Ex-PeopleSoft CEO talks hosted apps, Oracle

The former head of PeopleSoft talks about his latest board appointment and his nemesis Oracle

Craig Conway, the former head of PeopleSoft, has kept a low profile in the IT world since his public ouster from the company in October 2004, a few months before the enterprise applications vendor was acquired by Oracle.

Already a board member of on-demand applications player Salesforce.com since October 2005, Conway Tuesday took on a second position as he joined the board of executives at enterprise search startup Kazeon Systems.

Sudhakar Muddu, the chief executive officer and founder of Kazeon, welcomed Conway's arrival. "It means a lot," he said in an interview. "I look up to Craig." Muddu hopes to take advantage of Conway's operational and strategic experience as Kazeon looks to grow rapidly and extend its enterprise search capabilities to encompass databases come the first half of next year.

Conway joined PeopleSoft as the company's president and CEO in 1999, overseeing a period of rapid growth for the organization and trying in vain to fend off a hostile bid for the vendor from Oracle. He's also previously spent time at a number of other IT vendors including a nearly eight-year stint at Oracle.

IDG News Service chatted to Conway about his new role with Kazeon and his old nemesis Oracle. An edited transcript follows.

Why were you drawn to Kazeon?

In my career, I've always been searching in the first place for new, exciting (technology) spaces and then trying to find companies to fill them. Enterprise search has been an area that's grown pretty quickly and is very hard to do. The company (Kazeon), although small, is on everyone's lips. All my contacts in enterprise software and storage think Kazeon has the best technology.

I only sit on one other board. I'm very judicious in my choice. When joining a board, I want a company that needs something from me. There are a number of things I may be able to add to Kazeon. I can help in managing growth and the operational details associated with that. I also have a very broad network of contacts -- customers and partners.

Does the return of Dave Duffield, PeopleSoft's co-founder, to the IT world make you keen to return too? Also, what's your opinion of his new venture, Workday, offering hosted enterprise resource management (ERP) software?

The one thing that's keeping me from going back is the 70- to 80-hour week. I may do at some point when I'm ready for it. At PeopleSoft, I had a 90-hour work week. I haven't figured out how to run a multinational company without working 90-hour weeks. At the moment, I speak at some conferences, guest lecture and consult every once in while.

I don't know much about Workday other than what I've read in the press, but I know Dave Duffield. I think he'll be successful, he always has been. He's very good at seeing the times when the underlying technologies change in a infrastructure. With PeopleSoft, it was mainframe to client/server. When I came in in 1999, it was client/server to Web-based [software]. Now, he's recognizing software-as-a service [SaaS]. He's very, very good at identifying major changes and capitalizing on them.

Everyone has a different view on hosted software. Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce.com thinks everyone will use it, while Microsoft Corp., Oracle and SAP AG position on-demand applications as more of an option to on-premise software. What do you think?

I think Marc's right. Whenever there's a major change in the architecture different than the status quo, the companies with investment in the status quo minimize the impact it's going to have. But they're also quietly starting development work and trying to catch up. Oracle is starting to revisit Siebel OnDemand, SAP has a [hosted] product, even Microsoft has something. I believe it's the way companies want to buy enterprise software.

Salesforce.com has done a tremendous job to continue to drive SaaS and has a creative approach with AppExchange. Marc has done a masterful job, not simply in managing the company, but also creatively. That's the exciting thing about our business. There are always new opportunities and there's always room for a new company to do it better. Kazeon is an example of being recognized as a company that's done search enterprise better.

Any advice for companies who today are facing off against Oracle like SAP?

I know the modus operandi Oracle is to find an enemy. There's an old saying: 'You can do without friends, but you can't do without an enemy.' Oracle is excellent at finding someone to focus on.

If you think back 10 years Oracle was doing the same thing with Sybase, Ingres and Informix. It's the persona of the company and it's working. It gets people talking.

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