PeopleSoft Inc. is setting the agenda for human-centered applications of cutting-edge technology. Here are four lessons gleaned from its success.
1) The best systems are open systems.
CEO Dave Duffield is clear about the kind of company he's building. "The objective is to have all 4,500 people know what matters," he says. "If people don't have total access to information, they have to guess at what they should be doing."
Email is a powerful force for open access. So are the company's 400 Lotus Notes databases. These databases store marketing presentations, intelligence on competitors, and status reports on projects. Says Duffield: "Anyone can get to anyone else or to any piece of information."
2) To make work fun, eliminate drudgery.
Not only does PeopleSoft apply technology to mission-critical functions; it also uses technology to combat the little headaches of organizational life - the irritants that sap morale. "The goal is to get rid of drudgery," says CIO Steve Zarate. "One of our jobs is to eliminate stuff that doesn't add value."
3) It's the process, not the technology.
Writing futuristic applications is easy, argues Zarate. What's hard is breaking old habits. "You can't think of technology as a 'solution,' " he says. "You have to be willing to challenge the way things have been done, to redesign how your processes operate. That's what lets you use technology in a creative way."
4) It's the infrastructure, not the applications.
Why have so few companies managed to create the kinds of technology-enabled systems that are routine at PeopleSoft? For fast-growing companies, the reason usually isn't a lack of creativity - it's a lack of planning. "When companies hit the wall," says Zarate, "inadequate infrastructure is almost always a big reason."
PeopleSoft plans to reach a head count of roughly 7,500 by the end of 1998. But Zarate is already planning for when the company employs 20,000 people: "Sometimes it feels like this company is a bullet train moving at 200 miles per hour - and our team is 10 feet ahead, laying down track."
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.