As the founder and leader of PeopleSoft, Dave Duffield played a seminal role in establishing enterprise resource planning, or ERP, systems as the IT engines of big business. But then, in a hostile takeover, the enterprise software giant Oracle yanked PeopleSoft out of Duffield’s hands. Now, Duffield’s back in town, and he’s gunning for ERP.
It’s the Shootout at Enterprise Gulch.
Today, Duffield’s new company, Workday, is announcing an expansion of its suite of software-as-a-service business applications to include not only human resource management – its original offering – but also a set of financial management services, including accounts payable and receivable, general ledger, and reporting and analysis. The integrated suite, which is being offered in beta form and will be further fleshed out in coming months, provides, Duffield’s deputy Mark Nittler told me, “the first alternative to ERP.”
It’s an alternative to ERP, rather than a Web-delivered version of ERP, argues Nittler, because the system’s software guts are entirely different. Rather than being tightly tied to a complex relational database, with thousands of different data tables, running on a separate disk, the Workday system uses a much simpler in-memory database, running in RAM, and relies on metadata, or tags, to organize and integrate the data. Having an in-memory database means that the system can run much faster (crucial for Web-delivered software), and using metadata rather than static tables, says Nittler, gives users greater flexibility in tailoring the system to their particular needs. It solves ERP’s complexity problem – or at least it promises to. (For more on the nuts and bolts, see David Dobrin’s whitepaper and Dan Farber’s writeup.)
So what are the odds that Duffield’s Workday will come out on top once the dust has settled in Enterprise Gulch? The odds are long. But Workday has three things going for it. First, it has the widely admired Duffield, who gives the upstart immediate credibility with customers, investors, and programmers. Second, it has a technological head start. There are reasons to believe that the secret new system, codenamed A1S, being developed by SAP, the biggest ERP provider, will resemble what Workday is doing, with an in-memory database and much metadata, but SAP is moving slowly, weighed down with the baggage of the past. Third, Workday is adopting a strategy of patience and steady gains. It’s targeting mid-sized companies that have not yet implemented full ERP systems – a rich market that’s also being targeted by SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft, among other mainstream software houses. The ERP virgins, who well know the costs, complexities, and risks of installing an ERP system on their own hardware, have good reason to give careful consideration to a software-as-a-service offering like Workday’s, which runs in a browser and requires little in the way of upfront capital investments. The middle market offers Workday a means of establishing a toehold before it moves upward to the big-company market, where it will actually have to displace installed systems – a tall order, indeed.
Salesforce.com’s marketing slogan has long been “The End of Software.” Workday’s pitch sounds like “The End of ERP.” Whether or not Workday itself succeeds in its battle against the behemoths, we already see in its innovative system the outlines of the post-ERP era of enterprise computing.