Siebel, SAP push CRM upgrades

Siebel Systems Inc. and SAP AG last week heated up the competition in the customer relationship management market by announcing upgrades of their rival application suites.

Siebel released a new version of its applications, dubbed Siebel 7.5, that comes with hundreds of built-in business processes tailored for users in 20 different vertical industries. For example, Siebel said a version of the software for retail banking will be able to automate the process of changing customer addresses and stopping payments on checks.

Siebel 7.5 is also the first release of the CRM software to include pieces of the company's Universal Application Network technology for developing integration links with other systems, said Ed Abbo, senior vice president of technology at Siebel.

Meanwhile, SAP detailed Version 3.1 of its mySAP CRM software at its Sapphire '02 user conference in Lisbon, Portugal. The upgrade, due to ship at the end of this month, uses SAP's new Web Dynpro presentation-level technology in role-based user interfaces designed to give workers job-specific views of data and make the CRM software easier to use.

John Grozier, group director of CRM product marketing at SAP, said Version 3.1 of mySAP CRM will also be tightly integrated into the company's portal software. That will let end users take data, such as a customer address, from a CRM system and drag and drop the information into other SAP applications, Grozier said.

Denis Pombriant, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston, said Siebel and SAP are going in somewhat different directions with their new releases. Siebel is focusing on delivering end-to-end business processes to specific vertical industries, he said, while SAP's portal integration capabilities are aimed at easing the integration of front-end CRM applications and back-office systems.

"The way Siebel is going I really believe is the right direction," said Kevin Lathrop, CIO at Unishippers Association Inc., a Salt Lake City-based company whose 300-plus franchisees provide shipping services in the U.S. and the U.K. "One of the reasons we selected Siebel was that they would stay with best practices and build them into the product over time."

Unishippers is beta-testing the partner relationship management application in Siebel 7.5 and plans to go live with the software in the first quarter of next year, Lathrop said. The product will replace homegrown applications, he added.

Lathrop said he's particularly interested in the sales and customer service processes embedded in Siebel 7.5, although he added that it doesn't include any vertical-industry tools developed specifically for transportation companies.

Joanie Rufo, an analyst at AMR Research Inc. in Boston, said Version 3.0 of mySAP CRM, which became available in the third quarter of last year, was SAP's first truly competitive release. And Version 3.1 better positions the company as a rival to San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel and other CRM vendors such as Oracle Corp. and PeopleSoft Inc. in Pleasanton, Calif., Rufo said.

Barry McGoldrick, director of global application development at Molex Inc. in Lisle Ill., said the maker of electronic components plans to upgrade to Version 3.1 of mySAP CRM early next year.

Molex, which uses SAP's R/3 enterprise resource planning software and Version 2.0 of mySAP CRM, is already testing the new CRM release. McGoldrick said end users at the company have given a thumbs up to the software's ease-of-use improvements.

Siebel Brings App Integration Technology to ForefrontWith the release of its Siebel 7.5 upgrade, Siebel Systems is taking more steps to fulfill a promise to simplify business process and application integration work for users through its Universal Application Network (UAN) technology.

UAN, which was announced in April, is designed to make it easier for companies to connect Siebel's CRM applications to homegrown systems and packaged applications developed by other vendors. Usage of the technology is still in its infancy while Siebel, working with partners, continues to develop the specifications.

But Siebel 7.5 includes an embedded set of UAN-based Application Services Interfaces, which expose Siebel's proprietary application processes as Web services. It also comes with support for linking the software to applications based on Java 2 Enterprise Edition or Microsoft Corp.'s .Net technology, according to Siebel.

Kevin Lathrop, CIO at Salt Lake City-based Unishippers, said the UAN interfaces could let customers of its franchisees access data from a variety of systems and check on invoices and the status of shipments regardless of which freight carrier is delivering the goods.

Lathrop said he isn't sure Unishippers will roll out the UAN technology in the near term. But, he added, "I suspect we'll be using it more and more as it supports our future direction."

Tim Arnold, IT manager at Bose Corp. in Framingham, Mass., said UAN should give users a way to easily extract data from Siebel application tables without having to change their structure or the business rules that are built into them.

Bose, which makes audio systems, uses Siebel's CRM tools but has also installed SAP's back-office applications and PeopleSoft's human resources software. Arnold said he hopes to implement some of the UAN technology within his systems by next summer.

Siebel is playing catch-up on integration technology, said Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting in Daly City, Calif. Users are demanding that CRM applications become more than stand-alone tools and offer integration to other software, such as manufacturing, supply chain management and logistics systems, he added.

Siebel has "to get moving" with UAN or it could risk being marginalized by SAP and other rivals that are ahead of it in supporting integration with applications other than their own, Greenbaum said.

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