Siebel Refocuses on Customers

At its annual User Week customer conference in Los Angeles, Siebel unveiled a new plan designed to ease implementation headaches and speed user adoption of its software.

LOS ANGELES—Siebel Systems Inc., under the leadership of new CEO Mike Lawrie, is rededicating itself to ensuring enterprises success at implementing, deploying and managing its market-leading but complex CRM software applications.

The company, at its annual User Week customer conference here this week, unveiled a new plan designed to ease implementation headaches and speed user adoption of its software. The "customer success blueprint" calls for Siebel employees and customers to ensure that goals are set, proper planning is done and top executives have bought into the project every time Siebel products are deployed.

The blueprint will be institutionalized with the release of a tool kit the first quarter of 2005, Siebel officials said. The Web-based tool kit will include personalized configuration and project plans, plus white papers and sample scripts and codes.

Lawrie, who replaced founder Tom Siebel as CEO as CEO on May 1, said the "second generation" of Siebel—widely referred to as "Chapter 2" during User Week—would be about driving business outcomes, whereas the companys first 11 years were about products and technology. Tom Siebel remains chairman of the company that bears his name.

/zimages/2/28571.gifEnterprise Applications Editor John Pallatto says the move to replace Tom Siebel may prove to be too late. Click here to read his column.

"Technology strictly within itself doesnt deliver outcomes," said Lawrie in a speech at the conference. "Well focus on technology as much as we have in the past, but in addition we need to focus on other things. Its not an either-or situation. Theyre not mutually exclusive."

Customers generally applauded Siebels new stated direction, citing the need for such a change given the implementation and upgrade headaches theyve experienced with the software.

"Its a change of focus away from the software toward the idea of focusing on customer growth," said Jerry Turner, supervisor of systems development for Abbott Laboratories Ltd. in Saint-Laurent, Quebec. "Tom Siebel would always just talk about the software."

Turner said that earlier this year he e-mailed Siebel to let him know he was "fed up" with all the bugs he encountered while upgrading from version 6.0.1 to of Siebels namesake suite. He hopes better product testing will also be included as part of the companys sharper customer focus.

"My big issue is that they push stuff out the door that hasnt been thoroughly tested," Turner said. "Now I understand theres always going to be a certain amount of bugs and youre usually aware of them. But were talking about introducing bugs into the core function of the software. That shouldnt be happening."

Conrad Surratt, manager of the Siebel Solution Center at Volvo IT North America Inc. in Greensboro, N.C., encountered some performance issues while doing a pilot upgrade to Siebel 7.7. Surratt also said lack of testing was evident.

"The standard settings in the application werent documented and it took several weeks to get [Siebels] support group to tell us what was going on," Surratt said.

Surratt also liked what he heard from Siebel executives at the conference but cautioned that other issues, such as the unique business needs of a particular customer group or the presence of legacy applications, can derail even the best implementation plans.

"I think its a good strategy, but its difficult to achieve," he said. "But their direction is more customer-oriented and our goal is to be more customer-oriented as well."

"The message was very clear—if you are not successful, we are not successful," said Vijay Shirodkar, systems analyst at financial services and insurance company Foresters, in Toronto, which is currently in the midst of upgrading from Siebel 5.5 to

"I think theyll be holding our hand more than before and I think that is needed. Every Siebel installation is difficult to manage—the technologies move so fast. We need to be guided."

Shirodkar said processes and technology were finally being aligned at Siebel. "They wanted to get that leadership position; now that they have it, theyre more mature, they can work with the customers more."

Technology is still alive and well at Siebel. In addition to announcing new prebuilt Enterprise Analytic Applications for customer, supply chain, human resources and financial analytics, the San Mateo, Calif., company previewed the Siebel 7.8 release scheduled for the first quarter of next year.

That release will include a revamped customer order management application with support for more complex orders, sales configuration and pricing, deeper integration with Microsoft Corp.s Outlook and Sharepoint software, as well as support for new vertical business processes such as group sales and event execution for the hospitality industry, and Internet banking.

Siebel also plans to unify the interfaces between the Siebel CRM OnDemand and Siebel Professional Edition—with the formers interface winning out—and launch an aggressive VAR program for the midmarket space, though no date has been set yet for either initiative.

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