Siebel 8.0 leaves users with CRM upgrade quandary

In its first Siebel CRM release, Oracle is offering a new user interface and search, leaving customers to decide if they want to upgrade or wait for Fusion.

NEW YORK -- With the release this month of its Siebel 8.0 CRM product, the first major upgrade since Oracle Corp. acquired Siebel last year, Oracle executives are pushing a new task-based user interface, search and certification with Fusion Middleware.

But with Fusion, Oracle's plan to combine the "best of" functionalities from all its recent acquisitions, still on track for 2008, users have plenty to consider in terms of upgrades.

"It's hard to tell," said Nick Kremer, technical lead at Oppenheimer Funds Inc., a New York-based mutual fund company. "We certainly like the task-based process, but we're still considering [Siebel] 7.8."

Kremer and some of his colleagues attended Oracle's Applications Unlimited event at the Hudson Theatre this week to get a look at what's new with Siebel 8.0. Oppenheimer Funds is currently on version 7.7. Oracle has followed through on its pledge to continue to enhance the applications it purchased during its two-year acquisition spree, issuing five new releases this week. @31805

According to Ed Abbo, Oracle's senior vice president of CRM products, Siebel 8.0 is based on the version 7 platform.

"It's not a brand new architecture," Abbo said. "The upgrade process to 8.0 is similar to going from 7.7 to 7.8."

Oracle's internal CRM sales organization is currently implementing 8.0 and will go live in the next month. That, said Abbo, has been about a six-month implementation for a company with 65,000 employees.

The features

Siebel 8.0 is now certified on Oracle Fusion Middleware and features support for non-Oracle technologies like IBM WebSphere, BEA WebLogic, SQL Server 2005 and IBM DB2. The task-based user interface is designed to increase the productivity of novice users by guiding them through unfamiliar tasks. Real-time business process change allows line-of-business employees to change rules and processes with a drag-and-drop tool that requires no coding. The new search tool allows users to retrieve information inside and outside the CRM application. Oracle Enterprise Search 10g is provided out of the box with Siebel 8.0.

Additionally, Abbo said, customers can more easily deploy the application in modules. For example, a company could start by deploying the service application and follow up with marketing.

"It's a tremendous vote of confidence that a year later the product is rolling out," said Mary Wardley, analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. "With the benefits of middleware it wraps together well. As Oracle's core CRM product, there's a lot of weight behind it."

Oracle has pledged to make Siebel the centerpiece of its CRM efforts as it moves toward Fusion, while its other CRM products will continue to be released as suites and see at least one more enhancement.

"It's just another derivation of choice," Wardley said. "You're always going to find piecemeal deployments. Typically architectures are part suites, part best-of-breed. I think customers will move [to 8.0], but it all depends on what the business problems are."

Timing will likely figure into that equation.

"How long it takes to upgrade will be a big consideration," Kremer said about plans at Oppenheimer Funds. "If it takes a year we may do something else."

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