Siebel Systems, while waiting to close the buyout deal with Oracle Corp., has become the latest enterprise resource planning software company to join the application platform wars.
The Siebel Component Assembly is the product of Project Nexus, the companys three year effort to provide a CRM (customer relationship management) development and integration platform based on SOA (service-oriented architecture).
The goal of the this platform is to give corporate CRM users the tools to quickly build applications and components that respond to customers rapidly changing needs at the business process and feature level.
But the problem with this or any other application integration and development platform is that they always seem to be works in progress.
As a result, they rarely seem to deliver the promised return on investment.
Thats because before these platforms never have a chance to prove they can mature into stable, productive systems before their developers and the market have shifted their focus to some other technology.
Such platforms have often by described by critics as little more than “marketectures,” that provide a way to sell what turns out to be a jumble of poorly integrated components and applications.
The Component Assembly, which observers have described as analogous to SAPs NetWeaver application development platform, will allow developers to create and assemble CRM components into Web services based composite applications that will be able to run on Java 2 Enterprise Edition and Microsoft .Net application servers.
Hosted, on demand application services, including Siebels own CRM On-Demand offering, were supposed to simplify the purchase and delivery of enterprise applications, such as CRM, document and content management, human resources management, supply chain management and many others.
These application services, including Siebel CRM on Demand, Salesforce.com, and RightNow Technologies have all presented themselves as champions of small and midsize companies that dont want to spend huge amounts of money to buy on-premise enterprise resource planning suites.
One of the key advantages of dealing with hosted application services is you dont necessarily have to buy a lot IT overhead along with the business applications that you really want to use.
But now Salesforce.com and Siebel have introduced application production and integration platforms with the goal of bringing a large crowd of customer and third-party developers into their tents and keeping them focused on their technology to the exclusion of competitors.
Producers of server-based on premises enterprise applications are even greater proponents of application integration platforms.
SAP with its NetWeaver application development platform or Oracle with its Fusion strategy are two of the most prominent examples.
Joining the Platform Wars
Data and application integration software, middleware and development tools add to the cost of the software without necessarily providing many real measurable benefits to the customers unless they have the expertise in house to take advantage of them.
Salesforce.coms stated goal for its AppExchange platform for building and sharing applications and software components is to serve as an Internet-based operating environment for applications that use the pre-built features and functions of its CRM system.
The problem with these platforms is while they may bring business benefits and competitive advantages to third-party software developers to tie their fortunes to the market penetration of Salesforce.com, Siebel, SAP and Oracle, they are really a bid by each of these companies to enforce on the Internet the same closed, proprietary control that they exercise over their on-premise server software.
Greg Gianforte, CEO of RightNow Technologies, which produces a competing on demand CRM software package, says these platform wars negate the original aims and concept of software as a service, which was to give customers quick, affordable and convenient access to basic customer management applications.
Offering them an expensive and grandiose platform, Gianforte says, “is as if your mechanic handed you a 125-piece wrench set rather than actually fixing your car.”
“What if another mechanic then walked up to you with his tools and started arguing with the first guy about whose tools were better,” he asks.
Most on-demand customers have no interest in the size of the vendors software stack.
They dont want to invest in it or even pay for the research and development that took to build it. They just want solutions to their business problems.
The vendors are also asking their customers to buy into these platform wars with their license and subscription fees.
But that also means they have a stake, whether they like it or not, in the outcome of the war.
That is particularly problematic for Siebel customers because the long-term future of the Component Assembly is in doubt even as they roll it out this week.
Oracle has said that Siebels CRM software will be the CRM component of its Fusion platform.
So the question arises, does Oracle really need to market a platform within a platform?
Customers place bets every day on whose technology works and will receive service and support for the life of license agreements.
But they shouldnt be forced to bet on whose platform is going to prevail in these competitive wars when all they wanted was a CRM product to help organize their own sales efforts.
John Pallatto is a veteran journalist in the field of enterprise software and Internet technology. He can be reached at [email protected]