SAP pushing CRM applications

SAP AG is using its Sapphire 2001 user conference here to try to prove that it's a viable vendor of customer relationship management (CRM) applications.

Among a variety of product announcements at the conference yesterday, SAP detailed a new version of its mySAP CRM software that's due for release during the third quarter. New features will include a billing tool that can handle order-to-cash functions and the ability to integrate the CRM technology with supply-chain applications from SAP or rival vendors.

SAP executives also pointed to recent CRM customer wins, including a deal for cigarette maker Philip Morris U.S.A. to use its SAP Mobile Sales Force application. In addition, FAW-Volkswagen Automotive Co. in China has already gone live with mySAP CRM to capture customer information for use in sales, service and marketing campaigns.

But despite SAP's efforts, its CRM offering still seems to be something of a well-kept secret compared to its flagship enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, said Brian Bingham, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm IDC. "They are a major player [in CRM] but not recognized as one because of their legacy in ERP," he said.

SAP needs to ratchet up its marketing to compete more effectively against CRM rivals such as Siebel Systems Inc. in San Mateo, Calif., Bingham said. But, he added, the company does have the benefit of a huge user base for its ERP applications and has enlisted CRM sales help from the likes of IBM.

Among the users who are starting to use SAP's CRM applications is Dallas-based consumer products manufacturer Kimberly-Clark Corp. Next month, the company plans to go live with an online product catalog based on mySAP CRM, said Ladd Nichols, director of global strategic information systems. The catalog will allow users to do general e-business functions, such as procurement, while also providing access to educational materials and other documentation.

"We were probably the biggest detractors of SAP," said Nichols, looking back to the start of the multimillion dollar project three years ago. Unlike many large manufacturers, he noted, Kimberly-Clark didn't use SAP R/3 to run its back-office operations. Nevertheless, Nichols said he decided SAP had the most complete vision for Internet-based CRM functionality.

Kimberly-Clark wanted a system that would require as little customization as possible, according to Nichols. He added that SAP's software can be used to easily create product hierarchies that set broad categories and then provide online users with links to a wide variety of individual items. The company has now also installed an R/3 system that has the sole purpose of connecting to the online catalog and formatting data for use by the CRM applications.

Osram Sylvania, a Danvers, Mass.-based maker of lighting products and a longtime R/3 user, began running mySAP CRM last October to power its online catalog, as well as for sales order processing, procurement and other functions. Mehrdad Laghaeian, CIO at the Osram GmbH subsidary, said he plans to install the version 3.0 upgrade announced yesterday during the fall and is now considering ways to exploit new features such as call center and mobile sales and service capabilities.

Laghaeian also wants to use mySAP CRM to support collaborative commerce and supply-chain planning processes with Osram Sylvania's customers and suppliers. As the company processes orders, he said, it can engage suppliers to ensure that the required product inventories are on hand upfront, "rather than guessing what the customer needs and letting suppliers know as late as possible."

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