At its OpenWorld show this week, Oracle Corp. is expected to announce an upcoming version of its Siebel CRM On Demand service that will include social networking features reminiscent of consumer portals such as Facebook or MySpace.
The previewed features, according to Oracle, will help salespeople make their sales — unlike the bulk of the features in CRM applications, which are oriented towards reporting and otherwise helping managers track salespeoples’ progress.
Anthony Lye, Oracle CRM On Demand senior vice-president, previewed several of those analytical features at the Software and Information Industry Association’s (SIIA) show in San Jose last week. One mashes up data about sales orders from internal systems with external information in order to help predict sales opportunities. Another enables the ability for salespeople to create and join groups, ala Facebook.
Another feature is a library of sales material that salespeople can quickly preview or edit via an interface that Jeff Kaplan, an analyst with ThinkStrategies Inc., said “borrows heavily from the look and feel of the iPod’s interface.”
Still another lets users integrate their LinkedIn contact list for access by other users, according to Rebecca Wettemann, an analyst with Wellesley, Mass.-based Nucleus Research.
More features will debut at OpenWorld, though Oracle has been mysterious as to exactly when it plans to officially unveil this pumped-up version of Siebel CRM On Demand, which it acquired in late 2005. Lye is not scheduled to give a keynote speech at OpenWorld.
In the overall CRM space, Oracle claims Siebel, via its on-premise and on demand versions, to be the market leader, with 4.6 million users at 5,000 company customers.
Oracle released version 14 of Siebel CRM On Demand in late June.
In October, WebEx announced that its Connect platform would host Siebel CRM On Demand.
WebEx has 2.3 million registered users. Siebel CRM On Demand should be available through WebEx in early 2008.
Siebel faces challenges from Salesforce, which claims nearly a million users, and Microsoft, which plans to release an online version of its Dynamics CRM software next year, as well as SAP.
Unlike most Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vendors, which have been targeting small-to-medium-sized companies, Oracle is aiming these features at big enterprises.
Microsoft did recently announce plans to target large enterprises with hosted versions of its server software. But Kaplan says that Oracle is the only one of the large enterprise vendors that appears to be making a wholehearted push for those users.
SAP AG and Microsoft Corp. “look at SaaS as an SMB play,” Kaplan said. “Oracle doesn’t see it that way.”
Kaplan doesn’t think the move will cannibalize Siebel’s existing customer base.
“If you don’t evolve with the customer base, you could lose customers entirely,” he said. Moreover, this should “put pressure on Microsoft and SAP to respond.” As part of its ‘social’ push, Siebel will include application programming interfaces (APIs) to enable partners to build ancillary applications.
But Oracle isn’t aiming to create the same sort of burgeoning ‘widget’ ecosystem that Facebook was able to create in a matter of months, something that Salesforce.com is trying to do with via its AppExchange and more recently announced Force.com platforms.
Oracle is “not looking to be a development platform for CRM,” Wettemann said, which she said would not hurt it. Among enterprises, the quality of the apps and integration is more significant.
Meanwhile, “Facebook is a recent phenomenon. Nobody in business knows how to deal with it yet,” Kaplan said.