Middlemen Flock to Siebel

Siebel Systems set the stage for a brouhaha among integration server vendors, after unveiling today a Universal Application Network at its conference in Barcelona, Spain. The Universal Application Network promises to streamline integration with Siebel's flagship CRM suite and third-party applications -- a feat considered by many as the key to unlocking greater CRM sales. Perhaps more impressive than the Universal Application Network itself, top integration server vendors IBM, TIBCO, Vitria, SeeBeyond and webMethods voiced support and commitment to deliver the Universal Application Network to customers. System integrators PwC Consulting, Accenture, IBM Global Services and KPMG Consulting also made similar endorsements. "Our customers have clearly communicated the importance of application integration," said Tom Siebel, chairman and CEO of Siebel Systems, in a statement. "Rather than build a custom or proprietary solution, we responded by partnering with industry leaders to create the universal, collective, widespread standards-based business process integration solution that reduces cost and complexity and enables customers to choose applications that best fit their business needs." Clearly, integration has been a major stumbling block in many CRM deals, as well as a thorn in ongoing CRM projects. David Schmaier, executive vice president at Siebel, says an internal survey of 4,100 customers showed that a given company has anywhere from 20 to 5,000 applications such as enterprise-resource planning software, employee portals, electronic trading software, credit-checking systems, among others, that require integration with Siebel software. "The big lie is that people have tried to say that CRM plus ERP solves your integration problems," Schmaier says. At the heart of the Universal Application Network is a set of prepackaged, re-usable business processes based on Web services and XML standards. Using these pre-built business process flows, common objects and transformation maps, applications could be plugged into a 'network' rather than to each other and to Siebel's software using proprietary APIs. Industry watchers heralded the Universal Application Network, expected to be delivered in Siebel 7.5 later this summer. "As enterprises are moving beyond point-to-point integration approaches to more enterprise-spanning integration strategies, packaged application vendors are recognizing that merely providing a laundry list of APIs and adapters is no longer sufficient," stated Jeff Comport, vice president and research fellow at Gartner. And Siebel's actions have catapulted the company ahead of rivals SAP, Oracle and PeopleSoft, says Eric Austvold, research director of enterprise applications and technology at AMR Research. "I expect Siebel to be pretty successful," he says. But does the Universal Application Network solve CRM's integration woes? Not quite, warns Austvold. The heavy lifting of integration is still in the hands of integration server providers, also known as middleware vendors. This means Siebel software must first become tightly integrated with an integration platform, which in turn, weaves in other applications. The Universal Application Network only forms the basis for a "superficial relationship between Siebel and the big five platform providers," says Austvold. "The real challenge is determining who is going to lead. How does Siebel manage this over time? They need to whittle it down to a preferred platform provider." Already the platform vendors are lobbying hard for Siebel's affections. "Will Siebel whittle down the number of platform vendors? Absolutely," says Sean Poulley, director of business development of Websphere business at IBM. To this end, Poulley likes his company's chances. "Nobody has a deeper technology relationship with Siebel than IBM," he says. On the other hand, Austvold believes webMethods has the inside track to becoming Siebel's preferred platform provider. "webMethods is doing some real coding work with Siebel behind the scenes," Austvold says. "They're secretly high-fiving." Tom Kaneshige also writes for Line56.com
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