PeopleSoft aims new CRM upgrades at competitors

PeopleSoft Inc. plans to ship two upgrades of its customer relationship management (CRM) software during the next four months in an effort to match market leader Siebel Systems Inc. on functionality.

PeopleSoft got into the CRM market by acquiring Vantive Corp. early last year, and last June it released a Web-based version of Vantive’s applications as part of its PeopleSoft 8 product line. With the upcoming upgrades, Pleasanton, Calif.-based PeopleSoft is looking to put itself in a position to compete head-on with Siebel, Oracle Corp. and SAP AG for CRM installations.

“My goal in 2002 is [for us] to emerge as the clear alternative to Siebel,” said Phil Wilmington, executive vice-president of North American operations and global alliances at PeopleSoft. “I think it’s Siebel and three (other) players now: us, Oracle and SAP.”

At a customer event here Tuesday, Wilmington and other PeopleSoft executives said the company plans to ship an initial CRM upgrade late this month, with features tailored for financial services industry users plus support for a third-party tool to integrate the software with Microsoft Corp.’s Outlook e-mail software.

A more substantial upgrade is set to follow in March and will include a mobile version of the applications and features geared toward additional vertical industries, such as insurance, PeopleSoft said. The March release, to be called Version 8.4 of the CRM suite, will also add a module aimed at help desks that need to track software defects.

Rick Bergquist, PeopleSoft’s chief technology officer, acknowledged that analysts have identified some areas in which the company’s CRM applications fall short of San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel’s technology. But once Version 8.4 ships, he said, “we don’t think we’ll have any large competitive gaps out there.”

PeopleSoft has sold its CRM applications to about 125 customers thus far, and Bergquist said roughly 10 companies have gone live with the software at this point.

The Thomson Corp.’s Thomson Financial subsidiary is one users that has PeopleSoft 8 CRM in place. Toronto-based Thomson Financial’s portfolio solutions group, which develops investment management and accounting software, rolled out some of the applications for 160 employees earlier this year in the first phase of a long-term project that eventually could involve 2,000 end users.

Craig Berkson, CIO at the portfolio solutions unit, said PeopleSoft’s Web-based client software significantly reduces desktop support issues because no code needs to be installed on PCs. But Berkson added that there are some functional differences between PeopleSoft 8 CRM and the last release of Vantive’s applications, which he had initially installed at one division.

For example, Berkson said, the PeopleSoft 8 product has less-sophisticated relationship modeling capabilities because it was based on an earlier Vantive release. As a result, he said, users may have to customize the software in order to set up a real-world data model. “That’s not something you’d notice on an initial rollout, but as you get more into (the project), it becomes a lot more important,” Berkson said.

More flexible data modeling capabilities should be added as part of the 8.4 release, he said, adding that Thomson Financial is also interested in the Outlook integration and the mobile computing capabilities PeopleSoft is promising.

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