Analyst, SAS weigh in on Siebel's claim to analytics crown

Siebel may call itself the CRM analytics leader, and some customers may praise the company for improving its product, but not everyone is willing to crown Siebel champ.

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When Siebel Systems Inc. recently crowned itself the top provider of enterprise CRM analytics software, it raised eyebrows across the industry. Yet, despite contradictory claims from analytics competitors, it appears Siebel's presence in the lucrative sector may be growing.

CRM analytics software analyzes customer information to help businesses make wiser decisions. It can include customer segmentation, profitability analysis and predictive modeling. And while the last two years have been comparatively lean for the CRM industry at large, the market for analytics has grown as users have struggled to cull greater returns from existing investments in enterprise software.

Siebel made a significant commitment to analytics with its October 2001 acquisition of nQuire Software Inc.

Still, industry experts say, it's hard to pinpoint which company has the most analytics market share. The fact that one of the industry's long-running contenders, Cary, N.C.-based SAS Institute Inc., remains privately held only muddles the picture.

Bob Blumstein, a research director at International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass., admits his company is still drawing conclusions as to which analytics providers are leading the way. However, Blumstein acknowledges that Siebel, San Mateo, Calif., has improved its position.

"Siebel has definitely taken great strides in integrating analytics since its acquisition of nQuire Software," Blumstein said. "Certainly, it's possible they've grown market share."

Blumstein said it remains challenging to definitively rank vendors, since there are a large number of angles to consider when breaking down the market, such as separating standalone application vendors from enterprise software makers that bundle analytics into their products. Another distinction might be differentiating high-end business intelligence providers from developers of simple reporting-and-querying tools, he said.

"The market itself is growing, so it's not a zero-sum-gain market," he said. "[User] companies have figured out that they need to analyze within their million-dollar database projects, so there's a lot of room for different players."

Among the leading contenders in the analytics space are SAS and Siebel, as well as Business Objects SA, E.piphany Inc., NetIQ Corp., NCR Corp.'s Teradata division and SAP AG, Blumstein said.

However, if you ask SAS officials for their take on Siebel's claim to analytics supremacy, they'll tell you the CRM market leader is comparing apples to oranges.

"[Siebel's] definition of analytics is very different from what ours is," said Nelle Schantz, program director for CRM at SAS. "What they call analytics, we refer to [as] basic querying and reporting."

And while Schantz said there remains great value in looking at historical data -- and added that SAS markets its own reporting software, which offers benefits similar to that of the Siebel product -- she is quick to point out that true analytics has traditionally been defined otherwise. Schantz said that SAS analytical software offers greater functionality, such as predictive modeling, data mining and, more recently, customer behavior tracking.

"An element of having a high number of relatively immature analytics users out there is that [Siebel] can get away with calling reporting analytics," Schantz said. "And maybe the definition will change, but [Siebel] is doing those companies an injustice by misinforming them as to what analytics really are."

However, at least one Siebel customer is willing to go on record and state that its deployment of the analytics software is producing solid returns. Akzo Nobel NV, a paint, chemical and pharmaceuticals firm based in Arnhem, Netherlands, has been running Siebel Analytics 7 since July 2002, with positive results.

According to Marc Nicolas, e-business manager at Akzo Nobel, one of the company's chemicals business units is using Siebel analytics to interact with its customers via a Web-based application. The system allows users to scrutinize their accounts with the firm and build projections using the interface. Akzo Nobel has also integrated the analytics tools with its 2-year-old deployment of Siebel 7 CRM software for use internally by its sales and marketing personnel. In the next month, the company will go live on Siebel 7.5 CRM, Nicolas said.

Before moving to Siebel analytics, Akzo Nobel attempted to build a similar customer-facing analytical application using software from Business Objects, which is based in Levallois-Perret, France. Nicolas said that venture was scrapped when Akzo Nobel found the Business Objects software couldn't be tailored to keep users from accessing information they weren't intended to see.

"So far, Siebel has worked well for us," Nicolas said. "We didn't plan to use analytics internally at first, but that has been one of the most positive benefits, having the ability to integrate so easily with the CRM system."

However, Nicolas criticized some weak points in the Siebel Analytics 7 package, including limited graphing capabilities and a scarcity of qualified integrators to help deploy the software.

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