as a Service or even just to a new ERP solution. There are a lot of clients that are very happy with PeopleSoft and are continuing to upgrade. [They] like the reassurance that PeopleSoft will be there for an unlimited amount of time, at least that's what they say. Then there are others that really want to move to more of the SaaS model and that's what their organization is moving to. That's their IT strategy. So, again, there's not a pat answer to that. It's really "What are your business drivers?" and "What's your IT strategy moving forward?"
Zagata: And I'll just add [that] Oracle's released to its customers a roadmap showing PeopleSoft at least out to 2023. So we know there are going to be enhancements and maintenance in that product at least until that date, and indicated much longer, but that's how the roadmap exists currently.
So as Anne indicated, it really becomes the business decision as to what clients want to do and their objectives. PeopleSoft is going to continue to enhance the product, but yet there's Fusion, which also has its concept and certainly has its pros and cons as well. So although there are going to be individual decisions that these businesses make, a coexistence of strategy is something that is certainly viable where customers can have both PeopleSoft and the Fusion applications to fill any void or requirements that they have in their needs.
I know this is an individual decision that varies company by company, but can you explain some of the pros and cons for either sticking with PeopleSoft or maybe moving part of your system over to Fusion?
Meyer: I think a lot of depends on what your IT strategy is, but some of the pros of moving maybe your talent management to Fusion would be if your organization is really starting to migrate to a SaaS solution, although Fusion could be on-premises as well. But it really would depend upon what you're looking for in the product and if there are things in Fusion that enhance the business process or meet the business requirements better than things in PeopleSoft.
OK. Getting back to PeopleSoft [and] this new release, what do you recommend clients to do if they decide they want to upgrade? Is there anything they should do in order to prepare for that upgrade, and what are some of the steps that they should go [through] before implementing the new version?
Meyer: Well, we already have proposals out, even though the product has just been announced to be released in about a week from now. People have already started putting out RFPs for 9.2 upgrades. So we have a couple of those in process. We haven't really seen anything that they need to do differently than they've done in the past. Preparing for a new release is just making sure that your hardware [and] software is up to date and you check the Oracle customer service to make sure that your hardware and software can support the new version. Other than that, unless you can think of anything else, Larry, I don't think there's anything they really need to do to prepare.
Zagata: Not so much preparing for the implementation, but certainly preparing to make themselves aware about using 9.2. There's a lot of documentation that Oracle's put out in terms of the release value propositions, and they'll have release notes. There are toolsets that will show all the various upgrades [in] functionality between 9.1 to 9.2. So there's a tremendous amount of documentation that will help them prepare to understand what's in 9.2. They can start making those decisions about what functionality they may or may not consider that will be relevant to their business. That's one step I would suggest they take.
And, in your opinion, is it "worth it" to upgrade to 9.2? Is there that much new functionality that could be possibly valuable for a company, that the value proposition would [conclude], "Yeah, sure, go ahead"?
Meyer: Well, a lot of that, again, depends upon where you're at. If you're at 9.1 and your business requirements are being met, then there [are] probably not a lot of drivers to 9.2 for you. But if you're at 8.9 or 9.0, I think it's really worth taking a look at 9.2 and assessing if some of these new features and enhancements could really help you from a business and a meeting business requirements and productivity standpoint and also [in regard to] elimination of customizations, again, because of how highly configurable a lot of the transactions now are.
Zagata: We talked a little bit about the Work Centers and that can be a huge advantage for some organizations to have all of that content in terms of what you do on a daily basis for your particular role and function on one dashboard. That can really increase user productivity. If we go back to what we talked about with 9.2 and utilizing the new tool set, and that really bridges the gap between PeopleSoft ERP and business intelligence. [It comes down to] merging the worlds of running your business and managing your business with new information and giving people the tools and the capabilities to make sound and better business decisions. There's a lot of value there when you combine 9.2 and tools 8.53 to allow multiple organizations, just to improve your overall decision-making.
In general, what are some of your patented tips for success in terms of new implementations?
Meyer: One of the things that we really espouse, especially at the beginning of an engagement, whether it's an implementation or upgrade, is that we have a two- to three-day workshop where we bring all the key stakeholders together. Ultimately, out of that comes a project charter, but we bring everybody together where we talk about what everybody's objectives are, what are the collective objectives, what are the risk factors and how are we going to mitigate those, [and] critical success factors are defined. In a very short period of time the entire team comes together and agrees upon what this project is, what it's going to accomplish, how we're going to do it and how we're going to be successful doing it.
We've found that that has been very, very successful in that you're not four weeks, five weeks, six weeks, maybe two months down the road, [and] everybody finds out they've all been marching toward different objectives and have different measurements of success. So, I know it sounds simplistic, but it's actually quite powerful and our clients have said that it's helped them a great deal. Larry, you want to add to that?
Zagata: As Anne mentioned, it sounds simplistic, but if you look at it from a greater perspective, you can be on time and on budget, but if the implementation, the upgrade, doesn't achieve the business goals that you set out to establish, it certainly will not be a successful project.
Tying the solution to business objectives is very important. You also have to make sure the different things you do in the implementation, you manage scope, [and] you have the proper resources trained. Beyond that, you'd need to make sure you evaluate your customizations. You design your customizations in the way that can be upgraded and supportable. You want to make sure at the end of the upgrade that you implemented a solution that's going to be sustainable, that you can maintain and grow. And make sure all of the end users are properly trained. Don't cut back on your time for testing. Make sure you allow adequate time for all of the testing as part of the implementation phase. Those are all key things that organizations need to make sure they do during the implementation itself.
Meyer: One other thing that we've seen over and over again: Make the commitment to have your people participate in the project. We've had projects that we've come into after the fact and find that some of the reasons that their client's having problems is because they didn't participate and they don't know what they have and they don't know how to use it properly, and there's not buy-in to the system. So that's a key factor. People think they can cut short there, but no matter what the ERP is, that's a key factor in success.
We touched on this a bit before -- the hybrid cloud and on-premises approach that Oracle is marketing. Do you think that's an effective approach to moving to the cloud, kind of piece by piece, and also what kinds of complications could come from that kind of approach?
Meyer: I think it's feasible. I think that, for instance, if you want to do performance management and you decide you want to have an evolutionary approach to the cloud, then moving to PeopleSoft in the cloud [makes] performance management doable and the integration exists. I don't know this for a fact, but there just could be confusion on the part of the user as to the look and feel. So they're in one system in PeopleSoft and then they go to the Fusion cloud and it's a different look and feel. So that may be just something that organizations have to take into consideration with their change management program. Other than that, I think if the organization wants to [go] step by step and understand what SaaS really means and being in the cloud means, the coexistence is a good approach to do that.
Zagata: Yeah, I agree. It allows them to take a step into another technology that they may or may not have experience with. If [they've been] on PeopleSoft for a number of years and they're switching technologies, instead of doing it all at once they can take steps toward that, which will certainly mitigate their risk. And, at that time, they can evaluate if a new technology is going to work for them and they can properly make decisions about how quickly they want to move to one technology versus the other.
Meyer: It's the mind and culture shift. So for PeopleSoft customers who've been able to customize, hopefully intelligently and not helter-skelter, but they've been able to customize to meet their unique business requirements. In a SaaS model, although there are extensions that you can do in Oracle Fusion, it's not customizable, and that's a culture and mindset that is very different. I think taking a step-by-step or a co-existence approach is a good starting point for organizations that are used to customizing as they go along.
For more information on Meyer and Zagata's consultancy, visit miproconsulting.com, and to keep up with all the latest HR technology news, check out SearchFinancialApplications.com. Thanks for listening and have a great day.