Open almost any serious news publication and you'll see a story that mentions Siebel Systems -- and a lot of the
news coming out of San Mateo lately has been bad. Customers are dissatisfied, according to Wellesley, Mass.-based Nucleus Research; investors are upset, according to CBS MarketWatch; employees are disloyal, according to Bloomberg. Siebel employees are seen on CNN giving demonstrators Krispy Kreme doughnuts outside the shareholders' meeting. If your job is to manage or implement Siebel applications, just how concerned should you be about what you read? Does all the negative press about Siebel indicate that the company is not worth being associated with anymore? While Siebel Systems' methods are occasionally bruising, it is hard to argue with their results. The company has done business with more than 3,500 organizations, is considered by Gartner Inc. to be the leader in 11 market categories, holds $2.2 billion in cash, and ranks as the largest application software company in the United States. In fact, I believe Siebel Systems is poised to dominate almost any software market it enters, thanks to a unique set of strengths, which include its Universal Application Network (UAN) strategy, a long history of profitability, financial strength, and a robust partner ecology with companies such as Accenture Ltd., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp. Siebel Systems is ready to lead its chosen markets. Yet the premise that CRM is the best market in technology does not seem to be as true today as it was in 1999. In my estimation, this is the news that you need to pay the most attention to as you consider your career path. The problem is that the possibility of an Oracle/PeopleSoft or PeopleSoft/J.D. Edwards or Oracle/PeopleSoft/J.D. Edwards merger makes it unclear what the CRM market will look like when the dust settles. So long as organizations continue to sell products and serve customers, software will be sold to help them do it. Yet, despite what you may have read in publications that focus on CRM, there is nothing permanent about the CRM market. Remember that, at one time, there was a market for standalone spreadsheets. And while spreadsheets are still being used every day, the market for them is now as a part of an office suite -- spreadsheets are bundled with word processing, presentation and e-mail software. The integration among these programs is the key selling point. That CRM functionality will eventually become part of a larger offering is inevitable, but what shape that offering will take is uncertain. Where Siebel Systems chooses to compete could affect your career. How do you protect yourself from the risk to your career that such a change would entail? Follow the market. One of the most difficult feats in IT is to predict where the market is going. Following the market means understanding where the market is today -- what is technically feasible, how much is being purchased, who is doing what -- and thinking about what that all means. Look ahead. Business events affect technical careers, and technical news affects business careers. No matter where you sit in an organization, you cannot afford to be unaware of technical advances or industry trends. Recently, a new Siebel Systems partner, Neoteris Inc., developed a product that provides authenticated, authorized user access to networks without requiring any software on the client. This means I can now go to a Starbucks and use a secure connection to access Siebel 7 while ordering a latte. I don't know how this technology affects your workday -- and your career -- but you certainly should. Be loyal to your skills. You are paid by someone to do something that is easy for you, but difficult for them to do themselves. And the more difficult it is for them to do themselves, the more you get paid. Organizations hire people to implement Siebel applications because it is difficult (not to mention dangerous) for sales people to do so themselves. However, it is also dangerous to assume that this will always be the case. The trick to keeping ahead of advancing technology is to keep your skills current. That is one of the reasons we publish The Siebel Observer Technical Review -- to help Siebel experts stay expert. Have an exit strategy. Venture capitalists refuse to make investments in companies unless there is a plan showing how they will recover their investment. Although things do not always work out the way they expect, at least they have a plan. Why should your career be any different? Subconsciously, most people's career exit strategy is to die, retire or be laid off. Currently, being laid off is the most likely outcome of that particular strategy. Who needs that? Given the down times, you should have two exit strategies in place -- a door and a window strategy. The door strategy can be used if everything proceeds according to plan and you are able to make a graceful departure from your current opportunity to your next one. The window strategy is there in case you need to jump out of the situation quickly. The key to planning your exit strategy is to understand what skills you have and who, besides your current employer, would find those skills valuable. This may involve some research, consultation and quite a bit of networking, any of which you would be foolish to skip. One good way to network is to attend professional events such as user weeks. Introduce yourself to as many people as you can, and keep in touch with them with the occasional e-mail or phone call. You can never have too big a Rolodex of professional contacts. If Oracle takes over PeopleSoft, and the CRM market starts to become part of a larger applications market, there may not be an immediate effect on your work. But the shift, if it happens, is going to affect Siebel Systems. By following and understanding the market, you can anticipate changes that could affect your job and, at the same time, begin to develop an effective exit strategy. Bruce Daley is founder and editor of The Siebel Observer (http://www.siebelobserver.com) and The Siebel Observer Technical Review. Prior to founding The Siebel Observer, Mr. Daley had more the 20 years of experience in high technology. His responsibilities covered every aspect of the software business, including software development, database design, business process analysis, project management, marketing, sales and sales management.