BOSTON – SAP AG announced Tuesday the latest version of its customer relationship management (CRM) product with Web 2.0 capabilities and featuring what the company called a “radically different” user interface.
A component of the SAP Business Suite, SAP CRM 2007 offers new tools for trade promotions management, business communication management, and pipeline performance management. The improved user interface grants the ability to drag and drop, quickly add mashups, and perform in-line edits.
The product was announced by the Walldorf, Germany-based company at the fifth SAP Influencer Summit.
CRM customer Siemens AG, said it was encouraged by the fact that SAP was taking a “much more serious step to CRM” with applications that attracted users as opposed to “repel them”, said David Macaulay, senior vice-president of CRM at Seimens Sales Transformation.
Another customer, Intel Corp., shared its experiences with SAP’s CRM that replaced a previously “custom-built monolithic” system used to run marketing funds. Intel’s director of sales and marketing operations, Daryl Ganas, said the company has reaped better collaboration with customers, partners and internal staff, and plans to integrate the system with version 2007.
In fact, CRM 2007 is much more competitive with other CRM vendor offerings like that of Salesforce.com, said SAP’s Bob Stutz, president and general manager of global strategy and product development. “[Salesforce.com] should absolutely be nervous,” he said, later adding he thought the interface was “comparable to iGoogle”.
Principal analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., Ray Wang, said he wouldn’t go as far as to say Salesforce.com should be nervous around the new release. “When compared to the rest of the industry, the Microsoft user interface and usability paradigms still win out,” said Wang.
However, he does think SAP deserves some degree of credit for the significant improvements to its usability compared to existing SAP tools. And the ease of configuration that the system supports will provide other CRM vendors like Salesforce.com and Siebel Systems Inc. more competition than in previous versions, he added.
SAP’s main rival, Oracle Corp., in 2005 acquired CRM vendor Siebel.
Despite an enhanced partner relationship management tool and the ability to tailor new CRM processes to unique customer needs, Wang said existing CRM customers will have to decide whether the new capabilities are “worth the upgrade, or if moving to edge applications that interface back to SAP via services-oriented architecture (SOA) integration make more sense.”
Besides announcing the new CRM tool, the Summit centred on the business network transformation trend observed among customers. In other words, how businesses’ networks are morphing in light of changes like partner, acquisition, and process integration.
It’s a shift, the company said, that necessitates a new form of architecture coined enterprise SOA, basically the implementation of services atop the NetWeaver platform.
During the Summit, the company executives shared the 2008-2010 roadmap which includes bringing more functionality to industries through the enterprise Business Suite, continuing to push the company’s open business process platform – a combination of middleware for SOA and implemented enterprise services – and extending the product portfolio to companies of all sizes and employees in various roles, said SAP’s Henning Kagermann, CEO and chairman of the executive board.
Also, complementing SAP’s usual organic growth approach, Kagermann said the company strives to have “market leadership through innovation, not through consolidation.”
SAP, however, strayed from that approach last October with its decision to acquire business intelligence vendor Business Objects SA.
SAP executive council member and corporate officer, Jim Hagemann, discussed the company’s continuous and accelerated innovation of its business process platform “without risk” or disruption. The strategy, he said, is to offer enhancement packs to the NetWeaver platform that “can deliver what used to be a release without forcing the customer to upgrade”.
Innovating on the platform, said Hagemann, will eventually change the perception of the Business Suite as a “collection of three-letter acronyms” (ERP, CRM, etc) to business themes or end-to-end processes relevant to the customer. This continuous approach may appear as if the company is slowing down innovation, but really, it’s accelerating, he added.