SAP, FrontRange Showcasing CRM

Developers to demonstrated upgrades to their respective customer relationship management apps.

SAP AG and FrontRange Solutions Inc. are both expected to demonstrate new CRM applications at the DCI Customer Relationship Management Conference and Expo in New York City next week, showing off a new portal interface and .Net architecture, respectively.

SAP, according to sources, will preview version 3.1 of its mySAP CRM application suite, which will bring the sales, marketing and customer service applications together via a portal interface. The update leans heavily on technology SAP acquired in its purchase of portal software developer TopTier Software Inc. last year.

MySAP CRM 3.1 is due to be officially introduced at the Walldorf, Germany, companys Sapphire 2002 Lisbon conference in Portugal during the first week of September.

"It will essentially be a much more portalized version of the functionality," said Kevin Scott, senior analyst at AMR Research Corp. in Boston. "Theyre bringing the TopTier technology in as a core part of the [CRM] technology."

Scott said this was recognition by SAP that different users – such as sales, marketing and customer service departments, as well as business analysts – are looking for different types of information from the CRM system.

Other enhancements in mySAP CRM 3.1 are expected to focus on sales configuration, particularly in adding dynamic pricing and guided selling capabilities. Improvements to Web-based customer self-service will be added, sources said. SAP is also expected to add incentive and commissions management in this release, including support for matching sales commissions by geographic location, so that commission rates are indexed by the sales reps cost of living.

But Scott said the key enhancement in mySAP 3.1 is the interface.

"Theyre providing the customer with a better graphical presentation to connect them to the information," he said. "It does a better job of guiding the customer to the information. Its more customer friendly."

Krishna Kumar, a mySAP CRM consultant at technology solutions and services provider Intelligroup Asia Ltd. in Andhra Pradesh, India, said he is expecting SAP to provide better integration with online transaction processing systems in this release of mySAP CRM, such as tying in point-of-sales systems with customer service systems.

"If you order from the Web site, the reps can access that information from the call center," explained Scott. "The portal will overlay both sides of the fence [SAP back office and front office applications]."

Kumar doesnt expect this release of mySAP CRM to make the software any more compelling for customers outside of SAPs installed base. Scott and other analysts agreed.

Eric Schmitt, an analyst at Forrester Research Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said Siebel Systems Inc. has actually made inroads into some of SAPs installed base.

"In general, SAPs CRM users are most likely to be using it for activities like order management, online selling, and field service," Schmitt said. "It is beginning to win more customers in the contact center environment, but this remains Siebels forte."

"For at least a while their best success will be within their install base," said Sharon Ward, vice president of enterprise applications at the Hurwitz Group, in Framingham, Mass. Ward said SAPs architecture, while open to non-SAP applications, makes the CRM applications most effective when used in conjunction with SAP back-office applications.

"Its true for all the large [enterprise resource planning software] vendors," said Scott. "The key value in CRM is the information that resides in the back office. And its a lot easier for SAP to connect to their own applications than to PeopleSoft [Inc.] or Oracle [Corp.]s applications."

Meanwhile, FrontRange, which develops CRM applications for small-to-medium-sized businesses, is expected to launch the next generation of its applications architected in .Net, code-named Orion, next week.

The .Net architecture is expected to enable the applications to connect more easily to Microsoft Corp. desktop productivity applications like Outlook, Word and Excel. Microsofts forthcoming CRM application suite, which will compete directly with FrontRange, will be built on the same .Net architecture.

However, FrontRange, in addition to getting a .Net product faster to market than Microsoft, will introduce applications focused on specific verticals. Next week, the company is expected to introduce the first two niche vertical applications, for wealth management and disc component manufacturing, sources said.

"Its smart for them to have this vertical strategy," said Ward. "Microsofts application, in its early incarnation, is going to be very horizontal so this will be a good differentiator for them."

Neither SAP nor FrontRange, of Colorado Springs, Colo., would comment on their product plans for this story.