Duffield's Workday, gearing up to punch in

After a year in stealth mode, PeopleSoft founder's new company is ready to step into light.

Can Dave Duffield reinvent the industry he helped to build?

It's been nearly 20 years since Duffield launched PeopleSoft to help bring mainframe-caliber human resources software to PC-based systems. Now Duffield has turned his attention to the new high-tech frontier: on-demand systems.

Next month, Duffield hopes to launch his new company, Workday, an on-demand business applications company. Sources said it will seek to create a new way to organize HR data and to make decisions, using the latest service-oriented architecture tools to link to existing software.

Workday will initially focus on building a set of HR applications to handle such tasks as employee hiring, succession planning and multinational capabilities. Later, the company will add financial and supply-chain applications to the mix, sources told CNET News.com.

The company has been holding private demonstrations of its products to a range of prospective customers and industry players. Karen Beaman, a Workday vice president, declined to comment on the company's plans, and said it will withhold details until a planned launch that could come as early as May. Duffield was not available for comment.

But sources who are familiar with its plans said that Workday promises to address some of the major technology problems affecting the HR industry.

"What impressed me was how Workday (will) organize employees--like which person was going to report to which person for a particular task, to how they were progressing on the various tasks," said one source familiar with the company's plans. "You could also track your total (human) resources for a project--like applicants that could do the work, contractors, to full-time employees."

Dave Duffield Dave Duffield

Industry observers note that Duffield brings his deep knowledge of HR applications and attentive ear to customer demands to his new venture. He remains a prominent figure in the ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications industry, even after the sale of PeopleSoft to arch-rival Oracle.

Duffield, who founded PeopleSoft in 1987, guided the company to a prominent position in the ERP market, but found increasing competition from Oracle and SAP that damped the company's financial prospects.

He stepped down as PeopleSoft chief executive in 1999 to make way for Craig Conway, the company's president and chief operating officer. Duffield returned to the CEO post after Conway's ouster in 2004, during the takeover battle with Oracle.

New battlefield
Plans for Workday will once again place Duffield in competition with Oracle and SAP, the ERP market leader. The company aims to outflank competitors by selling a more flexible and comprehensive set of human resources tools--what Workday and the HR industry refers to as "human capital management" applications--than competitors offer, sources said. "Our focus is to tackle the traditional ERP markets, in a nontraditional way," according to a posting on Workday's Web site.

Human capital management tries to match the behavior, skills and other characteristics of employees with the qualities a company needs in order to achieve its strategic goals. These types of HR applications are considered strategic and much different than transactional, or processing, HR applications such as payroll tools.

Customers will take information from their "legacy," or old, systems and use an automated tool to enter it into Workday's on-demand applications. The application will examine the data and outline the various steps the customer needs to take to realign its staff, based on the specific needs of the company or industry, a source said.

Here's how it works: Companies typically process job applicants by taking in their resumes, assigning a manager to conduct an interview, and logging in all relevant employee information into a database. The final step in the hiring process is usually assigning an employee number. But with Workday, the technology is designed to allow a retailer in the crush of the holiday season to get sales clerks on the floor quickly, by reconfiguring the system to assign an employee number first and then back-filling in the other information.

"You should be able to configure the software and tailor it to your program...and you should never have to touch the code," the source said. "Workday will bring the cost of implementation down."

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