Siebel Unveils a New Product Suite, an Acquisition, and an Alliance

Siebel Systems unveiled the latest version of its CRM suite today, with improved analytics and deeper functionality in several verticals. The company also revealed its acquisition of Eontec Limited, an Irish software firm specializing in retail-banking solutions, and an extended alliance with data warehousing firm Teradata, a division of NCR. The announcements came in advance of Siebel User Week, which opens tomorrow in Cannes. Version 7.7 of Siebel's product suite comes nearly a year after the most recent significant release, 7.5.3. According to Skip Bacon, Siebel's vice president of technology, the changes made in 7.7 represent "a balance" between three areas: adding and extending industry-specific capabilities; adding functionality in what Bacon calls the common areas; and expanding the underlying platform to simplify configuration. Among the more significant technical upgrades to version 7.7 is its marketing capability, according to Bacon: "We've replatformed our entire marketing product." The software's proprietary segmentation engine has been replaced with technology from Siebel's nQuire acquisition. According to Erin Kinikin, vice president and research director at Forrester Research, that represents a critical leap forward: "Siebel may not have every high-end segmentation bell and whistle, but it's now a credible option for marketing users. [nQuire] made a business of high-performance analysis of large volumes of data, an important requirement for segmentation." The vertical markets gaining new or improved functionality in the 7.7 release are communications, media, financial services, automotive, and manufacturing. Hospitality, for example, will now have customer loyalty management capability, as well as space and function planning management. Customers in the automotive finance arena can look forward to a new "captive finance" application, which is designed to streamline loan management. To further enhance its vertical capabilities, Siebel's acquisition of Eontec brings both branch teller and Internet banking functionality to its product line. The incorporation of Eontec's Teller software "adds all the financial transactions and the teller capabilities," says Richard Campione, group vice president and general manager of Siebel financial services and public sector. "We had Internet banking, but sans the [ability to capture] financial transactions." Now, Siebel has "transformed [itself] from offering pretty good functionality to offering a true multichannel banking solution. Before it was cobbled together from other vendors," he says. Another benefit, according to Campione, is that Eontec's technology is based on a J2EE platform, which "accelerates our move along those lines." Siebel paid $70 million in cash up front, with up to $60 million in additional payments conditional on revenue and contractual milestones. (Siebel representatives declined to specify those milestones, citing SEC regulations.) The company's alliance with Teradata expands an existing relationship between the two companies, and lays the groundwork for a series of optimizations designed to make more fluid the interaction between Teradata's Warehouse product and Siebel Analytics modules. Referring to the partnership as "very customer-driven and very market-driven," Larry Barbetta, group vice president and general manager of Siebel analytics, also explains that the two vendors "are working to establish a data-model integration methodology...[to] extend each company's data models." He says the move "will minimize data redundancy." Barbetta admits that the new architecture "doesn't eliminate the need for ETL [extract, transform, load]," but that it nevertheless is designed to make possible instantaneous data availability. "We are seeing a trend to reduced latency," he says. "There are certain times for high-velocity decision-making applications...when you need [both the] history and a comprehensive view of that customer, [along with] the ability to exploit the data warehouse and make full use of sophisticated data architectures." Some analysts, who had seen the release prior to the launch, are impressed. "Siebel 7.7 puts Siebel back on the CRM offensive," Kinikin says. "It looks like there's something for everyone...with innovative new functionality, such as a loyalty management module, and better integration with branch banking." The release, she says, will "bring CRM to new audiences, operationalizing customer strategies. Better [TCO] is good, and enhanced usability is essential, but the advances in business functional[ity] help make Siebel more compelling to business buyers." Furthermore, Bacon says, the 7.7 release "is significantly more usable than prior versions, through lots and lots of fine tuning of navigation and layout constructs and concepts." Compared to 7.5 the new version is "faster across-the-board by 20 to 25 percent," he says. Though the new release has already been shipped to roughly 75 customers, Bacon suggests that it's not quite ready for everyone yet. "People who have active deployments under way, or looking at a go-live no sooner than late Q3--we'd...rather have them [continue to] go on 7.5.3. and slot in an upgrade [to 7.7] when it makes sense." But Kinikin says that 2004 "is a make-or-break year. The longer companies put off upgrading to Siebel 7, the more likely they are to get enticed away by a competitor with newer functionality. [Siebel] is employing a combination of carrots--new functionality--and sticks--increased maintenance on earlier releases--to get its customers onto the [new] platform. "Siebel 7.7 makes a pretty good case for existing customers to stay with Siebel, especially if they are focused on truly deepening customer interactions, rather than [simply] managing orders and shipments."
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