Siebel readies Web-based CRM suite

At its annual user conference this week in Chicago, Siebel Systems Inc. is expected to showcase a fully Web-architectural version of its flagship customer relationship management (CRM) software.

Users and analysts said the Siebel 7 technology will take centre stage at the Siebel Worldwide User Week 2001 conference. Siebel officials couldn’t be reached for comment this week, but the San Mateo, Calif.-based vendor has said that the new release won’t require client-level software and will add several features not available in its current Siebel 2000 suite.

While some Siebel users said last week that they see the potential advantages of upgrading their CRM systems to Siebel 7, they also expressed a degree of caution about making the move.

Just how the new version will integrate with back-end systems and other business applications is of particular interest to Greg Augustine, director of e-commerce at TidalWire Inc., a Westboro, Mass.-based maker of storage hardware. TidalWire uses the Siebel 2000 sales application to handle account management, customer leads and other functions.

Augustine said there would be benefits to using the new release, such as easier maintenance for IT workers and the availability of enhanced reporting tools for end users who want to review customer records. But there are also “costs associated with migrating from one version to another,” he added. “And this is a major upgrade, so we’ll be doing lots of changes.” For example, he said, changes in business processes would be needed.

It’s likely that Siebel will offer special upgrade programs and technical help in an effort to migrate Siebel 2000 client/server customers to the new Web-based architecture, said Erin Kinikin, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

But companies should do their usual due diligence and not be too hasty to jump to Siebel 7, no matter how hard the vendor pushes the product, Kinikin said. Users “need to be cautious … before kicking off large Web CRM deployment projects,” she said.

Another user who’s looking at Siebel 7 is Ken Casey, vice-president of operations at Alberta Treasury Branches in Edmonton, which went live with a Siebel 2000 call centre application for the financial industry in July.

The bank now wants to roll out the call centre package to its branch offices but is looking to avoid the cost of installing client software on every desktop, Casey said. Instead, the company hopes to rely on a central server that offers browser-based access to the application for remote users.

“We decided the next level of the rollout wouldn’t have the same thick-client technology [as the initial project required],” Casey said. He said he’s also interested in a new bank-teller application that’s supposed to be part of Siebel 7. Alberta Treasury Branches is leaning toward upgrading but hasn’t made definite plans to do so, he added.