SAP Prepares rollout -- finally -- of CRM apps

SAP AG has been slow on the draw with a promised line of applications for managing sales, service and marketing operations. But that's about to change, according to SAP.

At the German software vendor's Sapphire '99 user conference here this month, SAP executives said the customer relationship management (CRM) applications will finally start appearing this fall.

It's still expected to be late next year or early 2001 before the full 16-product CRM suite SAP has planned is available. But the company said applications for automating field sales and service operations should be ready for release in the next four weeks, three months later than the original schedule.

SAP also plans to start beta-testing four more CRM applications this year, with shipments expected to follow by March. Those include packages for selling products online and letting customers check on order status and other information.

The CRM applications are a key part of SAP's attempt to reach beyond the back-office base of its R/3 enterprise resource planning software. Users who want SAP to handle their business application needs are waiting to see what the company comes up with in areas such as CRM.

Ed Toben, CIO at Colgate-Palmolive in New York, said the maker of consumer products is helping SAP design a CRM module for synchronizing production schedules with promotions planned by retailers.

That module is due for a pilot installation at Colgate-Palmolive in February, Toben said. The company's business units currently set plans with retailers through a mix of "glorified spreadsheets'' and phone, fax and e-mail contacts, he added.

But Colgate-Palmolive wants to use SAP's software to better coordinate that planning and to capture data for detailed analysis. Toben's goal is to link the CRM module to R/3 and companion data warehousing and supply-chain planning applications developed by SAP, he said. That would let Colgate-Palmolive avoid tying together applications from different vendors, he said.

Eastman Kodak is another R/3 user that wants to start using CRM software early next year to deal with retailers and then eventually to take film orders from consumers over the Internet, said Eric Hunt, manager of an SAP-based data warehousing project at the Rochester, New York company.

Hunt, a member of a four-person team that leads planning related to Kodak's R/3 system, said SAP's CRM applications will be in the running.

But the question is whether SAP can deliver full-fledged products in time to meet Kodak's schedule, he added.

SAP trails rivals such as Oracle and San Mateo, California-based Siebel Systems in shipping CRM software.

However, heavy demand for the software probably won't materialize until next year, said Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting in Berkeley, California. And the tight integration to R/3 that SAP is promising gives users "a huge incentive to wait,'' he added.

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