Oracle Boosts Siebel CRM
Oracle unveiled today at its global Applications Unlimited event Siebel CRM Release 8, the first iteration of the product since the enterprise software giant scooped up former rival Siebel Systems. Generally available now, the release, which is certified with Oracle Fusion Middleware, features enhancements to Siebel Sales, Siebel Enterprise Marketing, Siebel Customer Order Management, Siebel Contact Center and Service, Siebel Customer Data Integration, and Siebel Self Service and eBilling.
The suite is also equipped with industry-specific features targeting verticals like automotive, communications, consumer packaged goods, financial services, high tech, insurance, life sciences, manufacturing, public sector, and utilities. The release will provide ongoing support for non-Oracle technology like IBM WebSphere, BEA WebLogic, SQL Server 2005, and IBM DB2, and marks the first time the flagship offering provides Linux support. "The release really completes the Siebel CRM product," says Ed Abbo, senior vice president of CRM products.
The upgrade, delivered as part of Oracle's Applications Unlimited program--its long-term strategy for continuing to develop current Oracle apps--is just one component of Oracle's latest wave of releases. In conjunction with its Siebel CRM rollout, the company also announced the newest installments of four other product lines including its organic and acquired suites: Oracle E-Business Suite Release 12, Oracle's PeopleSoft Enterprise Release 9.0, JD Edwards EnterpriseOne 8.12, and JD Edwards World A9.1.
A major area of focus for Siebel 8, according to Abbo, is ease of use; a central facet of Siebel 8's shored up functionality is its task-based user interface. Rob Bois, research director at AMR Research, says AMR's recent surveys are still showing relatively high CRM failure rates, and survey respondents usually point to either inadequate training or poor usability in the application as a key factor. The task-based UI "takes a lot of the clutter out of the way and concentrates users only on the necessary pieces of information they need to complete a task," Bois says.
Change management is another main area of concentration. Siebel 8 features a drag-and-drop environment requiring no coding, which allows line-of-business personnel to create and manage business rules in real-time, according to the company. As for search enhancements, Oracle Secure Enterprise Search 10g, its standalone search engine, is provided out-of-box with Siebel as part of the answer.
Providing customers with a smooth migration path from older versions of the suite to its most up-to-date version will be a key component in getting end-user customer companies to bite. But "one of the key points people miss is that Siebel 8 is based on the Siebel 7 platform," Abbo says. "It's not a brand new architecture. Customers can easily move to it."
One migration issue that Bois does note, though, is that for those customers whose systems are heavily customized, but are not running newer versions of the product, the customization piece "may be why they haven't moved up to [a newer release] so they may still be kind of stuck and left behind." Another issue here, according to Bois, is "to an extent this does provide somewhat of a roadmap up to Fusion, but Fusion CRM is still at least probably two years away for the base version; if you're looking for industry specific versions they're about four years out. So customers that think they're going to just wait for Fusion and not make this intermediate step may be waiting for a little while."
Even so, Bois notes that he's spoken with a number of Siebel customers post acquisition and reports that they're happier now then they were during Siebel's latter days. "What I haven't heard overwhelmingly is that customers are eagerly awaiting to migrate to this new platform known as Fusion, so I don't think it's necessarily a concern, but it's also not a broad appeal for them at this point," he says.
From a competitive standpoint, however, Bois notes that SAP nets a very loyal ERP customer base and that if possible it will tap SAP for CRM functionality. "But for those that maybe have looked at SAP CRM and don't like the user interface or feel that there are challenges with usability, Siebel will compete nicely there."
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