Stephen Elioff hasn’t even finished deploying PeopleSoft CRM 8.4 and already he’s considering an upgrade to 8.8.

The latest version of the Pleasanton, Calif.-based company’s customer relationship management software left the gate Boxing Day, a release PeopleSoft is calling it’s most significant

since CRM 8.

Elioff, vice-president and CRM program director for investment management firm AGF Management Ltd. in Toronto, says the firm has a number of CRM activities in place.

“”As an organization, however, we really haven’t had an enterprise approach towards CRM,”” he says. “”It’s been trapped within silos and the tools that have been developed to support it have been tools that have taken a single view of that department’s role and that department’s requirements.””

AGF began brainstorming on how to bring CRM horizontally across the organization in the summer of 2001, looking at where the business was and where it was going, and evaluating what its technical architecture could support, says Elioff. “”There were some areas that needed shoring up.””

AGF had both proprietary and off-the-shelf tools. Some of them were quite effective, says Elioff, “”but at the end of they day, the still don’t talk to one another. To be truly successful at enterprise CRM, you really need that integrated approach.””

The organization kicked the tires of several CRM packages, including Siebel, Oracle and PeopleSoft.

“”The deciding factor for us was flexibility,”” says Elioff. “”We just felt the platform we were purchasing was indeed a platform — it was a solid architecture that gave us the ability to make the tool work for us as opposed to us working for the tool.””

He says other vendors had more feature-rich offerings, but the maturity of their products in AGF’s case worked against them.

“”Our vision of CRM and how it would work within our organization didn’t line up with theirs and would lead to added costs to make it work for us,”” says Elioff. The Internet architecture of PeopleSoft was ahead of others in the market, he adds, and provided a flexibility from an integration and configuration standpoint.

AGF is in the early stages of its implementation, gearing for a pilot of the portal module, says Elioff. The CRM-specific modules are slated to be deployed throughout this year.

“”We’re still at a point where we’re doing development work around 8.4, but since we haven’t really moved to production we have the ability to move up to 8.8 without too much trouble.””

Making the move to 8.8 will be a balancing act between what’s to be gained and potential risks, says Elioff.

“”We think there’s some really solid new features available on the sales side,”” he says. “”We are a sales-driven organization and we think some of the changes (PeopleSoft) is contemplating in 8.8 match up well against our business model.”” For example, there have been some enhancements to the territory management functions and some improvements in forecasting and pipeline management, Elioff notes.

New features in PeopleSoft CRM 8.8 have been based primarily on customer feedback, says Barbry McGann, vice-president of CRM product strategy with PeopleSoft.

“”As far as breadth and depth and magnitude, this is the largest release we’ve had since the release of 8.0 in June 2001, just in sheer number of products and features and functions we’ve added.””

Those additions total 150, she says, and affect PeopleSoft sales and marketing applications, and its integration and analytics platform. It’s also added six new products and three industry verticals — high-tech, insurance and energy.

Making CRM faster and easier to deploy was particularly important for customers, says McGann.

“”They see the usefulness of CRM, but they are under tremendous pressure to show results.””

Warren Shiau, software analyst with IDC Canada in Toronto, says there is no recommended upgrade cycle for CRM packages. “”It’s going to depend on the vendor and what is contained within each upgrade,”” he says.

“”You could have a major upgrade (such as) Siebel 7.5 — it’s practically a new implementation of Siebel, so there are going to be Seibel users who think this is a really worthwhile upgrade.”” However, for those already on 7.5, he says, it may not be worth it to jump into the next incremental upgrade right away.

Upgrading may also hinge on the support available, says Shiau, or lack thereof. “”Some users may upgrade because of that, they get pushed into it. Maybe enough people complain that (the vendor) extends the de-support date. In many cases, how long a vendor carries on supporting one release depends on what sales and marketing wants.””

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