Siebel to make its apps play with others

Easy integration became the war cry this week for customer relationship management (CRM) vendor Siebel Systems Inc., as it announced a Web services-based method for tying its software in with other business applications.

The San Mateo, Calif.-based company this summer will release its Universal Application Network. Using an IBM Corp.-created standard called Web Services Flow Language (WSFL), Siebel will let users model business processes as reusable objects that plug into any leading enterprise application integration (EAI) system.

“I’ve had to do a lot of this integration myself to our legacy applications,” said Alan Grometstein, vice-president of technology at New York-based brokerage Quick & Reilly Inc. “This could take one major level of effort and worry out of bringing something new into our infrastructure.”

Indeed, vendors have recently been making noise about selling easy-to-integrate products. Last month, Novell Inc. executive Chris Stone promised to migrate his company’s product line to XML-based interfaces. German enterprise resource planning giant SAP AG already publishes many of its application program interfaces in XML and is working with Commerce One Inc. in Pleasanton, Calif., to leverage a common business library for external transactions.

“Everyone’s trying to do it – at least they say they are,” said Shawn Willett, an analyst at Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Va.

Willett said many IT development projects centered on e-business buzzwords like CRM, B2B and ERP have fallen short because they don’t necessarily plug into the rest of a user’s architecture.

“It’s been a big pain,” Willett said. “That’s why you have this whole integration industry that’s developed by building adapters to all these applications. You’ve got to have something in the middle.”

Grometstein said that’s precisely what he’s been hoping for as he moves toward upgrading to Siebel 7 later this year. He would like to take the latest Siebel offering, which will handle order management and trade order entry for his retail brokerage and call center, and tie it in with a new PeopleSoft Inc. human resources system.

“Right now, we’ve got a lot of double entry going on between those two systems,” he said.

Willett noted, however, that it’s hard for any one vendor to offer standardized approaches to integration because other vendors also must support the same standards for the process to work. He added that WSFL faces a competing Web service standard called Business Process Modeling Language (BPML), whose supporters include Hewlett-Packard Co., Sun Microsystems Inc. and others.

“There’s been talk of merging the two, and hopefully that will happen,” he said.

However, Tyler McDaniel, an analyst at Hurwitz Group Inc. in Framingham, Mass., cautioned that WSFL and BPML “are really too young to be considered standards at all.”