Oracle Corp. has made generally available the latest iteration of its acquired Siebel Systems on-demand product, an offering that revives the Siebel moniker despite Oracle's previously announced decision to rebrand the software as "Oracle CRM On Demand." The new edition, Siebel CRM On Demand Release 14, leverages Oracle Fusion Middleware technology; is the first major release of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering since Oracle finalized the acquisition of its former rival in January 2006; and is the first to run entirely on Oracle's infrastructure.
Many of the improvements fused into the product concentrate on strengthening usability and customization capabilities as well as tightening integration with other applications, such as Oracle E-Business Suite. The release draws on programming languages such as AJAX and technologies such as in-line edit to simplify user tasks. The release also provides home-page customization functionality, such as the ability to arrange page elements such as lists, history, and favorites based on end-user preference.
Release 14 also provides integration with other applications and systems at the process-, data-, and user-interface (UI) levels, according to the company. "The improvements in the UI and the customization capabilities are pretty big and are required to keep them competitive," says Rob Bois, a research director at AMR Research. "It seems like all the CRM vendors today are spending a lot of time and effort improving usability because they recognize that usability is still a big challenge."
Robert DeSisto, vice president of CRM at Gartner, takes a similar stance in a June 2007 research note entitled, "Oracle Has Renewed Its Focus on CRM on Demand," noting that the release improves usability and customization, Oracle E-Business Suite integration, and physical database separation. "It also leverages Oracle Fusion Middleware; however, it is limited when creating custom objects," he writes.
Release 14 also includes industry-specific editions; a built-in virtual call center; embedded analytics; and a prebuilt data warehouse for real-time decision-making. "We continue to see Siebel CRM On Demand really building in the analytics as a key differentiator, and we've seen a lot of customers get a lot of value out of the analytics piece of the solution," says Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of research at Nucleus Research, which has a "Siebel CRM On Demand Guidebook" available for download from Oracle's corporate Web site.
Interestingly enough, however, Oracle's on-demand positioning appears to contradict the company's previously announced roadmap, which seemed to include retiring the Siebel name in favor of an Oracle brand. While the overwhelming majority of Oracle's "on demand" messaging deploys the Siebel brand name, the company itself continues to send out mixed messages in some of its marketing and sales materials:
- At press time, at least one page on the corporate Web site included a link for an "Oracle CRM On Demand User Agreement," a link which actually leads to a document entitled "Siebel CRM On Demand User Agreement v. 040307."
- While that document is internally consistent in its use of the Siebel brand, the UK version of this same document mixes the Siebel and Oracle names throughout its text.
- A November 2006 press release still hosted on Oracle's corporate site includes the sentence "Oracle CRM On Demand is both rapidly deployable and cost-effective, in a secure, hosted environment."
- Another press release, from June 2007, directly quotes Anthony Lye, Oracle's senior vice president for CRM On Demand, using the "Oracle" brand name for the CRM On Demand product: "With Oracle CRM On Demand, organizations can deliver superior customer service with minimal overhead via a built-in virtual contact center." This same release also includes a boilerplate paragraph entitled "About Oracle CRM On Demand": "The company's comprehensive, on demand CRM solution, Oracle CRM On Demand delivers low-risk, hosted customer relationship management that can help customers accelerate sales, improve marketing and deliver consistent customer service. With customers that include leading SMB and Enterprise organizations globally, Oracle CRM On Demand is the most complete hosted CRM solution for accelerating business results."
It's not surprising, then, that Gartner's DeSisto, in assessing the coming release, opens his June 2007 note with a reference to "Release 14 of Oracle CRM On Demand (formerly Siebel CRM On Demand)" and continues to deploy the Oracle brand name throughout; also released that month, one of Gartner's Magic Quadrants, arguably one of the industry's highest-profile reports, includes in its evaluation "Oracle CRM On Demand" but not "Siebel CRM On Demand"--a sign that even that the analyst ranks are under the impression that the branding was being changed.
Prior to the January 2006 Siebel acquisiton, Oracle CRM On Demand "was developing market momentum and becoming a formidable competitive threat to Salesforce.com," according to DeSisto's note. "However, since the acquisition, interest in Oracle CRM On Demand had diminished significantly in the market. Gartner has seen a reduction of nearly 75 percent in inquiries on competitive customer evaluations involving Oracle CRM On Demand," he writes. "Having acquired multiple large installed bases (such as Siebel On Premise, PeopleSoft and JD Edwards), Oracle's focus has been on such programs as Applications Unlimited and Oracle Fusion, rather than growing Oracle CRM On Demand."
Oracle executives were unavailable for comment by press time to discuss the release. But for Oracle's part, this new edition--the 14th release of the product in three-and-a-half years--marks the first formal announcement of the availability of a new Siebel CRM on Demand product since the April 2006 announcement of version 10, which was rebranded at the time as Oracle CRM On Demand. (As with Release 10, pricing for Siebel CRM On Demand Release 14 starts at $70 per user, per month.) In the intervening period, Oracle rolled out Releases 11, 12, and 13, but no formal press announcements were made; the naming convention and branding used for those release versions was not clear at press time, nor was the precise timing or rationale behind the reversion to the Siebel name.
The naming conventions can get somewhat convoluted because Oracle refers to the application service provider (ASP) part of its business--which includes a hosted version of the traditional Siebel application--as "on demand," although, according to Bois, the Siebel-via-ASP model lacks the bona fide multitenant SaaS functionality of Siebel CRM On Demand. "They use 'on demand' to describe the ASP model as well as the true SaaS version, so customers do tend to get a little bit confused. The more they can distinguish the true SaaS product from the traditional ASP version would certainly help." Oracle, Bois continues, "hasn't figured out how long and how firmly they want to hold on to the Siebel brand, but it clearly carries a lot of equity so they're trying to keep the Siebel brand in there as long as possible."
To that end, Wettemann contends that stamping the Siebel CRM On Demand with Oracle's name had confused customers, rather than clarifying and simplifying the brand. "Going back to Siebel is a good recognition of the strengths of that brand name," she says. "It's taking away that confusion because customers are clear that what they're getting is the Siebel product that was developed and not the Oracle CRM product."
Overall, Bois maintains that it's good to see Oracle continue to put an emphasis on the on-demand product. "SaaS is driving the future growth of the CRM space," he says. "When you have one of the biggest CRM vendors continuing to push that, it's good for the industry."
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that "[t]he April 17, 2007, press release announcing that Release 14 would be available 'within 12 months' clearly labeled the product 'Oracle CRM On Demand.' " In correcting this error, replacement examples of relevant corporate materials were added to this article.
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