How Carreker Manages PeopleSoft

By Deborah Gage Print this article Print

Carreker narrowed the scope of its goals and tuned its own processes to work with PeopleSoft.

Carreker—a $110.3-million-a-year provider of software and consulting to banks—bought software around which it could organize itself. The company found that the best way to manage that choice was to change itself, not its software or its vendor.

The keys to accomplishing that feat: Narrowing the scope of what it was trying to do and changing some of its own business processes to meet the needs of the software.

The company agreed to install PeopleSoft8—including Human Resources, Financials, Customer Relationship Management, and Enterprise Services Automation—on the condition that the software, out of the box, could handle at least 80% of its needs.

Then it began changing its own business processes, many of which were manual, to accommodate PeopleSoft. Expense reports, for example, would no longer be passed from employee to employee; they would be entered into the system once and be available online.

"I and several people on my team have been through these [projects] before," says senior vice president Lori Faris. "We said, 'What's the alternative?'"

"When workflows are nonexistent and done manually, don't customize; narrow the scope and use the tool" on hand.

Faris says she and several of her team members learned big-company project-management techniques in previous jobs at Electronic Data Systems; other team members brought similar experiences from working at IBM.

So far, she says, the key to meeting deadlines and budgets at Carreker has been the team's ability to define precisely what happens if PeopleSoft can't be used out of the box: which workflows are affected and which applications must be customized. It's also had to set a schedule for making those changes and track them against the original plan. HRIS software was brought up in 50 days, an employee portal in six weeks.

"We don't have every bell and whistle, but we're adding them as needed," Faris says.

Carreker works with PeopleSoft development and PeopleSoft Consulting, which itself uses PeopleSoft8. The three-way interplay helps managers within Carreker sort out which of their business processes are so unique or critical that they justify customizing the software.

Hany Soliman, director of mid-market consulting for PeopleSoft, says Carreker senior management examines all exceptions—such as who has authority to approve expense accounts—to the processes provided by PeopleSoft.

"When you're implementing PeopleSoft, it could be a 20-year commitment," he says. "It has to involve senior management visionaries within the corporation to think how they want the product to look in several years."

Many more customers are trying to avoid customizations now than they were two years ago, Soliman says, but he adds that the level of involvement of Carreker's senior management is still unusual. He says the 80-20 rule that Carreker insisted on is PeopleSoft's goal, but it can't be achieved by all customers.

"I think in the past it was always whatever the end-user wanted," Soliman says. "We tried to make recommendations, but often the end-user would win. We've now learned it's more of a joint effort to determine what's crucial and what's not."

Carreker began implementing PeopleSoft software in November 2000, and the companies meet once a week at least. Each side sends a project manager, along with product leads who represent elements of the implementation such as financial, technical, HR, and eCenter (PeopleSoft's hosting center), and they bring in other employees as needed.

On Carreker's side, Soliman says, the product leads are high-level employees such as the controller or the human resources vice president. These are decision-makers who can give immediate direction on how the project should be planned, how resources should be allocated, how other employees can be persuaded to lend their support.

Yet Faris broke one cardinal rule of project management: She didn't establish hard-and-fast development deadlines at the outset. Instead, she assigned seasons for completing phases of the PeopleSoft project.

"I don't give them a date until I have enough documentation and buy-in from everybody," she says. "Once you set a date, that's what you have to live with."

Team members—be they from Carreker or PeopleSoft — also strive not to blame others when something goes wrong but to focus instead on communicating clearly and directly while keeping their emotions in check.

That attitude helped Carreker work through a difficult decision: whether to handle payroll in-house or job it out.

Carreker had been using an outside service, but bringing it in-house would help PeopleSoft8 work better.

"Outsourcing payroll would have required several interfaces to be developed which could complicate system maintenance and future upgrades as well as impact real-time features of the system," Soliman says.

Moving Carreker's business processes to the Web has saved hundreds of hours per month in employees' time, but Faris' big challenge still is getting people to change their ways and feel comfortable using the new software. Carreker employees go through "change management" courses 20 people at a time to learn PeopleSoft; power users get special training.

In effect, Carreker is managing PeopleSoft by managing itself in new ways. But if PeopleSoft did not respond to its narrowed scope of requests and requirements, Faris would not hesitate to address the issue.

"We know [PeopleSoft CEO] Craig Conway; we know we can escalate to the top," says Faris. "We haven't had to do it yet."

This article was originally published on 2002-03-18
Senior Writer
Based in Silicon Valley, Debbie was a founding member of Ziff Davis Media's Sm@rt Partner, where she developed investigative projects and wrote a column on start-ups. She has covered the high-tech industry since 1994 and has also worked for Minnesota Public Radio, covering state politics. She has written freelance op-ed pieces on public education for the San Jose Mercury News, and has also won several national awards for her work co-producing a documentary. She has a B.A. from Minnesota State University.

eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.