Ellison guest-stars at Siebel Customer World event

BOSTON — As part of a strategy for the next generation of customer relationship management, Siebel Systems Inc. Monday announced what it is calling the industry’s only open standards-based service oriented architecture framework for CRM applications.

As part of a multi-vendor partnership with BEA Systems, IBM and Microsoft, dubbed “Project Nexus,” Siebel Customer Adaptive Architecture runs on both .Net and J2EE platforms, allowing customers and partners to develop and integrate custom-built CRM apps in a heterogeneous environment. Siebel Customer Adaptive Architecture is one component of Siebel Customer Adaptive Solutions — a strategy that allows organizations to better understand and adapt to the needs of their customers in real time.

The software company unveiled the new strategy at the conference, which attracted 2,600 attendees — a 13 per cent increase in attendance from last year. The future of “Project Nexus,” however, is somewhat clouded following Oracle Corp.’s announcement last month that it plans to acquire Siebel for US $5.85-billion. The deal, which is expected to close early next year, allows Oracle to gain customers and expertise in the CRM market in a bid to better compete against its largest rival, SAP.

In a pre-recorded video shown to thousands of attendees at this year’s CustomerWorld conference here during Monday’s opening keynote, Oracle chief Larry Ellison expressed his enthusiasm for Siebel’s work on the SOA front. “Siebel has been the pioneer of CRM,” said Ellison. “Those apps will be foundation for Oracle CRM. We’re excited about what Siebel is doing with its SOA. It dovetails beautifully what Oracle’s doing with (Project) Fusion.”

Project Fusion is Oracle’s roadmap for combining its acquired products — PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards and now Siebel — with existing Oracle applications. Details on how Nexus will fit into Fusion, however, have yet to be worked out.

In a press question and answer session following Monday’s keynote, Siebel chief executive officer George Shaheen said while he’s encouraged by Ellison’s comments there’s, “still a lot of the devil in the detail there.”

Originally poised to take centre stage at this year’s conference, SOA took a backseat thanks to Oracle’s takeover bid. Despite recent events, Shaheen said until the deal has closed, Siebel will continue to release its on demand, business intelligence and core CRM products. “We are committed to providing you the solutions for your customers to be the focus of all your efforts,” Shaheen told conference attendees. “Both Siebel and Oracle share a common interest in the customer. This combination will produce more innovation in technology leadership to continue to provide you with a business advantage.”

Despite Ellison’s and Shaheen’s assurances, some members of Siebel’s customer base, which totals 3.7 million users worldwide, have expressed concern that the acquisition could eliminate Siebel OnDemand. Siebel’s senior vice-president and general manager of products Bruce Cleveland told reporters that Oracle has made a strong commitment to OnDemand and currently doesn’t have a multi-tenant offering like Siebel.

“The opportunity to merge the two different skill sets together with Oracle’s ability to deliver single tenet is a powerful capability,” said Cleveland. “Complementary skill sets make it better for our customers, old and new.”

Canadian customers, while cautious when speaking about the deal, are, for the most part, relatively confident that the acquisition will be an easy and smooth one compared to that of PeopleSoft, which was a product of a long and hostile takeover war.

“Obviously as a customer this worries me,” said Kelly Lam, CRM manager at BMW Canada Inc., describing his initial reaction to the news. “We believe Siebel follows best practices in the CRM platform. Oracle has other products to supplement (it). Hopefully Oracle keeps Siebel as their CRM platform.”

Both following the announcement and at last month’s Oracle OpenWorld, Ellison stressed the database giant’s commitment to making Siebel CRM the centrepiece of its CRM offering. Oracle’s recent spending binge, however, has reportedly had some customers concerned that Ellison is merely doing it to grab market share in a bid to compete with Germany-based enterprise resource planning market leader SAP.

There have also been reports of customers worried that Oracle will try to get them to move from other vendors database platforms such as Microsoft SQL Server or IBM DB2 to its 10g product. But Lam said many Siebel customers like BMW Canada uses MS SQL Server and that Oracle recognizes that fact.

“With the Siebel customer base I don’t see them not supporting (SQL Server),“ said Lam. “We’re not theonly ones using it.”

BMW Canada is currently running Siebel 7.5 and recently implemented Siebel Analytics 7.7 as part of a worldwide rollout across its corporate sites. The luxury automotive maker, which has been a Siebel customer for two years, is currently looking at the possibility of a similar implementation at the dealerlevel.

Desjardins, a Quebec-based credit union, is also a recent Siebel customer and is set to start rolling out Siebel 7.7 across its 57 business centres across the province early next year. To date it has pilot project running at two of its sites, one in Laurentide and the other in Yamaska.

Nathalie Larue, vice-president of commercial banking marketing at Desjardins, said Desjardins is confident that Siebel is Oracle’s choice for CRM. “It would have been tough if they chose another platform,” said Larue. “It’s important to have a local strong team with IT support offered in French.”

In other conference news, Siebel announced the general availability of its business intelligence product, Siebel Business Analytics 7.8. New features include new visualization and charting capabilities, expanded computational and analytical functions and improved scalability for large deployments. The software is also based on a SOA that enables integration with other apps using Web services and other open standards including JSR 168 and RSS.

CustomerWorld wraps up Thursday.

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