At its OpenWorld conference in San Francisco, Oracle announced an upcoming version of its Siebel CRM On Demand service that will include social networking features reminiscent of consumer portals such as Facebook or MySpace.
The previewed features, according to Oracle, will actually help salespeople make their sales — unlike the bulk of the features in CRM applications, which are oriented towards reporting and otherwise helping managers track salespeoples' progress.
Anthony Lye, Oracle CRM On Demand senior vice-president, previewed several of those analytical features at the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) conference in San Jose, held shortly before Oracle OpenWorld. One mashes up data about sales orders from internal systems with external information in order to help predict sales opportunities. Another enables the ability for salespeople to create and join groups, such as Facebook.
Another feature is a library of sales material that salespeople can quickly preview or edit via an interface that Jeff Kaplan, an analyst with ThinkStrategies, says "borrows heavily from the look and feel of the iPod's interface".
Still another feature lets users integrate their LinkedIn contact list for access by other users, according to Rebecca Wettemann, an analyst with Nucleus Research.
More features debuted at OpenWorld, though Oracle has been evasive as to exactly when it plans to officially unveil this pumped-up version of Siebel CRM On Demand.
In the overall CRM space, Oracle claims Siebel, which it acquired in 2005, is the market leader in on-premise and on demand versions, with 4.6 million users at 5,000 company customers.
Oracle released version 14 of Siebel CRM On Demand in late June.
In October, WebEx announced that its Connect platform would host Siebel CRM On Demand.
WebEx has 2.3 million registered users and Siebel CRM On Demand should be available through WebEx in early 2008.
Siebel faces challenges from Salesforce.com, which claims nearly a million users, and Microsoft, which plans to release a hosted version of its Dynamics CRM software next year, as well as SAP.
Unlike most Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vendors, which have been targeting small-to-medium-sized companies, Oracle is aiming these features at big enterprises.
Microsoft did recently announce plans to target large enterprises with hosted versions of its server software, but Kaplan says Oracle is the only one of the large enterprise vendors that appears to be making a wholehearted push for those users.
SAP and Microsoft "look at SaaS as an SMB play," Kaplan says. "Oracle doesn't see it that way."
Kaplan doesn't think the move will cannibalise Siebel's existing customer base.
"If you don't evolve with the customer base, you could lose customers entirely," he says. Moreover, this should "put pressure on Microsoft and SAP to respond".
As part of its 'social' push, Siebel will include application programming interfaces to enable partners to build ancillary applications.
However, Oracle isn't aiming to create the same sort of burgeoning 'widget' ecosystem that Facebook was able to create in a matter of months, and which Salesforce.com is trying to do with its AppExchange and Force.com platforms.
Oracle is "not looking to be a development platform for CRM," Nucleus' Wettemann says, adding that eschewing that goal won't be a disadvantage. Among enterprises, the quality of the apps and integration is more significant, she says.
Meanwhile, "Facebook is a recent phenomenon. Nobody in business knows how to deal with it yet," ThinkStrategies' Kaplan says.