CRM: The Ties That Bind

The word is out: Integration is the key to unlocking CRM's potential. Everyone from vendors to consultants and customers claim they can do it -- but it's just not that easy, industry watchers say.

That's why CRM software giant Siebel Systems teamed with integration platform developer webMethods to build demonstration centers throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia-Pacific. The thinking goes that instead of telling potential customers that Siebel software works with ERP software in the backend and PRM systems on the front-end, the two companies will simply show integration at work.

Last month, Siebel unveiled plans for a new product, called the Universal Application Network, which uses Web services standards to promote business process integration. And Siebel is working with IBM, Tibco, SeeBeyond, Vitria and webMethods to make sure its Universal Application Network works with these companies' integration platforms. But shortly after Siebel's announcement, Eric Austvold, research director of enterprise applications and technology at AMR Research, questioned which integration partner would become the preferred partner for Siebel.

To this end, Austvold predicted webMethods would emerge as the winner, in part because of the way the company built its product that made it more easily integrated in a third-party software developer's offering. In tech parlance, the integration platform is more OEM-able.

"webMethods has carved out an enviable position in the integration space, developing intimate relationships with other leading software providers as well, including J.D. Edwards, SAP, i2, and now Siebel," said Austvold. "As integration is a top priority for CIOs, relationships with the premier software vendors will continue to be advantageous for webMethods as it strives to become the de facto integration provider of choice."

And the demonstration centers seem to validate, at least partially, Austvold's claims. The centers will offer two demonstrations. The first shows Siebel eBusiness applications integrated with applications from ERP and e-business vendors -- that is, hooks into the backend. The second shows webMethods integration platform playing a key role in tying Siebel 7 PRM (partner-relationship management) software with business partners over the Internet, sharing real-time CRM data and collaborating to service and sell to joint customers.

Just yesterday, PeopleSoft and Agile announced a joint project that weaves PeopleSoft's CRM and SCM applications, and Agile's product chain management (PCM) solution into an integrated product lifecycle management (PLM) offering. Both announcements reflect the strategic importance of interoperability.

As such, integration is a core element in any vendor's long-term viability, says AMR. Specifically, sell-side technology vendors must streamline ERP, supply chain, and CRM integration to remain viable. And for those that succeed, the upside is huge. The market for sell-side e-commerce applications will grow to $8.2 billion in 2005, up from $3.3 billion last year, according to AMR.

Tom Kaneshige also writes for Line56.com

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