Gates, Siebel Warming Up

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and Siebel Chairman Tom Siebel will speak about the closer ties between the two software developers at Siebel's User Week.

An ongoing warming of the relationship between Microsoft Corp. and Siebel Systems Inc. could mean better integration options and improved performance for users of Siebels CRM applications.

At Siebels User Week conference in Los Angeles starting Oct. 20, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates and Siebel Chairman and CEO Tom Siebel are scheduled to speak about the closer ties between the two software developers. High on Gates agenda will be to announce that Microsofts BizTalk application integration server will support Siebels UAN (Universal Application Network) platform for application integration, according to sources familiar with Microsofts plans.

Gates is also expected to salute Siebels embrace of Microsofts .Net Web services strategy.

The rapprochement between Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., and Siebel, of San Mateo, Calif., contrasts with the companies relationship earlier this year when Microsoft announced its planned entry into the customer relationship management space. The Microsoft CRM suite is expected to be released this quarter. While the product will initially be geared for very small businesses, Microsoft is expected to scale it up into the midmarket in future releases, where it would compete directly with Siebels Mid-Market Edition suite.

Adding to the strain of the relationship, Microsofts Great Plains business unit recently ended a reseller relationship it had with Siebel.

Despite these bumps in the relationship, David Thacher, general manager for CRM at Microsoft, insisted that the Siebel relationship remains strong, noting that Microsoft Great Plains will support Siebel integration with its Solomon product line by the end of the year.

Nevertheless, the two companies, which have had a longstanding relationship--Microsofts sales organization runs on Siebels sales applications--now seem poised to work even more closely together. However, officials at neither company would confirm the BizTalk-Siebel UAN support initiative.

The support figures to be welcome in Siebel shops and perhaps for users of other developers CRM software as well, according to Charles Ewen, e-business development manager at Farnell Electronic Components Ltd., which uses CRM applications from Siebel and Art Technology Group Inc.

"CRM system buyers should be happy that vendors are looking at interoperability, as this will allow other systems to more easily be customer aware and apply customer preferences in a more holistic way across the enterprise," said Ewen, in London. "For example, a customer who has expressed a preference for e-mail communications could receive all communications via this channel, instead of only those originated by the sales systems."

Denny Boynton, a system architect at a theme park company in St. Louis, though not a Siebel customer, uses BizTalk in combination with SAP AGs Materials Management application now. Boynton said BizTalks support for UAN would be a plus.

"Given the opportunity to use an [enterprise resource planning] system that would be able to integrate seamlessly into my legacy systems via BizTalk Server, I would definitely explore that option over other vendors," Boynton said.

Gartner Inc. analyst Michael Maoz said most of the announcements that vendors such as IBM, BEA Systems Inc. and TIBCO Software Inc. are supporting UAN so far have been little more than marketing. However, Maoz said he expects Microsofts support for UAN to be more extensive.

"The indications are that this is for real," said Maoz, in Stamford, Conn. "Theres a large number of Microsoft engineers in residence at [Siebels] San Mateo campus now."

And the connections between Siebel and Microsoft likely wont end there. Siebel is also expected to increase its support for Microsofts .Net platform.

Eric Schmitt, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass., said he expects Siebel to adopt a .Net client to increase interaction performance in the Web browser client it introduced last fall in its 7.0 release.