PeopleSoft cuts user groups adrift

Anger over PeopleSoft's attempts to freeze out its newly acquired vendor-independent JD Edwards (JDE) user groups across the world has spread to Australia, with PeopleSoft's Australian operation cutting support for the Australia-New Zealand JDE user group conference Quest 2004.

PeopleSoft acquired JD Edwards in July 2003 for about $US1.8 billion and immediately pledged to continue support for all JDE products over the next five years as the applications are integrated into the company's main product suites.

Quest is scheduled to be held in Melbourne on February 18 and PeopleSoft's sudden withdrawal from the Australia New Zealand Conference 2004 has angered local JDE users, who claim they were only informed as late as Friday January 18 that the vendor would not support or present at the conference.

Quest Australia New Zealand chairman Charles Birchall told Computerworld that users were completely dismayed by PeopleSoft's actions.

"Why is it attacking the user group? [Why is it] out to squash a group that has been working very successfully for 10 to 12 years? People are just stunned at the moment. It's very much a takeover. It's like 'we're going to integrate you'," Birchall said.

With delegates and sponsors already booked in and paid-up, Birchall said that Quest will carry on regardless of PeopleSoft's rejection, adding that in the past the event had provided a valuable opportunity for JD Edwards staff to network with their customers.

Birchall said users are also becoming increasingly sceptical of PeopleSoft's reassurances that it would not become second-class customers under the new regime, pointing out that significant cultural differences existed between former JDE clients and PeopleSoft's established customer base.

PeopleSoft's global director of customer marketing and communication Steve Comes – who is also in charge of setting the company's user group policy – denied that the vendor was trying to force-march users over to a new structure.

Comes said that after three months of intensive user consultation through a specially formed integration sub-group international customer advisory board (ICAB), PeopleSoft had decided the interests of its users were best served by an newly integrated PeopleSoft user group.

"The Quest business model is just fundamentally different from the way that PeopleSoft operates. Quest is a business that charges a fee to get the services it provides. We fundamentally believe that since you are a PeopleSoft customer, you get those services from PeopleSoft and you don't pay an additional fee for that. That's built into being a PeopleSoft customer. We don't agree with the Quest business model and don't think the customer should have to pay an extra fee to get those services," Comes said.

Asked whether the vendor's direct funding had the potential to erode the user group's independence, or at least users' perception of independence, Comes countered that all users were free to meet and organise free of "completely independent PeopleSoft resources".

Apart from Quest, Australia has three regional user groups: Southern (Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania), NSW and Queensland.

President of JDE Southern user group (which is independent of Quest and PeopleSoft) Shane Bubb told Computerworld he was "in the middle of writing a letter" to PeopleSoft to find out exactly where the vendor stands with his user group.

"We don't know anything yet officially, only what we've heard," Bubb said.

What users want

IT business relations manager for South Pacific Tyres' and holder of 200 JDE OneWorld user licences, Jim Broe, says he's confused by the PeopleSofts stance - but knows what he wants from a user group.

"I don't really know what PeopleSoft's view is towards user groups.

"From a user's point of view - as someone who has bought [the JDE] product, what we are looking for is to have a robust user group which we can actively participate in. One that takes our issues, in an unbiased manner, to the software vendor. One where we have a forum to express our concerns to the vendors in terms of enhancements and deficiencies in the product or any other issues relating to customer service.

The user conference is a chance to interact with your peer group and be exposed to things like third-party products; what is the latest and greatest; what works and what doesn't; what's good and what's bad in the [vendor] organisation. We [want] an effective forum."

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