Large CRM software developers such as Siebel Systems Inc. and PeopleSoft Inc. are focusing development on easing enterprises application integration and customization headaches, as the customer relationship management battleground moves beyond features and functions.
Siebel last week announced Version 7.7 of its namesake CRM platform, with features focused on new industry-specific applications, such as a customer loyalty management application for the hospitality industry, a customer relationship console for branch banking and a complaint/case management application for the public sector.
Siebel made another vertical move last week with the acquisition of Eontec Ltd., of Dublin, Ireland, a developer of retail banking solutions for branch tellers and the Internet. The technology will become part of Siebels Retail Banking Solution, forming new applications called Siebel Branch Teller, Siebel Branch Platform Sales and Service, and Siebel Internet Banking.
Next on the drawing board for Siebel, of San Mateo, Calif., is Siebel 8, which will move the companys CRM platform to an architecture based on Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition and Microsoft Corp.s .Net, filling enterprise demand for standards-based architectures with more flexible integration capabilities.
The first deliverables on the Siebel 8 platform should arrive next year, said Skip Bacon, Siebels vice president of technology. But Bacon said customers would be able to take advantage of a phased migration plan and could use Siebel 8 in combination with their existing Siebel applications.
"[Siebel 8] is definitely coming, but its coming in a much more phased way. It wont be like the transition from Siebel 6 to Siebel 7," said Bacon. "Our customer base doesnt have the ability to absorb such a big bang."
Bacon acknowledged that Siebels strategy is similar to the parallel development tracks that IBMs Lotus Software division has embarked on in the messaging and collaboration space, with Siebel continuing to enhance Version 7.x—several more point releases are planned—while rolling out the next-generation Siebel 8 and allowing customers to migrate gradually. Siebel 8 will be built around industry-standard Web application servers.
"Were letting Microsoft [Corp.], BEA [Systems Inc.] and IBM do a lot of the development for us, and we also have a significant number of our own resources committed to the new stuff," Bacon said.
Forrester Research Inc. analyst Erin Kinikin said Siebel has little choice but to do it this way, or else it would cause major migration headaches for its customers. Comparing platform migration to changing planes from a "747 to an Airbus in midair," Kinikin pointed out that SAP AG, Microsoft and to a lesser extent PeopleSoft and Oracle Corp. face similar dilemmas.
"Customers want the new features but dont want the migration pain," said Kinikin in Santa Clara, Calif. "So companies like Siebel are forced to add features to the old platform while they are building the new one."
The latest CRM releases from PeopleSoft, in Pleasanton, Calif., have also been focused on improved support for vertical business processes, a trend expected to continue with the companys 8.9 release, due next quarter. That release is expected to contain integration and usability improvements.
"The feature/function wars with Siebel or whoever are just about over," said George Ahn, a former Siebel executive who was announced as PeopleSofts new CRM general manager last week. "Well focus on what brings the greatest success to our customers."