Invensys moves to reassure Baan CRM users

Invensys' plans to this year beef up the CRM software it bought in an acquisition of financially strapped Baan have been greeted with relief by some Baan users who were concerned about the future of the applications.

          Invensys this year plans to beef up the customer relationship management (CRM) software it bought in an August acquisition of financially strapped Baan by adding web support and other new features -- development plans that were greeted with sighs of relief by some Baan users who were becoming concerned about the future of the applications.

          London-based Invensys has said it intends to phase out two of Baan's CRM products -- a sales force automation tool called Matrix and product modeling software called Classys. And the CRM line is being split off from Baan itself and folded into a new Invensys CRM unit in Golden, Colorado.

          But Invensys officials add that the rest of what used to be known as BaanFrontOffice will become web-enabled within the next year. Invensys also expects to add new CRM tools aimed at indirect sales workers, improved sales-configuration software and products for use on personal digital assistants and other handheld devices.

          Todd Roeller, CRM technology manager at Flowserve, says those are all welcome promises for the Irving, Texas-based maker of liquid flow control products. "We're delighted," he says, adding that some end users at Flowserve "were concerned we were developing around technology ... that might go away."

          Flowserve has been a Baan user for three years and relies on its sales configuration engine, among other products. Roeller says he's relieved that Invensys plans to maintain most of Baan's applications. And Flowserve is interested in the upcoming indirect sales software that Invensys has in the works, he says, noting that the company plans next month to roll out a web-based system that will let its distributors spec out products and place orders online.

          Eugene Connor, another Baan user who works as CRM business manager at RMC Industries in Decatur, Georgia, says he's also pleased by the changes under way at Invensys. "We had started with Baan, and when they went through their troubled times, we were holding our breath to see what would happen," he says.

          RMC, a maker of concrete building supplies that uses Baan's sales force automation, customer tracking and contracting applications, has already seen an improvement in customer service since Invensys took over the struggling software vendor, Connor adds. "Baan's service was limited and at times troublesome," he says.

          Invensys assumed control of Baan four months ago in a $US709 million after the Barneveld, Netherlands-based vendor of business applications had lost money for eight straight quarters. Bob Karulf, president and CEO of Invensys CRM, acknowledged that the separation from the rest of Baan might confuse some users. But he says that should be minimal since Baan and Invensys CRM are still part of the same overall company.

          On a more immediate basis, Invensys also announced an upgraded release of its applications that consists primarily of the former Baan product lineup. However, the company says the Invensys CRM 4.2 suite adds tighter integration between different products and new multilingual capabilities supporting languages other than English. The upgrade also includes new marketing automation functions, it adds.

          Despite the initial reaction from installed-base users such as Roeller and Connor, Invensys could still have a tough time competing for new customers against Siebel Systems and other CRM rivals. Baan had neglected its CRM suite more than any other part of its product line, says Kelly Spang, an analyst at Current Analysis in Sterling, Virginia.

          The new plan devised by Invensys CRM "sounds really good, but the proof will be in the execution," Spang says. She adds that Invensys CRM is showing an unusual willingness to go around the remnants of Baan and team up with other business application vendors such as SAP and Oracle.

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