Software for Rent

November 15, 2007

Marc Benioff has never been modest in his dreams for Salesforce.com, the business software company he founded in 1999.

Mr. Benioff, whose appetite for brash publicity and business growth matches his bulk, declared several years ago that Salesforce would be “the Microsoft of the 21st century.” Never mind that his company brought in over a year what Microsoft garners in a few days. Or that another company, Google, seems more likely to wear that label.

Salesforce promised to revolutionize the way businesses buy software, and to a large extent it has accomplished that in one market niche: customer tracking. Its innovation was in turning software into a service that is leased over the Internet, instead of something bought and installed on company computers.

And yet for Mr. Benioff, the company’s chief executive, that is not enough. He wants to turn Salesforce into a platform like Microsoft’s Windows operating system, a product so popular that it is the foundation for a veritable ecosystem of software developers.

“In our industry,” he said, “the only companies that really make it big move from being a killer app to being a platform.”

But whether he can pull off that strategic leap is unclear. Salesforce has started to look less revolutionary as larger, more established companies have adopted its leasing model. And as Mr. Benioff himself notes, few software companies successfully make the move to platform status.

Yet that jump is critical to Salesforce’s long-term success. Its share price has tripled in three years, showing that investors are counting on success beyond the market for customer-tracking software.

“It’s been very impressive what Salesforce has pulled off,” said J. Bruce Daley, editor of The Enterprise Software Observer, an industry newsletter. “But I think this is a company about to hit a wall.”

Like others, Mr. Daley declared it “logical” that Mr. Benioff would try to use its beachhead in managing customer information to establish itself as a platform, a kind of holy grail of the software world. The plan is to persuade outside programmers to do what Salesforce cannot afford to do on its own: round out the company’s offering of products so that customers can lease a greater range of business tools, like payroll and accounting software.

“But the jury is still out on whether ultimately it will be successful,” Mr. Daley said.

It does not help Mr. Benioff’s cause that the subscription model’s success has inspired software firms, including Microsoft and SAP, the German business software giant, to offer subscription-based versions of their own products for customer relations management, known as C.R.M. That means Salesforce faces increased competition in its core market at a time when it is focusing on selling itself as a platform.

And then there is the competition from smaller companies like NetSuite, which uses the same leasing model to offer a full suite of applications it has built, including billing, accounting and other critical business tools.

Peter Goldmacher, an investment analyst for Cowen & Company, is among those arguing that Mr. Benioff should — at least for the time being — throttle back his wider ambitions and stick to his primary business. Mr. Goldmacher was once among Salesforce’s most prominent Wall Street boosters, but he has tempered that enthusiasm.

“My concern is that this is a company letting itself get distracted,” Mr. Goldmacher said.

In the late 1990s, Salesforce was one of a group of start-ups exploring ways to capture a share of the lucrative business software market using the leasing model, also called “software as a service” and “on-demand computing.”

The leasing model, its supporters say, permits companies to avoid the expense and headache of installing complex software packages that typically require huge outlays of cash for hardware and software upgrades.

“It’s all about letting our customers pay attention to innovation and not infrastructure,” Mr. Benioff said. “Software as a service is about freeing them from having to hook up another computer in another data center to another database to another application server to another security server.”

In the battle for a share of business software dollars, Mr. Benioff chose to focus on customer relationship management tools, a relatively small corner of the market. Such software would help sales representatives track customers and potential customers.

“C.R.M. seemed a perfect place to start and prove our concept,” he said.

By contrast, NetSuite focused on creating an on-demand financial product that handles tasks like billing and accounting precisely because they are so central to a business.

“Our strategy has always been to be the application you run your business on,” said Zachary A. Nelson, chief executive of NetSuite. “Salesforce chose an easier route.”

Though the two companies were started within weeks of each other, Salesforce has 35,000 customers, compared with NetSuite’s 5,300. But Mr. Nelson said he sees a strength in those numbers. “The same reason companies are slow to come makes them slower to leave,” Mr. Nelson said.

In response, Mr. Benioff described NetSuite as “not worth talking about,” given its relatively small size. Instead, he was eager to discuss larger companies like Microsoft and SAP, and he said their moves to on-demand software are a testament to Salesforce’s success.

In September, Microsoft started selling Dynamics CRM Live, an on-demand version of Dynamics CRM, the shrink-wrapped software package the company has been selling for four years. At around the same time, SAP unveiled Business ByDesign, an online version of the company’s array of business software, aimed at medium-size businesses.

At a news conference to promote that product, Henning Kagermann, SAP’s chief executive, declared ByDesign “the most important announcement I’ve made in my career.” But those who follow the business software market are generally skeptical that SAP, a company whose sales staff has thrived on selling multimillion-dollar software packages, will be as aggressive offering a cheaper version of its own product line.

These same analysts, though, tend to be more bullish about Microsoft’s chances against Salesforce.

Mr. Benioff dismissed Microsoft’s offering as “an inferior product,” but analysts said that Microsoft needed only a strong offering, not a superior one.

“If you know how to use any of Microsoft’s desktop tools, you know how to use Microsoft’s C.R.M. product,” said Bruce Richardson, the vice president for research at AMR Research, a technology consulting firm. Microsoft is a minor player in the C.R.M. market, but its Office software suite is installed on hundreds of millions of computers. And the company has priced the on-demand version of its C.R.M. software to be significantly cheaper than Salesforce’s offering.

“That’s classic Microsoft: to aggressively attack from a position of weakness to gain market share,” said Mr. Goldmacher of Cowen & Company.

Mr. Goldmacher had high hopes for Salesforce when the company went public in 2004. But he has cooled on the company since then; he said that over the last 18 months, Salesforce has lost its focus.

“More and more, I see them chasing bigger opportunities that won’t necessarily pay off,” said Mr. Goldmacher, who now has a neutral rating on Salesforce’s stock.

“What they’re telling the Street is, ‘We don’t care about profitability,’” Mr. Goldmacher said. “Their story now is that C.R.M. is just the bait, and the platform the real hook.”

Despite $497 million in sales, Salesforce posted a loss of $3.6 million last year.

Mr. Benioff counters critics by noting that although the platform project is less than two years old, the company is selling more than 700 add-ons, most of them written by third parties. Salesforce, working with a pair of venture firms in Silicon Valley, has created a $25 million fund that will provide seed money to companies seeking to build applications for the Salesforce platform.

Salesforce has also entered into a series of partnerships with Google, hoping to ride whatever success that company has in social networking and office applications, a field now dominated by Microsoft.

Many of the add-ons require customers to download additional software, which waters down Mr. Benioff’s simplicity message but also could make customers more loyal.

“The more our users customize, the more they are tied to our service,” said Steve Fisher, the Salesforce executive overseeing the platform project.

Another issue is that Salesforce is mainly used by sales staff needing to keep track of leads and customer lists. To AMR’s Bruce Richardson, that is not a very large step toward empire building.

“Marc wants to be the Facebook of the enterprise, but he’s missing a key piece,” Mr. Richardson said — a core product so popular that it naturally grows into an environment that attracts hundreds of third-party software vendors.

That is where the company’s partnerships with Google might prove critical.

“Marc is waiting for Google applications to mature,” said one former Salesforce executive, who asked not to be identified. “If it can link with Google applications, then maybe Salesforce can develop into a platform.”

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RightNow, Demandware Mash Up CRM, E-Commerce

October 30, 2007

RightNow and Demandware have developed a new mash-up that integrates the former’s CRM and customer service offerings with the latter’s e-commerce suite.

The result is an application that incorporates product content management and promotion with such interaction functionality as click-to-chat, while marrying order-tracking and management functions to the agent desktop.

Specifically, the new application connects RightNow’s service, marketing and sales applications with Demandware’s Web platform and e-commerce services.

RightNow’s contributions to the mash-up are its inbound and outbound sales and service desktop, multichannel customer service, marketing communications and customer feedback capabilities.

Demandware is providing its online storefront, site search, guided navigation, product catalog and promotions, Web development environment, user profiles and online content.

Suite Approach

On one hand, this mash-up can be viewed as a shortcut to bringing a suite application to market, as it eliminates much of the work involved in developing one from the ground up.

However, it is a mistake to assume that RightNow or Demandware have joined forces in such a manner strictly for competitive reasons, Yankee Group analyst Sheryl Kingstone told CRM Buyer — specifically with a vendor like NetSuite, the top online suite provider offering deep CRM functionality.

“RightNow rarely goes up against NetSuite in deals,” Kingstone said. “Also, RightNow’s target audience is larger than NetSuite’s.”

Rather, the larger point behind the mash-up is that it is emblematic of RightNow’s MO of automating integration around the customer experience.

The territory that Demandware owns — namely the order management process — is a critical integration point that RightNow has thus far not touched.

“Unfortunately, it is only offering this integration for the Demandware customer base,” Kingstone said.

Integrating the Online Channel

Later this year, the two companies plan to cross-sell and upsell the joint application to their respective installed bases, Scott Todaro, director of product and industry marketing at Demandware, told CRM Buyer. There is little overlap among the two firms’ clients.

There are no concrete plans, however, to embed the joint functionality in future releases of the respective applications. It may be, though, that the mash-up is enough to satisfy users’ needs — at least in the immediate term.

The driver behind the joint application is the growing necessity of integrating the online channel into back-office functions, explained David Hayden, director of product strategy for RightNow. That’s especially relevant as more companies rip out their legacy systems and replace them with SOA (service-oriented architecture)-based applications.

Vendors and their customers alike, Hayden told CRM Buyer, “are really looking to connect the various business units around solid, go-to-market strategies.”

Kingstone echoed that prediction — at least in terms of the mash-up service providing a faster time-to-market vehicle.

“The future of software will focus on mash-ups like these,” she said. “At bottom, they are all about breaking down the barrier posed by integration.”

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Salesforce.com Eyes Data-Sharing Service

October 4, 2007

By James Niccolai, IDG News Service

Salesforce.com Inc. is preparing a new service that will allow customers to share sales leads and other data directly with other companies that use its on-demand CRM (customer relationship management) software.

Salesforce.com is asking customers to help it choose a name for the service, candidates for which include Salesforce Data Network, Salesforce to Salesforce (S2S) and Salesforce Partner Network, according to a posting in its blog Tuesday.

The service takes advantage of the fact that Salesforce.com hosts sales and customer data for thousands of clients in a common format in its servers, making it relatively easy for it to share information among those who wish to do so.

Salesforce.com started soliciting feedback from customers earlier this year on the idea of a “Lockbox” that would allow manufacturing companies, for example, to share sales leads with their distributors and resellers, and get real-time updates on those leads, from within the Salesforce.com system.

Customers will be able to set up rules that allow them to publish the records they want to share, which other Salesforce.com customers could then subscribe to, according to a February posting on the company’s IdeaExchange Web site.

The new service was being planned for the Salesforce.com Winter 2008 release, according to the posting. The Winter 2007 release came out in January this year, and the fact that the company is soliciting a name for the service now suggests it could be close to fruition.

Woodson Martin, Salesforce.com’s vice president of marketing for Europe, said the customers often ask how they can take better advantage of the company’s CRM service if their distributors and resellers are also customers. “They are asking, If we both have Salesforce.com, why can’t we talk to each other so we can better share and coordinate? That’s the inspiration for this service.”

Nicholas Carr, author of the book “Does IT Matter?”, said such a service could represent an untapped opportunity for companies using hosted applications.

“Clearly, the company has something cooking, and I think it points to an as yet under-appreciated advantage of the multitenant systems that Salesforce and other utility-computing firms are running: the ability for companies using the systems to easily exchange data with one another,” he wrote in a blog posting Wednesday.

Companies offering hosted business applications, which also include NetSuite Inc. and Oracle Corp., don’t usually emphasize their ability to share their customers’ data, perhaps because one of the main inhibitors to hosted applications has been concerns about data security. But with hosted applications more widely accepted today, Salesforce.com may think the time is right to offer the capability.

The new service would allow customers to share “leads, opportunities and custom objects with each other (assuming both are using salesforce.com),” the company said in its posting.

“If Salesforce’s blog post is any indication, the company is likely prepping a set of tools that will build cross-client data sharing into its applications — in a way that goes well beyond its current ‘partner relationship management’ add-ons,” Carr wrote.

Salesforce.com already allows customers to buy partner licenses for sharing data with other companies in their supply chain. The new service broadens that from a “one to many” to a “many to many” sharing model, said David Bradshaw, a principal analyst with Ovum Ltd.

Difficulties arise when customers want to share data with companies using a different software system, such as Oracle’s Siebel CRM On Demand, Bradshaw said. Salesforce.com may hope the data-sharing service will compel more companies to sign up for its service, or it could act more openly and allow other CRM systems to take part in the data sharing, he said.

Martin said the service is made possible in part by “the growing use of our service across huge swaths of the market.” The company has about 900,000 customers, he said. “We don’t see any one else with that type of advantage today in the market.”

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Turn Sales Prospects Into Regular Customers

April 16, 2007

By Richard Morochove

Sales are the key ingredient in the mix that creates a successful business. You need customers to buy your products and services or you don’t have a viable operation.

How can you convert more prospects to buyers, or first-time buyers into regular customers? Those are the aims of customer relationship management, widely known as CRM.

CRM Organizes Sales

CRM applications handle three main tasks: Track your prospects and customers; keep tabs on what they want; and let them know how your business can deliver the goods that satisfy their needs. In a nutshell, CRM organizes the sales process.

Many small businesses still use a spreadsheet, a generic database, or a general-purpose application such as Microsoft Outlook to keep track of contacts and prospective customers. But using a specialized CRM app can make it easier to achieve your sales objectives.

CRM applications evolved from early contact managers, the digital equivalent of the paper address book or Rolodex. But they can do much more, such as keeping track of what tasks you must perform to keep a customer happy, or performing simple project management that coordinates pre-sales work among different employees.

Highrise: A New Web-based CRM Service

If your business is new to CRM, Highrise could be just what you need to dip a toe into the waters. Highrise is a recently released Web-based service from 37signals, which is probably best known for its Basecamp collaborative project management service.

Highrise is relatively inexpensive (business plans start at $24 per month), and simple to set up and use. It’s especially well-suited for a far-flung virtual organization of few dozen or so people, since it lets you easily share information with other authorized users.

Simple but Effective CRM

Highrise’s virtue lies in its simplicity. You can enter contact information directly using your Web browser or import existing contact records in the popular vCard (.vcf) format, which many e-mail applications and contact managers use.

You can create new tasks, set deadlines, and assign tasks to categories. Establishing a case lets you bring together related contacts and tasks as a form of basic project management.

When you log in to the service, the Highrise dashboard displays recent activity and upcoming tasks. You can choose to have a daily task summary e-mail sent at 6 a.m. reminding you what you need to accomplish that day. (You can also opt for individual task reminders, but the summary list of all tasks due either goes out at 6 a.m. or not at all.)

Good Use of E-Mail Integration

I especially like the way Highrise uses nothing fancier than plain old e-mail to jump through a few hoops and perform some neat information integration tricks. You can forward e-mail messages to special user-related Highrise e-mail accounts, which then automatically assign those messages as new tasks or attach them to a contact.

If you already have CRM software and don’t find it to be overkill, Highrise probably isn’t for you. It’s best suited for neophytes, and it lacks the capabilities and integrated hooks into other business processes that larger, enterprise-scale organizations get from higher-end CRM services such as Salesforce.com and NetSuite. However, Highrise officials say that an API (application programming interface) offering more integration possibilities is in the works.

You can check out Highrise by signing up for its free plan, which is limited to two users and 250 contacts, and provides no online storage. Paid plans range from Basic to Max. Basic costs $24 per month, permits six users and 5000 contacts, and includes 500MB of online storage. Max allows an unlimited number of users and 50,000 contacts, provides 50GB storage, and costs $149 per month. All paid plans offer a 30-day free trial.

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NetSuite Beefs Up E-Commerce Services

January 16, 2007

By Richard Morochove

One of the difficulties that any small e-commerce business faces is integrating the flow of information to and from its Web site, which is typically hosted by a service, and its accounting software, which usually resides on a local PC or server. You can periodically upload new inventory data and download new sales data to keep things in sync, but that approach doesn’t work as seamlessly and efficiently as it should.

One solution is NetSuite, a venerable online service that handles business accounting and financial management and can also host a financially integrated e-commerce Web site. While NetSuite boasts impressive accounting capabilities, until now it did not offer much flexibility for handling high-end e-commerce needs.

The latest round of improvements to NetSuite significantly enhances its Web site creation and management capabilities. I looked at a beta version of NetSuite version 11, which adds feature after valuable feature for e-commerce businesses, particularly those that sell through different channels, such as retail and wholesale, and those that target international markets.

However, these improvements come at a cost. Feature-rich NetSuite isn’t designed for a budding business on a tight budget. You will spend $1100 per month or more to gain access to the broad range of services that it offers.

Multiple Sites Supported

NetSuite now lets you manage multiple e-commerce Web sites, each with its own domain if necessary. Each site is capable of providing multilingual product descriptions and handling payments in multiple currencies: For example, a site visitor from the United States could read product descriptions written in English and price them in U.S. dollars, while a visitor from France can click on a menu and choose to view descriptions in French and prices in euros. You can establish one site to target consumers, while another aims at wholesale dealers with lower prices and higher minimum purchase requirements. All sites can draw from the same product inventory data.

Every e-commerce app can show you what you sold, but NetSuite now lets you see what you almost sold. NetSuite tracks shopping cart abandonments, so that you can view what products shoppers selected but ultimately opted not to buy. You can then try to capture this lost business by offering the shoppers a special coupon or another incentive.

If you’re a budding Amazon.com, you can use some of the same tools as the big guys to boost sales, such as the automated upsell/cross-sell that recommends related products and ones that previous buyers have purchased.

NetSuite now supports digital downloads for electronic products, a useful feature for sellers of e-books, software, and digital music.

E-commerce sites are often heavily dependent on visitors referred by major search engines such as Google and Yahoo. NetSuite tracks which search terms are most productive in attracting both visitors and sales. The reports can distinguish between the results from free, natural (sometime called “organic”) search referrals and pay-per-click search engine ads, which cost you money.

From NetLedger to NetSuite

NetSuite is now almost unrecognizable from the original service launched years ago, when it was called NetLedger and was marketed as a $10-per-user-per-month basic online alternative to Intuit’s QuickBooks. NetSuite has moved so far upscale that there’s little overlap between their markets now. Today’s NetSuite might appeal to QuickBooks users at the very high end, who are probably running QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions.

NetSuite’s new international e-commerce and Web site creation and management services are currently in beta testing and should be available to NetSuite users in the second quarter of this year.

NetSuite’s base price is $499 per month for a single user. Additional users cost $99 per month. The Site Builder and Site Analytics services cost an additional $299 per month each, regardless of the number of users. That sounds like a lot of money, but it includes accounting and finance functions, Web site hosting, and other capabilities such as calendar and task management. A free trial is available.

NetSuite is overkill for a mom-and-pop operation selling a couple of thousand dollars worth of merchandise per month. However, if you sell at least $20,000 per month and are looking for a platform that would support your business revenue growth to $200,000 or $2 million per month or more, then NetSuite could be just the e-ticket.

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CRM Made Simple

January 1, 2007

Few pieces of tech jargon are as unwieldy as CRM–customer relationship management. But what CRM systems do is actually quite simple. A CRM system is like an electronic Rolodex souped up so that every entry yields not only a phone number but your entire business history with that customer. The systems also can scan data to spot trends, enabling you to refine your sales, marketing, and customer service efforts. Such systems traditionally have been expensive and complicated, challenging the skills of even the smartest techies. But that’s changing. Forrester Research (NASDAQ:FORR) projects that in 2007, companies with fewer than 100 employees will account for more than a third of the CRM market. In other words, systems are no longer a luxury; increasingly, you need one if you’re going to compete. Here’s what the major vendors are offering.

Best for… Getting it all in one place

NetSuite

What it is: NetSuite provides a collection of software tools to manage nearly everything a business does, from accounting and payroll to e-commerce and publishing. CRM is one of the firm’s signature offerings. Those tools, which handle sales, marketing, and customer support, can be purchased separately from, say, accounting tools. But the company’s strong suit is the breadth of its software operations and its ability to integrate all of those functions into a single system.

What’s cool: NetSuite is best known for its easy-to-use dashboard interface. Its CRM features make it easy for marketers to monitor and fine-tune their search-engine marketing efforts with a tool that tracks keywords and leads, from click to sale. A new feature called SuiteFlex allows people to tailor the software to specific industries, like retailing or maintenance. NetSuite Small Business is geared specifically toward companies with 20 or fewer employees.

Drawbacks: NetSuite’s free e-mail support can take up to a week to respond to questions, so you may need to pay for a support plan.

Price: $499 per month, plus $99 per user per month

Best for… Easing the learning curve

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0

What it is: The software giant’s product for sales, support, and marketing. It’s a licensed product that you install on your own servers rather than access on the Web.

What’s cool: Dynamics CRM appears as a folder in Outlook, and for many users it will seem like it’s another part of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Office. That means staffers will need less training–often the bane of CRM implementation. The system is especially good at managing contacts and creating account information.

Drawbacks: Microsoft is new to CRM and is still working to catch up to its rivals. For instance, there is not yet a sales-commission management tool.

Price: The Small Business Edition, designed for companies with fewer than 50 employees, runs $440 to $499 per user and $528 to $599 per server. The Professional edition costs $622 to $880 per user and $1,244 to $1,761 per server. Both versions include a year of support and maintenance.

Best for… Revving up the sales team

Salesforce.com

What it is: Salesforce.com is the original hosted CRM tool. Over the years, it has expanded from sales force automation to handle customer service, marketing, analytics, and more.

What’s cool: It’s flexible. The software’s latest version lets you customize the way data appears on your screen. Another new feature lets you slide your mouse over a contact name and bring up a pop-up screen filled with data such as current deals in process and service call status. The company also has established the AppExchange, a directory of more than 400 applications that integrate with and extend the capabilities of Salesforce.com (as well as other applications).

Drawbacks: Salesforce.com remains best at what its name implies: managing sales. It’s not as good at things like customer support and marketing.

Price: The Team Edition (maximum of five users) starts at $995 a year. The Unlimited Edition starts at $195 per user per month.

Best for… Coddling your customers

RightNow

What it is: RightNow started out as a Web-based customer service application, but has added marketing and sales tools, becoming a full-fledged CRM application. The company’s strong focus on support means it has added interactive voice response and analytics, and also has developed its own professional services team to help businesses figure out how best to use its products.

What’s cool: A tool that lets you automate responses to customer inquiries, no matter where they come from–the Web, e-mail, or telephone. Knowledge management tools keep your entire staff up to date on what’s going on with all of your customers; in other words, you’ll know not to make a sales call to a client who just spent an hour screaming at a customer service rep.

Drawbacks: RightNow’s customer base is now more than 50 percent large companies, and its software really isn’t meant for companies with less than $50 million in sales. It can be difficult for small firms, with small IT departments, to manage.

Price: Starts at $52 per user per month (two-year commitment required)

Best for… Exploring the possibilities

SugarExchange

What it is: A Web-based library of more than 100 open-source CRM products that visitors can sample and download for free. The site is sponsored by SugarCRM, a leading open-source CRM provider (see “Something for Nothing,” November 2006).

What’s cool: The exchange is a perfect way for CRM shoppers to get a sense of the range of free, open-source products available. Among the offerings: reporting tools to analyze customer data; contact tracking software; and tools to boost the efficiency of phone-based customer service operations.

Drawbacks: Because it’s stocked exclusively with open-source products, the pickings can be thin in some categories; only one application is available, for example, in list management. Implementing the software could require some in-house technical expertise.

Price: Free

Best for… Following the leader

Oracle’s Siebel CRM On Demand

What it is: Siebel helped invent CRM software, and is the largest company in the market today. (Last January, it was acquired by Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL), which also owns CRM firms PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards.)

What’s cool: Siebel systems have great customer service tools, including a feature that automatically routes calls to the support person with the most appropriate skills, rather than just the next one in line. Siebel CRM On Demand also has strong data-reporting capabilities that make it easier to track sales performance.

Drawbacks: On Demand lacks some of the features common in other applications, such as real-time alerts to let sales and support staff respond immediately when a prospect has a question.

Price: $70 per user per month

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A Fifth Startup? It’s All In A Workday

November 13, 2006

By Sarah Lacy

Dave Duffield was alone in a hotel room 3,000 miles from home when he got the news that PeopleSoft Inc., the company he had started and built over 17 years into a software powerhouse, had been snatched away. It was Dec. 10, 2004, and Duffield was preparing to give testimony in a shareholder lawsuit when the call came from longtime colleague Aneel Bhusri. “I’ve got some very bad news” was all he needed to hear.

PeopleSoft’s independent board members had voted to accept an enhanced $10.3 billion buyout from Oracle Corp. (ORCL ) Oracle Corp., the megacompetitor Duffield had taken to calling “the bad guys” because he feared there would be layoffs and product cuts if it took over. He felt like some- one had punched him in the gut. “I was in the middle of nowhere,” he recalls. “It was totally depressing.”

Duffield had put up a good fight. Three months earlier, when he returned from retirement to try to rescue PeopleSoft from Oracle’s clutches, many were amazed. Here was a wealthy, retired man in his sixties who, with Bhusri, had turned the reins over to CEO Craig Conway back in 1999. He had philanthropy and six adopted children at home to keep him busy. What did he need with running a company again? So when Oracle Chief Executive Lawrence J. Ellison finally prevailed in the takeover battle, everyone assumed Duffield would retreat to Tahoe–with the $600 million more he made off the sale.

They were wrong. On Nov. 6, following a year of industry speculation, Duffield, 66, will launch his latest software company. The startup, his fifth, is called Workday. It’s a bold attempt to tackle head-on the giants of the business, Oracle and SAP (SAP ), with Web-based “on-demand” software.

That means taking on the old PeopleSoft products, which Oracle still sells and supports. Already, Workday bears a striking resemblance to Duffield’s old company. At its offices in Walnut Creek, Calif., executives sit in egalitarian cubicles. Many are former PeopleSofties with a strong sense of loyalty: Few forget that, following the buyout, Duffield put up $10 million of his own money to help laid-off workers. Today, CEO Duffield roams the halls in jeans and a golf shirt. Just like in the early days at PeopleSoft, it’s as if a Midwestern company has been plunked down on the edge of Silicon Valley.

Attacking Oracle and SAP, which hold 65% of the market for big-company applications, is an idea that would get most people laughed out of a venture capitalist’s office. Fortunately, Duffield is worth an estimated $1.2 billion. Bhusri, who is back as co-founder, is a partner at venture firm Greylock Partners, which jumped at the chance to fund Duffield’s next act. So far he and Greylock have ponied up $15 million and expect to invest $20 million more by yearend. Why get back in the game? “I had a good life, my kids were happy, and I could hold my head up high about what I accomplished at PeopleSoft,” Duffield says. “I wouldn’t [risk all that] unless there was a real opportunity.”

AHEAD OF THE CURVE
That opportunity is to catch the software business at a new inflection point. PeopleSoft came along when human resources and other business applications were moving from mainframe computers to PCs. It quickly became a leader in easy-to-use programs that automate HR tasks such as the administration around hiring, firing, and performance reviews. For its time, PeopleSoft produced programs that were remarkably easy to use and customize. Then it rocketed to No. 2 in software for broader use in corporate applications, such as accounting, factory planning, and supply-chain management.

Shortly before its sale, PeopleSoft had 13,000 employees and $3 billion in annual revenues. In 2003, PeopleSoft attempted to widen its lead by buying a smaller competitor, J.D. Edwards. Ellison launched a hostile bid for PeopleSoft that stunned the industry. Conway resisted vigorously but alienated shareholders who felt he needed to consider the escalating offers. Finally the board fired Conway and turned to Duffield. He opposed a sale, but was overruled by independent directors.

Fast forward to today: Corporate software packages have grown increasingly complex and expensive to maintain. Frustrated employers are turning to on-demand software, which is easier to use and cheaper long-term. Sellers run programs for customers, taking on the cost and hassles of operating databases and servers. Users log onto the Web to pull down information on payroll or figure out where an order is in the sales pipeline. At the same time, a new, more flexible style of programming is emerging that takes advantage of software building blocks. As companies grow, they can move pieces around without breaking up the whole system. Workday will try to exploit those changes.

But the idea that Web-based technologies can improve software isn’t exactly original. A handful of promising young companies–salesforce.com (CRM ), RightNow Technologies (RNOW ), and NetSuite, to name a few–are gaining share with midsize companies. And SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft (MSFT ) are retrofitting their programs.

So Workday has its work cut out. The largest of its five customers is Biosite Inc. (BSTE ), a biotech company with 1,100 employees. To build customer confidence, Workday needs to forge relationships with big software and services outfits. It’s in talks with Microsoft to figure out how to get Workday software to mesh with its ubiquitous desktop programs. And Accenture Ltd. (ACN ) is building a Workday practice to help big companies evaluate and implement the programs, a sign that it thinks Workday is on to something. “We think this is a huge opportunity,” says Bob Suh, Accenture’s chief tech strategist.

Still, Workday’s best asset is Duffield’s reputation as a software legend. Early on at PeopleSoft, he did much of the coding himself and personally manned booths at trade shows. His last slide at customer conferences showed his direct phone line (and, later, his e-mail). “There really is a cult following around Dave,” says AMR Research Inc. analyst Bruce Richardson. “If anyone can do this, it’s them.”

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