Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 have been driving innovations in how users access their CRM solutions -- relying on hosted models, Web browsers, and semi-connected application functionality. At the same time, many CRM offerings enable users to take advantage of the latest in social networking. Oracle's newest edition of its on-demand CRM application -- On Demand Release 15 -- attempts to address all of these overarching market trends.
"Enterprise 2.0 has set a new bar for software application providers," explains Mary Wardley, vice president of CRM applications for research firm IDC. "With Release 15 of Oracle CRM On Demand, Oracle is making the concept of Enterprise 2.0 tangible by tying social networking and collaboration directly into [its] CRM offering."
Release 15 also marks the end -- in the on-demand CRM space, at least -- of the Siebel brand, which was acquired by Oracle in 2006. When asked if Oracle was retiring the Siebel brand name entirely, Anthony Lye, Oracle's senior vice president of CRM, says, "Not at all -- [Siebel] is a very strong name and a very strong brand, and runs the biggest companies in the world from a CRM perspective." Customers, he said, should still expect to find the Siebel name on the company's on-premises 8.x offering.
Lye attributes the naming change to the time spent infusing Oracle technology, such as Oracle Fusion Middleware, into the company's latest on-demand CRM offerings. "We used to call the CRM product 'Oracle Siebel CRM On Demand,' but we just chose to shorten now to Oracle [CRM] On Demand after this period of time and the work we were doing integrating Oracle technologies," he adds. "Really, it was such a mouthful to say and we just decided to simplify it."
According to information provided by Oracle, Release 15 brings social CRM capabilities to the on-demand space, including social networking and collaboration capabilities to enhance end-user productivity. The collaboration capabilities include a combination of "sticky notes" and a message center, which according to the company, "will allow back-and-forth commentary that is up-to-date, consolidated, centralized, and easily accessible and viewable through a home page, without having to navigate to specific records." In this way, the company hopes users will create a social network associated with a given opportunity, with all members of the network kept current on any progress.
This is Oracle's 15th release of its on-demand CRM offering in the last four-and-a-half years -- a pace Anthony Lye says is a sign of the company's ongoing role as a trendsetter. "Oracle continues to be an innovation trailblazer," he asserts. "This heralds a radically new Web 2.0 approach to end-user collaboration and productivity that drives further ease-of-use, while providing management with real-time pipeline visibility and security for the underlying corporate data."
Additional features found in Release 15 include:
- end-user customization of Oracle CRM On Demand objects via widgets, gadgets, and personal portals;
- user-interface integration with other Web applications such as iGoogle or MyYahoo!; and
- customizable dashboards tailored for specific business needs and metrics of particular groups.
In other Oracle news, the company announced the release of its Mobile Sales Assistant (MSA), optimized for mobile professionals and designed to help users collaborate with their colleagues and customers, execute tasks while out in the field, and complete deals more quickly. The MSA also offers automated prompts to remind a salesperson to follow up or enter other vital information at the end of a conversation, which Oracle says will ensure that all notes will be stored locally on the user's smartphone and uploaded to Oracle CRM On Demand in real-time.
A main competitive differentiator is that Oracle MSA, a rich Java-client application, can support offline usage -- in contrast to first-generation wireless CRM solutions, which are browser-based and therefore require access to an Internet connection. Sheryl Kingstone, director of enterprise research at Yankee Group, says this difference between wireless CRM (browser-based) and truly mobile CRM will only become more important moving forward, especially as the increasingly complex data needs of today's road warriors begin to rely exclusively on faster telecommunications network, the latest mainstream version of which is known as "3G."
"Say you're not in a 3G network and you can't really get at [a WiFi connection] very effectively," Kingstone says. "A semi-connected application written specifically for that device will have more value to end user than just wirelessly browsing. What we need more of is a smart application that can understand what the network is, understand what user needs are, and what the device is."
Kingstone says she expects that other CRM vendors will have to offer this functionality in the years to come, in order to stay on par with competitors. While she admits Oracle MSA is still device-centric -- meaning the application is written specifically for a particular piece of hardware, such as a smartphone -- Kingstone says Oracle is making moves toward becoming more device-aware. "The future is going to be not writing for specific devices -- it's too much of a development headache," she explains.
Speaking of possible development headaches, Oracle MSA is entering a field already populated by similar offerings -- including one from Antenna Software, a current Oracle channel partner. Unsurprisingly, any attempt to compete with a partner is a move that can be fraught with challenges. In an email exchange with destinationCRM, Antenna Software Vice President of Marketing Jim Somers bristled a bit at the notion that Oracle might be stepping on its partner's toes:
"As a mobile enterprise solution, we believe Oracle MSA is limited in scope and doesn't fulfill the promise of mobility for the enterprise. Conversely, Antenna's mobile solutions for Oracle are proven in scores of enterprise deployments and offer customers the most flexible, scalable, and innovative mobile technology available. The announcement only helps to add credibility to the mobility market. However, we believe Oracle's announcement represents only one thin slice of the broader mobility requirement that people are looking for and that Antenna is providing to its customers today.
Antenna Software, Somers was quick to point out, is not threatening to pull out of its relationship with Oracle; in fact, he went on, Antenna "will continue to execute and provide solutions for Oracle, BlackBerry, and the host of other CRM systems and device platforms that we support to give companies the flexibility and freedom they need today and into the future."
The apparent overlap of offerings does raise questions as to how Oracle will handle its channel relationships as the company expands in the mobile sales functionality space. "We see our application as absolutely complementary to [Antenna's offering]," Lye contends. "We're not trying to replace the needs and wants of an Antenna user. They're buying much more toward the transactional data-centric application, so we're really trying to extend that value and complement that value with our tool. I actually think, by us doing this, it makes the overall market much different for both Oracle and partners like Antenna."
Oracle MSA is available for Oracle CRM On Demand customers on the BlackBerry wireless platform for $30 per user per month. While this functionality is not available on other devices yet, expanding to other platforms is a development "we are looking forward to in the future," Lye says. Looking ahead, Kingstone says she expects to see Oracle and other vendors offer more mobile applications that can be accessed on myriad devices -- a critical aspect of user adoption, she notes.
"When you give an application that becomes much more second nature -- for example, when you're on a call and you're a sales rep, then you get another call, process that, and then [the application] asks if you'd like to enter this in CRM and all you have to do is hit 'yes' -- all of a sudden, data integrity becomes much stronger," she explains. "All the information is captured because you're reducing data entry that the sales reps have to do and adds value back, which increases usability of the application. It's a win-win for everybody."
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