CRM bigwigs bolster wares

As the year draws to a close, a number of CRM providers are enhancing their products. Specifically, Oracle Corp. detailed some of the improvements that will come to its offerings early next year, while PeopleSoft Inc. and Siebel Systems Inc. announced updates to their suites.

As Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle prepares for its AppsWorld show in mid-January, company executives outlined two of the new features users can expect to see in its applications suite.

The company is bolstering its CRM wares with a new proposal-generation product and the Oracle Daily Business Intelligence, a portal-delivered function built into Oracle’s applications and designed to provide better access to information, officials said.

Oracle Proposals allows users to build and tailor proposals for specific customers or prospective customers. The standalone product, which will be available either separately or as part of Oracle’s E-Business Suite, hooks into the company’s quote module as well.

“Our focus has shifted from the feature-function war to a business flow approach,” said John Wookey, senior vice president of applications at Oracle.

To that end, Oracle’s Daily Business Intelligence is designed to tie together a variety of systems, including financials, payroll, CRM, ERP HR, supply chain, and inventory to provide employees with up-to-date access to the information residing in all the systems.

“HR data alone is interesting. But HR data connected to financial information connected to manufacturing information, and getting that in front of the right people, is extremely powerful,” said Joel Summers, senior vice-president of HRMS at Oracle.

Oracle plans to detail both capabilities in January at its Oracle AppsWorld show, and officials said they would be generally available by the end of that month.

PeopleSoft recently said that it will make generally available this month PeopleSoft CRM 8.8, with a focus on easing implementation, use, and business processes. Additionally, the Pleasanton, Calif.-based company introduced three new vertical solutions with CRM 8.8, for high-tech, insurance, and energy companies.

San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel Systems, for its part, teamed up with Comshare to bring budgeting and planning capabilities to its ERM (employee relationship management) suite.

In addition to ratcheting up the competition against each other, the CRM players are also preparing for a new warrior in their midst: Microsoft Corp. The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant, will release to manufacturing by year’ end its CRM suite, according to Holly Holt, senior product manager for MSCRM at Microsoft.

“The goal is to get it out the door before the holidays. We should be at RTM before the end of December,” Holt said, adding that if any major setbacks occur Microsoft will ship late rather than put out a product with known problems.

According to analysts, when Microsoft releases its MSCRM suite, the software is destined to impact the marketplace. “Microsoft will change the landscape for CRM packages,” said Karen Smith, a research director at Aberdeen Group Inc., in Boston.

But Smith and other analysts do not expect Microsoft to dominate CRM anytime soon, nor do they anticipate that many customers will migrate from other vendors to Microsoft. “It’s not as easy to get people off the systems they’re on as some might think,” said Erin Kinikin, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc., a consultancy based in Cambridge, Mass.