Sean McCormack, vice president of operations at the e-business consultancy Crestone International, faced a common difficulty for senior IT executives: selecting the “right” business application for his organization. In addition to the standard concerns, such as product maintenance, end-user training, and understanding the real functionality of the application, McCormack’s company is virtual—their office building is the Internet, and subsequently, the application literally is their business.

TechRepublic: What type of functionality were you looking for in a professional services automation application?
McCormack: We were looking for a time and expense module that was integrated with a project-costing model, sales forecasting, and recruit management on a thin client distributed platform. Since we are a virtual e-consultancy, these applications are mission critical to us.

TechRepublic: Before the application rollout, how did the process work?
McCormack: Previously, our time and expense process was very manual. Our consultants entered their time and expenses into an Excel spreadsheet. Then, they e-mailed or mailed them, along with copies of their receipts, to our accounting department. The information was reentered into our accounting system. Two areas had to be changed. This process didn’t capture specific project costing information, and dual data entry had to be eliminated.

When we implemented PeopleSoft, we Web-enabled the front end so our consultants now enter the amount of time that they spend on specific project tasks so we are able to utilize the information when bidding on fixed-price engagements. Since we are better able to price a job, we bid more effectively against our competition. We still lose work when our competitors under bid us, but we are happy to walk away from those engagements knowing our competitors will lose money on them.
Founded in 1995 by Cal Yonker, Sean McCormack, Steve Parkhouse, and Alex Duhamel, the consultancy achieved $50 million in revenues in 1999. Crestone employs over 250 consultants.
TechRepublic: Because you are a virtual organization, what type of infrastructure concerns did you have?
McCormack: Infrastructure is one of the key factors. We needed a thin client architecture so we can distribute our applications. When we implemented the PSA solution, we evaluated several other packages, including Lawson, Great Plains, Solomon, and briefly considered Oracle. We decided on PeopleSoft because of the strength of the PeopleSoft 8 application. They [PeopleSoft] had all of the functionality that we needed or it was on the way. We could have cobbled together a system using best-of-breed applications from other vendors, but we wanted strong integration and the subsequent efficiencies. If you look at Southwest Airlines as an example, they fly only 737s. All of their pilots can fly 737s. They don’t have to worry about which airplane is scheduled to which pilot. Likewise, all of their maintenance staff is 737-certified. The entire organization is simplified, and they are able to have a lower cost structure.

Crestone’s infrastructure is a Web-centric organization, and by using a common tool set, we reduce costs.

TechRepublic: How many consultants use the solution?
McCormack: We currently have 250 consultants using the solution. We plan to double in size in 2001. We shouldn’t have any scalability issues because of the solutions that we have chosen.

TechRepublic: Were there training issues involved in the rollout of the application?
McCormack: We provided training when the application was rolled out because we built the Web front end ourselves. Our PeopleSoft consultants had no issues with the application. It was fairly intuitive. However, for some of our other consultants, it wasn’t so intuitive. There were some issues during the first payroll cycle as we were going through parallel. After the first cycle, all of the kinks were worked out. We provided training, but until you are actually on the application, and running into real world scenarios, there are going to be issues.
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TechRepublic: What type of training did you use?
McCormack: We had a conference call. In advance of the call, we had forwarded a PowerPoint presentation and question-and-answer document to all of the participants and walked through all of the panels of the application.

TechRepublic: What database and platform are you running the solution on?
McCormack: We are currently running PeopleSoft’s 7.5 PSA solution on an Oracle database on an NT platform. We have a separate Web server that handles all of our Web applications.

TechRepublic: Did you consider using an application service provider (ASP)?
McCormack: At the time we chose PeopleSoft 7.5, we didn’t consider using an ASP because all of the ERP applications were not Web-enabled. Oracle, SAP, and PeopleSoft all said that they were Web-enabled but not to the level that we needed. To make them Web-enabled required customization and meant an additional cost. Most of the ASPs were only interested in companies looking for a plain vanilla implementation. We, like every other firm, believe that our business requirements are different. We had very specific needs. We didn’t want to pay someone else to make the modifications [to the application] that we had the talent to make ourselves in-house.

TechRepublic: Would you consider an ASP now?
McCormack: Yes. Absolutely. In fact, we are doing the implementation of the application upgrade via an ASP. We are going to be the first client live on PeopleSoft 8, moving our application to PeopleSoft eCenter. We are doing this because they have a true thin client application that can be accessed over the Web. For us, this means lower overall costs of ownership since it is no longer necessary for us to maintain our custom front end.

TechRepublic: One of the criticisms of ASPs is that they are “a single point of failure.” Do you have faith in hosted applications?
McCormack: I have confidence now. There are three single points of failure I’m concerned with: hardware, application, and data communications. Your hard drive could crash so you can’t access your box. ASPs have excess capacity so they can quickly take your backup and move you to another box. Your application could go down due to a technical issue such as a database problem or a bug in the application. This is a concern whether your applications are hosted or you manage them yourselves. If you choose the right ASP, they will have a technical staff that manages these issues for many clients and can learn to anticipate problems when they occur on one client to ensure they do not happen to their other clients. Communications lines will go down but they [PeopleSoft] have redundant lines.
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