Q&A: Siebel Shows It's Serious about CRM on Demand

When it comes to hosted CRM, Siebel puts its money where its mouth is

How serious is Siebel about hosted CRM? Ken Rudin, vice-president and general manager of Siebel CRM On Demand, claims that his company would actually have to ratchet down its pace to match Salesforce.com’s thrice-yearly upgrade cycle. Rudin says that since introducing CRM On Demand last October, his company has consistently put its money where its mouth is to demonstrate its commitment to hosted CRM.

You’ve made several key hosted-CRM applications over the past few months. Can you talk about some of the drivers for these, as well as how well you’ve executed bringing these technologies into the CRM on Demand fold?

The driver behind it, we acquired [hosted CRM specialist] Upshot [Corp.] first, and the surprising thing for the market is we announced the Upshot acquisition something like two weeks after we announced our own product.

Was the timing there intentional?

It was intended to kind of raise people’s eyebrows and get some attention. The purpose behind it was two-fold. We wanted to make sure that we win in this marketplace; our goal is to be the largest provider of CRM overall [and] the largest provider of hosted CRM.

We acquired Upshot for two main reasons. First was for the people: 100, 150 people who were focused on nothing but hosted CRM, how to sell it, how to support it, how to market it, how to operate it. We did not buy them for their core CRM capabilities—it was a way for us to get really smart really fast in this marketplace. We are using our own CRM engine, and even our staunchest competitors will say that we do know a bit about CRM. What they do bring to market is a whole series of innovation in terms of how to make [hosted CRM] more accessible to the salespeople.

You also bought a [call center] company called Ineto.

Ineto we bought just because it’s a phenomenal business. It’s so completely in line with what we were doing. Today we sell more call-center seats than we sell sales seats. We’re excited by the notion of bringing what before could only be available to the elite, bringing [call center capabilities] to everyone, the small and medium business.

Before, what we did with CRM on Demand, only the elite companies really had the resources to deploy a system like it. Smaller companies never had the ability to buy the hardware to implement [a call center] and configure it and maintain it, buy the phones to maintain it, if they wanted to do IP phones, for example.

Now with Ineto integrated as Call Center On Demand, which is part of CRM On Demand, all you need is the telephone. All of the hardware, all of the software, all of the complexity is taken away. You just need a telephone and a computer and anybody can have a world-class call center.

You integrated the Ineto acquisition pretty quickly [as Call Center On Demand], but Salesforce.com has set a pretty aggressive standard for issuing regular updates for its hosted CRM service. What kind of update cycle do you envision for CRM on Demand?

To be as aggressive as they are would require that we actually become less aggressive than we are. We release new updates, new features or functions [for CRM on Demand] every month. We are on a breakneck speed here. We’ve got 1,000 engineers within Siebel that we’re able to leverage, but the real thing is, we’re not building it from scratch.

Siebel Enterprise—one thing that pretty much no one would argue with you is that Siebel Enterprise pretty much does everything you can ask for…. So we’re using the same engine, but effectively we just turn the functionality on, we’re not developing it.

It’s equivalent to when Amazon adds a new store. When they started selling apparel, you just go back to Amazon and there’s a new apparel tab. We send out an e-mail that says that a new functionality is available, but we wouldn’t turn the tab on by default. We leave it hidden so that if you don’t care about this functionality, then for you, nothing changes.

Does this mean that CRM on Demand will quickly be refreshed with new features in lockstep with releases of Siebel Enterprise?

We do that internally. That’s not something that a customer would really see per se, but when we have new versions of the Enterprise engine itself, that kind of infrastructure for us, generally the reason that there is a new version is that it has new capabilities, so we will probably expose those capabilities over time, but we are definitely not beholden to a new schedule. The Enterprise product releases once or twice a year, probably on average it’s about once a year, maybe about 18 months. So we take the core engine and just release it, and when the new core engine is available, we start taking the features from that.

Where do you anticipate taking CRM Demand over the coming months and years? Are there any functionality areas that you need to address? Any features that you need to add?

There [are] a couple of things we’ll be doing. One is adding much more functionality to our hybrid strategy, so you’ll have much finer control over how data is shared. We’ll be extending that into what we call partner networks, so now not only can a customer share data between organizations, but now a customer and their partners can share data as well. The market has wanted to do something like this for decades. It’s been the concept of the extended enterprise.

We’ll be extending what we can do with the data warehouse, too. We have a massively powerful engine behind the scenes, and we’ve just scratched the surface of the analytics we can provide. You’ll see a lot more deeper, richer interaction with Contact on Demand, too. It already does include voice mail plus telephony, but we’ll do some great interaction with e-mail and chat. That’s already designed into the architecture, so it’ll be full contact capabilities

To what extent do you anticipate marrying On Demand features or functions into your On Premise solutions?

The functionality between the two applications is fairly similar already. They already are 99 percent the same, between On Demand and On Premise. We didn’t start from scratch because I don’t think that would’ve been wise. We took all of the business logic and algorithms and how such things work and bumped that over into the On Demand world. So it isn’t an issue of marrying features or functions together. They already use the same engine.

On the other hand, we had [Siebel] Analytics built into our On Premise [CRM], and we’ve already introduced that into On Demand, so every user of On Demand gets their own data warehouse, pre-built for them every night, so they can do true analytics, every night.

There’s an important difference between just operational reporting with Crystal Reports versus real analytics where I can look at trends over time. I can look at comparisons to averages and so on. We’ve also taken stuff from On Demand and moved it into Enterprise, like the Ineto technologies, for hosted call center. Instead of having you buy all of the telephony switches and then plug phones into them and buy telephony integration software so you can plug your phones into them….What we’ve done is taken all of that so we can host it for you. So we’ve got all of those things available in On Demand, and we’re also rolling that out into the Enterprise product.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.