SAN FRANCISCO -- Oracle will power social networks with CRM data, allow users to run Siebel in Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes out of the box and add partner relationship management and vertical functionality to its CRM On Demand product in the coming year, executives said at a session here at Oracle OpenWorld 2009.
"You and me, we face the commoditization of our products," Anthony Lye, Oracle senior vice president of CRM told attendees. "We have less and less value and are faced with a challenge -- differentiate on price -- never a really good strategy -- or choose to differentiate on relationship. The relationship is the way that makes you different. Increasingly it's more important than the products you deliver."
While there was little mention of Fusion Applications, Oracle Corp.'s mammoth project to bring all of its applications acquisitions together under one "best of" product suite, within the session some of the incremental enhancements were attractive to attendees nonetheless. Operating Siebel out of Microsoft Outlook, in particular, was one.
"The feedback we get from sales is, 'I do everything on my BlackBerry and Outlook,'" said Bill Burkhardt, who works in IT for an advisory services firm. "Those are challenges for us as an on-premise customer on multiple levels. Moving toward having everything in Outlook [was encouraging]."
Oracle plans to provide an out-of-the-box application that allows users to run their Siebel application from within Microsoft Office or Lotus Notes.
For HP, which recently finished a massive Siebel project, consolidating 49 global Siebel 7.5x installations into one global installation of Siebel 8.0 onto three regional instances, usability is the next goal.
"We'll work on usability and functionality, which hopefully will increase usage across the world," Shauna Della, vice president of sales IT at HP, said in a later session at OpenWorld. "Outlook integration is something we're real excited about. Our sales guys live in Outlook."
"You need never go to the Siebel UI. You can manage forecasts, opportunities, all of the CRM data that persists in MS Outlook or Lotus Notes," Lye said. "And, over the course of the coming months, we'll be shipping plug-ins to popular [integrated development environments] to bring it to prior versions of Siebel."
Part of Oracle's integration efforts focus on a Representational State Transfer Application Programming Interface (REST API), which will allow developers to integrate Siebel with multiple channels. That was made available to some customers yesterday and will be part of the next release of Siebel, the third release since it was acquired by Oracle.
"Multi-channel isn't good enough anymore," Lye said. "We as customers don't start and end our businesses on any one channel. We're happy to stitch them together and get the best out of each channel we can. The way early customers have solved it is custom development work. We're embedding these business processes inside the application for you to take advantage of."
Oracle demonstrated an application that Swedish Rail is about to launch linking Siebel CRM data with a handheld smartphone application. Users can accrue loyalty points, pay for tickets and update their schedules from within their smartphone. With a new Siebel Visualization Toolkit, users can extend Siebel data and business processes through development frameworks like Eclipse and JDeveloper and even mobile SDKs, according to Oracle. That will be available later this year.
"Instead of publishing an API and wishing you the best of luck, we want to encourage you to do these in a more tightly coupled environment," Lye said. "You can use JDeveloper, Visual Studio Eclipse, but have apps and UIs managed in the Siebel repository. You can now basically expose Siebel data through the REST API and build composite apps in a number of days and deliver capabilities to a number of devices in a number of channels."
Additionally, Oracle will focus on social CRM initiatives, using CRM data as a way to connect customers. The data in the CRM customer data model is best equipped to map relationships between customers back to the organization.
Mark Woollen, vice president of CRM product strategy at Oracle, demonstrated a sample application where a consumer, a father of two seeking iPhone applications for his children, could fill out a short form, identifying himself as an advanced iPhone user and a father of two and connect with similar existing customers through Twitter.
"If you're not exposing your customers to people like them, your customers expect it and soon they will demand it," Lye said. "Just to throw up a forum and invite everyone to it isn’t necessarily a strategy."
Oracle taking on the data mining of social networks would be a welcome addition for Burkhardt.
"In the past three or four years, our salespeople have changed their networks [and] they can find out if the CIO has moved to another company," he said. "Mining for relationships is more useful for us because our salespeople are doing this already."
Finally, Oracle continues to push the concept of an agnostic deployment. Customers can choose on-demand, on-premise or a hybrid approach. The next version of CRM On Demand, version 17, will feature enhancements to partner relationship management and vertical functionality for pharmaceuticals, insurance, high tech and medical devices.
"It's not an either-or situation," Lye said. "Increasingly it's an and situation."
In total, Oracle plans to deliver 12 CRM products, nine new pre-packaged integrations across 22 industry verticals, 88 customer-driven enhancements and 31 major new features. A heavy investment in the next version of Siebel, Siebel 8.12, will be in health and human services.