.Net Makes CRM Gains

Siebel support could be harbinger in battle with Java for mind share.

Siebel Systems Inc.s embrace of Microsoft Corp.s .Net computing platform last month has made it the first developer of CRM software for large enterprises to so vocally embrace .Net.

But in a landscape dominated largely by Java, Siebels support for .Net could be a harbinger of things to come for enterprise users of customer relationship management software.

For the most part, the only CRM software developers that have built their applications on .Net—such as Onyx Software Corp., Pivotal Corp., FrontRange Solutions Inc. and Epicor Software Corp.—are those targeting small and midsize companies. Developers targeting the large enterprise, such as PeopleSoft Inc., SAP AG, Oracle Corp., E.piphany Inc. and Chordiant Software Inc., have committed to the Java 2 Enterprise Edition platform, promising support for .Net only insofar as they support open standards, such as XML.

Siebel, of San Mateo, Calif., continues to support Java as well, although the companys software is built on its own proprietary application server.

Bill Geronimo, director of CRM application development at Pitney-Bowes Inc., a Siebel customer, said he likes Siebels move toward .Net even though he doesnt have a need for the support yet.

".Net is a direction we might like to go into at some point, so we wanted to see that," said Geronimo, in Stamford, Conn. "I would think thats where we would want to be in the future."

But Siebels current support for Java is also a big draw for Pitney-Bowes, according to Geronimo.

"Its really important that they stay with Java," said Geronimo. "All our developers know Java or JavaScript. We can attract more people if were programming in Java, more so than Visual Basic."

For data integration between disparate systems, such as his Siebel system and back-end legacy systems, Geronimo is looking to Siebels newly released UAN (Universal Application Network), which combines XML Web services mapped to pre-defined business processes and supports both .Net and Java.

Getting Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., to add its BizTalk application integration server to Siebels UAN initiative was thought by some to be a driving force behind Siebels support for .Net.

Companies with 100 to 1,000 employees and $50 million to $500 million in annual revenues are the best candidates for .Net adoption, said Joe Outlaw, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in Wilmington, Del. According to research done by Gartner, 50 percent of these companies plan to use Web services for integration. Of that total, 80 percent plan to use .Net as their Web services platform, and only 30 percent plan to use Java, according to Gartner.

Forrester Research Inc. analyst Eric Schmitt sees a role for .Net in large enterprises.

"If Im designing an enterprise application, Id want Java as my server and .Net on the client, and Id build a tool set to span the two," Schmitt said. "There is a place for .Net because browsers dont make for very good CRM clients. You need richer interactivity for things like call centers."

Whether vendors support Java or .Net may not matter very much to users. Version 8 of PeopleSofts ERP (enterprise resource planning) software is built on Java. Yet Corning Inc.s Corning Specialty Materials division has no trouble integrating the PeopleSoft financials, human resources and supply chain applications with its Microsoft-centric environment, according to Doug Anderson, division CIO at Corning Specialty Materials.

Anderson said Corning ties its Camstar Inc. Insight manufacturing system with its PeopleSoft applications using XML messaging. Order entry is handled in PeopleSoft via the Web, then transmitted to the Camstar application. Data is then sent back into PeopleSoft for cost accounting and inventory management. The automated system replaces a system of faxing orders and spreadsheets back and forth.

"It handles five different transactions in all," said Anderson, in Corning, N.Y.

PeopleSofts Web-based interface allows Corning Specialty Materials to manage operations at three separate manufacturing facilities from one data center, resulting in savings of from $1 million to $2 million over a three-year period, Anderson said. And those arent the only efficiencies Corning has gained.

"Weve gotten capabilities for business process enablement that weve never had before," Anderson said. "We expect to see better inventory turns and have real-time inventory data.

"Weve been able to integrate our ERP with our manufacturing. Its a big step forward for us."

Atique Shah, vice president of CRM and marketing technologies at GSI Commerce Inc., using E.piphanys Java-based CRM applications, also relies on XML for application integration.

".Net is great for companies that are Microsoft-centric or going in that direction, but we havent really had to look in that direction yet," said Shah, in King of Prussia, Pa. "To be a good, successful business, you have to be open and talk to different technologies. We havent had any challenges in that regard.

".Net isnt really something we have to deal with as far as today is concerned," said Shah. "But if we have to get there in the future, well get there."