You might be tooling down the information superhighway right now in your cool new hybrid SaaS-mobile (Software as a Service), wondering what that thing is in the rearview mirror that’s beginning to gain on you.
It’s best to look twice and convince yourself that what you are seeing is no mirage. It may look a lot like your father’s Oracle-mobile, but it isn’t — not exactly, at least.
At the wheel is one Anthony Lye, senior vice president of Oracle’s CRM group, and he’s driving something with an improved engine and a new chassis bought from a garage down the street — Siebel. In fact, some of the parts even came from another racing team no longer in the biz — guys by the name of “Upshot.”
Then again, you might still be driving that client-server clunker you bought just before the last MIPS crisis. It still runs great, but it’s hard to get enough fuel for it, and your boss is complaining about the high costs.
If any of this sounds familiar, keep reading.
$18M Set of Wheels
Lye and his team spent the better part of the last two years and more than $18 million working on their ride. It’s still a work in progress in some ways, but when you drive it, to retread an old lyric, you “Get rubber in all five gears.”
Tuesday, you might have noticed, Oracle announced version 15 of Oracle-Siebel CRM OnDemand. That makes it the 15th release in its four-and-a-half-year lifespan and the fifth release since the Oracle acquisition of Siebel. Fifteen releases going around the track four and a half times keeps pace with the lead car, if you’re keeping score.
What’s interesting about this release and the direction that Lye is heading is the CRM 2.0 orientation. Speaking with Lye is like listening to any 2.0 gear-head in the CRM business. He uses words like “consume” to describe what users do with on-demand applications, and his vocabulary is peppered with other words like “mashup,” “Web services” and “mobile.” All this is fine and far from unique, but coming from a honcho at Oracle, you shake your head and wonder if all the planets are where they belong.
Soaking In CRM
Maybe that’s overstating it a bit, but the fact is, Oracle is resurgent in CRM and the company is doing some interesting stuff picking up on social networking among other things. Lye is a big believer in the whole CRM 2.0 idea, and he’s ready to compete anywhere you can find an Internet on-ramp — browser, desktop, portal, PDA.
The release announced Tuesday aggressively goes after all the nooks where there may be things that CRM can take advantage of, and Oracle makes a big deal about connecting them to CRM. That includes RSS (really simple syndication) feeds, custom applets and leveraging social networking sites like YouTube as well as news services all in an effort to give the CRM user relevant access to the larger world.
Lye’s shop is making its play in CRM right at a time when the primary competition is looking at building out other markets. Salesforce.com is a formidable competitor and the car to beat on the CRM track, though some wonder about the foray into application development. I don’t. Platform is a smart and very logical direction for the leader in on-demand to be taking the industry.
Still, a few people wonder if Salesforce.com might be taking its eye off the ball, and that may have been part of the reason that, a few weeks ago, some people gave credence to the rumor of a buyout of Salesforce by Oracle. I am not one of those people for numerous reasons, which can be briefly summarized as, the price was too low and Marc Benioff is not foolish.
New Tricks, Old Company
Meanwhile, Oracle continues its push with new functionality, focus on the social side of CRM and a novel approach to the multi-tenant/single tenant argument. I am not sure I buy into the bit about the looming unimportance of multi-tenant architecture despite the fact that some vendors are starting to pick up on it. Many people can be wrong all at once, regardless of what they say about the wisdom of crowds.
If Lye continues to drive his race, he and Oracle have enough product at this point so the limiting factor will be more along the lines of whether Lye can teach an old database company to dance. Companies in this state have crossed over into financial innovation, and Lye is all about product innovation. So far, Lye has made some important strides but the challenge for the foreseeable future will be to teach a few new tricks to a company that has been in the pole position so long that many in the organization believe it’s theirs.
Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is working on a book and can be reached at [email protected].