At its annual user conference in Boston last week Siebel announced the fruits of its labor around Project Nexus, a four-year development plan initially thought to be the next generation componentization of the companys CRM (customer relationship management) applications. What Nexus, now branded Component Assembly, really turns out to be is Siebels SOA (service oriented architecture)-based development and integration platform that lets users orchestrate CRM components based on business processes.
Siebel Systems Inc.s Component Assembly platform is somewhere in the range of what SAP AG is creating with NetWeaver, and Oracle Corp. with Fusion Middleware—the ability for users to build composite applications using an applistructure, or underlying middleware platform that support a given companys application components. Given that Oracle is in the process of acquiring Siebel—and has said publicly that its CRM software will be the foundation for Oracles Fusion CRM—the real question now is what Oracle will do with Nexus.
"Adopt it," suggested J.R. Jesson, CTO of EDS Applications and Industry Frameworks Portfolio, in Plano, Texas. "And look at what components would align with Fusion. We have a strong belief in Fusion Middleware, but Siebel is near ready for prime time."
What Siebels platform brings to the table is a specific customer model, or way of defining the functionality that manages customer data and links the profiles of the same customer across applications. One of the key elements of the Fusion Middleware architecture is defining the customer model and then using that to define XML interfaces that Web services will look for in calling out services, according to Joshua Greenbaum, principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting, in Berkley, Calif.
"Oracle is going to have to say, this is how we are defining the customer record, and every one of those will have to be deeply integrated with Fusion—thats a lot of work," said Greenbaum. "They dont want to lose some of the good stuff in PeopleSoft CRM, or Oracle CRM, and they want to add CRM into some of the Retek stuff [they acquired]. So the definitions that are in Nexus are going to touch every bit of Fusion and thats a big job."
For EDS Jesson, the features that matter in a middleware platform are "the use of open standards at the user interface construction level and user-to-user workflow components and the use of business language to represent that," said Jesson, who is an Oracle and Siebel partner and user. "Thats what Nexus nails,"
While Oracle has said the addition of Siebel will not change the expected 2007 delivery timeline of Fusion, the reality is adding Nexus to the mix will likely slow the process. Charles Phillips, co-president of Oracle, has said the transaction will likely not close until early 2006, which means Oracle will have to wait until at least January before it gets its hands on Seibels code. At the same time, Nexus is being built using IBMs WebSphere platform, "thats got to change," said Greenbaum.
Fundamental changes in the ERP (enterprise resource planning) market are prompting a similar sea change in the CRM sector, with vendors working to provide composite application platforms, and componentized applications. Sage Software plc, for example, announced last week a complete realignment around CRM. Its creating a global development center, a real departure for the fractured company, bringing together there here-to-for disparate development operations. Its also integrating its on-demand and on-premise CRM software, at least doubling its integration process points between its CRM and accounting packages, and taking a process centric approach to development going forward. Sage is also in the process of polling its 4.5 million users to see which top five processes are important to them. When asked if the company is considering a platform play, Dave Batt, the companys new general manager of CRM, said he has not ruled out the possibility.
At the same time, companies like SAP, of Walldorf, Germany, and Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., have hinted at expanding their current CRM offerings with on demand versions that would, in all likelihood, sit on top of their respective development platforms.
"I dont have clearance to say anything about [on demand CRM]," said Andrew Leigh, director for solutions strategy for mySAP CRM. "Whats important to the mid-market is that because were able to provide components, theyre able to buy" functionality on demand.