Oracle readies CRM, supply chain upgrades

Oracle is adding automated configuration tools to its supply chain management applications and is developing an upgrade to its CRM software designed to make it easier for users to exchange customer data with other systems.

Oracle executives outlined the upgrade plans this month during a series of briefings at company headquarters. They said the new supply chain features will begin to ship by year's end. The new CRM offering is scheduled to follow by mid-2004.

Don Klaiss, senior vice president of manufacturing and supply chain applications at Oracle, said the configuration tools are being added in an effort to reduce the time it takes to install the supply chain software to days, instead of weeks or months.

For example, the new release will include a rules-based feature that poses questions to IT managers about their implementations and then helps set up software configurations, Klaiss said.

The new tools sound like they would be "absolutely useful," said Patrick Harris, director of IT at Sealing Devices, an N.Y.-based maker of seals and gaskets. Harris said installing Oracle's CRM and supply chain applications at Sealing Devices was a daunting job because of their complexity.

"I'd rather have more wizards instead of sitting down with a 700-page manual," he noted. "There are lots of things to set up, and putting in an interface to make it easier and guide you will save lots of dollars."

Klaiss said Oracle has also started beta-testing new warehouse management applications that can more effectively handle data generated by radio frequency identification (RFID) tags.

In addition, the warehouse software will work with the company's Oracle Database 10g technology to provide load-balancing, reporting and data management functions for RFID uses.

Andrew Kass, vice president of CRM development at Oracle, said the company is tweaking the architecture of that product line to enable more rapid data sharing between different modules in its E-Business Suite 11i product line. For example, users could automatically mirror information about customer service work that had been completed from the CRM software to Oracle's manufacturing or supply chain applications, Kass said.

The CRM upgrade will also include new features aimed at boosting employee productivity and helping users proactively address potential problems with customers, according to Kass. One such enhancement will let companies log in any repeated problems customers might have with a given product to help them avoid similar problems.

Victor Burgess, vice president and general manager of alliances at Affina, said the CRM upgrade could help speed order-fulfillment processes at the company, which manages customer service outsourcing work.

Affina runs Oracle's CRM and application server software, but Burgess said users sometimes have to go through multiple steps to check product inventories. The more those processes can be standardized and automated, the better, he added.

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