Oracle unveils ‘social CRM’ strategy, products

Oracle says it’s going to be weaving Web 2.0 functionality into its enterprise software – a move that builds on its release – earlier this year – of WebCenter Suite.

Oracle’s Web 2.0 thrust accommodates and maps to the patterns of many enterprise functions, according to Ed Abbo, Oracle’s senior VP of applications.

Abbo noted that many enterprise apps are social in nature.

“When closing a deal, for instance, essentially I’m trying to build a community: I would go out to my customer base to look for a reference. I may go out to a business partner, and bring them into the opportunity. I may have to go out to the products organization and get some products people involved.”

This social aspect of the equation isn’t well modeled through enterprise systems today, he said – an issue that Oracle new Web 2.0 apps and strategy seeks to remedy.

Analysts note that Web 2.0 in the enterprise is becoming so hot today because it extends, at an enterprise level, activities that employees are already engaging in at a personal level.

“Workers in the enterprise are already involved in social networks – Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and so on,” notes Jim Murphy, research director , at AMR Research in a podcast.

He noted that the concept of sharing information within the enterprise through what he calls “expertise network systems” have existed for a very long time.

For instance, he said software vendor Bellevue, Washington-based AskMeCorp. has “made a big business out of helping Boeing and other companies deal with knowledge management.”

AskMe says its technology enables employees to not only locate and benefit from the documented knowledge within the organization, but to also identify ‘undocumented knowledge,’ or the expertise and know-how of their colleagues.

Now we’re seeing an example of how the public Web is converging with “ideas that have existed within the enterprise,” Murphy says. Oracle’s Abbo said his company’s approach is to build systems that organize the flow of information around the corporate hierarchies – as businesses are organized hierarchically

“Take sales forecasting. As a sales rep, I would forecast a deal, send it up to my manager, who will send it up the chain to their manager and so on. We support that flow through the system.”

Another Oracle executive noted that Oracle’s social networking initiative goes far beyond application integration to social networking tools – and seeks to build Web 2.0 functionality right into Oracle applications.

“We’re building apps that consume enterprise information through gadgets,” said Anthony Lye, senior vice-president, Oracle CRM OnDemand.

He demoed a couple of apps that he said exemplify the concept of “Social CRM” or tying enterprise networking into what is actually a social function.

The first is Sales Prospector — that’s among the first three Oracle Fusion apps due to be released early next year.

This app, said Lye, “mashes products with territories, accessing information from the public Internet to better identify sales opportunities.”

He claimed this “” tool is far more useful to sales persons than “simplistic” forecasting tools offered by other companies.

The application pulls in pieces information from a broad range of online sources on the prospect company’s attributes and history (such as its purchasing record) and then makes recommendations.

“It also looks at the associated relationships,” Lye said. “So when you click on one of the recommendations, the application re-evaluates the opportunity against other similar ones.”

The Oracle executive said detailed and granular information is offered to the sales person – for instance, for their given territory, “who the best customers are, what products they should be selling to them, and which references they should use to drive that sales activity.”

Lye also offered a preview of a forthcoming app called the Oracle Sales Library(OSL) aimed at helping sales people build better and more effective presentations.

“Again it’s based on social networking constructs.” He said OSL enables sales people inside the organization and across organizational boundaries to tie data together and share social content so they can locate the best presentations, RFPs, product data sheets and so on.

Content, he said, is relayed to a user based on social networks he or she is a member of. Users scroll through the content, drill into presentations or navigate into personal or social tag clouds, using p search tools to find material relevant to them.

He cited an example: “Say you decide to pursue a [sales] opportunity with Google and search the Library for all relevant Google content. The application indexes the entire slide deck or RFP document, and offers you a simple way to access content relevant to your opportunity and then build a new presentation. This presentation can then be downloaded and modified by you.”

He said for each presentation you’ll see things like: the title, categories, tags, as well as ratings and reviews.

Another aspect of Oracle’s Web 2.0 strategy is to take advantage of existing tools made available by companies such as Google.

For instance, Oracle has built apps that connect several Google “gadgets”to the CRM system. “So you can use Oracle CRM without ever opening the actual [Oracle] application,” said Lye.

He said these “gadgets” sit on the desktop, take information from the CRM systems, and are implemented using Google Gears.

“They operate offline as well, so if you’re on a plane and want to look through your opportunities or contacts, you can do so directly from these apps.”

However, as Oracle has also integrated its CRM OnDemand application with iGoogle and has made that available on the Web, Lye said sales professionals can choose which portal they want to use.

“I can pull information from the hundreds of thousands of gadgets developed for iGoogle, and include CRM on demand gadgets. So I can now interact with my application directly from my within my personal portal or my corporate portal.”

Abbo notes that the Oracle Web 2.0 technologies respond to fundamental changes happening in enterprise processes across the board. For instance, he said the bulk of the Build, Distribute, Sell process in many cases now occurs outside the four walls of a company – with a lot of that being outsourced either upstream or downstream.

“There’s innovation in the process itself, so we’re doing a lot to [model] this rapid process innovation in our software.” One big fallout of all this, he said, is applications are becoming far more modular and accessible to the end user.

Instance of this include:

– Portlets from CRM On Demand are plugged into iGoogle

– The home page of CRM OnDemand features information pulled in from Reuters, YouTube video, blogs, things that are relevant to the selling function.

– A collaborative “sticky note” concept that allows users to mark up the application and linking the relationships and products directly in CRM.

– A gadget being embedded in CRM OnDemand that uses OpenSocial.

OpenSocial lists all the people in the user’s sales team, as well as all their activities. The sales person can use this data to chat with the team members in the context of specific opportunities.

The whole idea, said Abbo, is to push the customization closer and closer to the end users – so the latter can now consume these services.