The people at BEA better hope they don't end up like Siebel.
Two years since it acquired the CRM specialist, Oracle recently launched what is being called Release 15 of its Siebel On Demand product, even though it has since replaced Siebel's name with its own. The key features include Sticky Notes, a way for sales people to create social networks around potential clients, and Message Center, a way to encourage collaboration. "Oracle takes on Salesforce.com", the headlines proclaim, but that's what we said when Oracle bought Siebel in the first place. It's taking too long, and betrays the challenges facing everyone in the CRM space.
While Oracle made the right move in promising unlimited support for the software it acquired, including Siebel, it has been too busy focusing on integrating operations and not enough time on compelling features or go-to-market strategy. Gartner, for one, has reported the fallout: a 75% reduction in inquiries for competitive evaluations for Siebel CRM On Demand versus the likes of Salesforce.com. That means Oracle CRM On Demand isn't becoming a part of the purchasing decision. When a vendor forgets about its own product line, so does the rest of the market.
Oracle is obviously putting its emphasis on its Fusion middleware and applications, but customers are on a different timetable. Let's also not forget that even when Oracle made its purchase, Siebel was struggling to succeed in the hosted space versus the more agile Salesforce.com, which is routinely identified as a software-as-a-service pioneer. Unlike its takeovers of PeopleSoft and JD Edwards, which were much more about gaining customer lists, Oracle bought Siebel because, even as the second-best hosted CRM firm, it had a product that was probably better than any CRM product in Oracle's line-up. There was always a danger Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison would screw Siebel up, but I never thought he would do it through neglect.
Last year Salesforce.com claimed a big win when Citigroup chose it over Oracle to provide its software to 30,000 employees, but it might be a mistake for Oracle to try and convert customers of that size. If they're running on-premise CRM that works, enterprises will likely migrate to whatever hosted version their existing vendor offers. Instead, Oracle might find more opportunity in the mid-market, but that's where Microsoft is targeting its Dynamics line of CRM tools.
All this could be moot, of course, if CRM turns out — as it likely will — to be a small part of an overall master data management (MDM) problem. MDM recognises that master data includes not only customer information but other metadata that is contained in ERP systems and databases. In other words, the kinds of systems that still generate most of Oracle and SAP's revenue. It's when you get to that bigger-picture thinking that an application like Salesforce.com seems like just one piece of the puzzle. And a company like Oracle, SAP or Microsoft would own a lot more of the pieces.