CRM at Oracle OpenWorld 2009: Improved with Room to Grow

This review covers the main CRM product, I am going to do a review of OnDemand (or at least get the information) later today and tomorrow.

You probably already read the reports of what Oracle has announced for CRM at Oracle OpenWorld 2009 (here is an official Press Release and a link to the Press Release with details of the Inquira integration).

When I started tweeting during the Vision and Strategy for CRM session at Oracle OpenWorld 2009 I wrotestanding room only in this CRM vision session – for those naysayers that think CRM is dead or no longer viable”.  Someone tweeted back and asked me if Oracle was showing how to avoid failures with CRM.  The answer, my friends, is maybe.

No vendor can ever offer you the solution to avoid failure in your CRM deployment, and believing otherwise is reason enough to fail.  CRM is a strategy that relies on tools and technologies to achieve expected results. There are technology issues to solve, but also Process and People issues that you need to address separately.  One of the problems, however, was that the technologies offered were not working as promised. That made it almost impossible to accomplish strategic goals, even if the strategy was well done.

Oracle had two options going forward: fix what did not work, or bury the non-performing assets under new features and functions that, although did not resolve the issue, made it more complex to track as an issue.  Most vendors tend to take the path of burying non-performing assets, but fortunately the CRM team chose to fix what was not working by leveraging prior investments.  Their focus was on reinvention, not invention.

They chose to address the three biggest problems for CRM technologies: deploying cross-channel experiences, focus on Social Channel integration, and Ubiquitous CRM or the ability to take CRM beyond the enterprise and into mobile and other devices.

The announcement was the “release” of the Siebel CRM API.  Two reasons the word release is in quotation marks:

  1. It looks like (finally) Siebel was made the CRM system of choice across all verticals (yes, PeopleSoft, Oracle, and JD Edwards still exist, and yes they are still choice solutions for the specific verticals where they work best – but Siebel is the one that crosses all verticals and all solutions — a good move that was promised and long overdue).
  2. The API is not new, but was not really used before as there was no real connection to Oracle systems and databases, nor had it been emphasized in the past as the integration solution it is now.  It was mostly used to access the Siebel CRM solution for limited data-flows in and out.

Alas, what a difference a “new release” makes.  Technically speaking, they moved to a REST model for interfaces (if you want the boring technical details read it in Wikipedia) which means that it can now use any interface it wants without worrying about browsers or device constraints.  They showed stand-alone and mobile interfaces that were really innovative displays of data that were, well – not your traditional CRM systems.  Very creative interfaces (yes, they were demo, but the power is still there to create them and the possibilities are truly endless).  I have been writing forever about the browser being the limiting factor for enterprise applications, glad someone listened.

Integration was the second area that has been overhauled.  Cross-channel and Cross-function work has been improved by adding several ways to address the channels and each of the individual functions, making it easy to transfer data back-and-forth, and – more important keeping the state of the transaction throughout.  This is also a big part of having moved to a REST model since they removed the inherent prohibitions of the web as a state-less model (if you are getting bored by the techie stuff, almost over).  That means that if the people buying CRM do a good job at deploying, you won’t have to worry about CSR asking for your information when moving from automated systems to human beings.

Finally, and very close to my heart, their Social CRM modules have greatly benefited from the move to this new model.  I first saw the Social CRM “solution” about 6-8 months ago.  Back then it was a traditional Siebel CRM “innovation” one more function that was added to the long list of “things” it could do.  Since then, and thanks to the excellent work that Siebel had done using Personas previous to the acquisition and has now been actually implemented, I saw a totally different product.

Heck, it is a brand new set of solutions for Social CRM that leverage the model of implicit and explicit relationships that Siebel created in their Personas data model that treat Social Media as <GASP> just channels.  That’s right, they are just channels where the solutions already in place can be extended.  The use of implicit and explicit relationships in addressing the communities has a lot of yet unexplored value — but I do believe that we are going to see some very interesting solutions come up soon that will leverage these Personas.

So, behind the techie gushing, what does this mean?

It means that Oracle decided that providing ready-made solutions (which they do still exist, mind you) with specific pre-mapped and pre-done processes was not the only way.  They improved the framework on which their own processes can run, but also (and more important) organizations can create innovative ways to use the data and the functions already there.  This was long overdue as the transition from three products to a central, main product took place.  There is still some way to go, it is far from perfect and I would like to see more work on exposing functions as services, data that is easier to access and use from outside the system, and added flexibility in external integration would not hurt either.

However, this is a significant step forward and one that I have been waiting for since the mergers were completed.

Does it solve world hunger? no, I don’t think it was ever supposed to do that.

Does it reduce the number of failures in CRM deployments? Maybe, if you tackle properly the other issues of people, processes, and strategy.

All in all, it is a good step forward for existing and potential new clients in moving closer to a good CRM Technology solution.

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Disclaimer: I did not take a payment for writing this review, nor is Oracle a client.  I don’t expect them to become a client based on this review, nor do I expect any compensation or revenue to be generated from my review.
I do have a relationship with Oracle as an analyst and blogger that brings me certain perks.  I was allowed access to the Conference, some of my expenses were paid, and I was able to talk and discuss the product with different people in the organization in great detail based on that relationship.  Those perks do not influence my opinion on the product, nor do they improve the chances that the review will be better.  It is what it is, and I saw what I saw.
The views expressed in this review are mine and only mine, and they are my understanding based on the long exposure I had to Oracle, Siebel, PeopleSoft and the industry.  Any errors are also mine, and will be corrected if pointed out.  This is my understanding of where Oracle’s position is today in the CRM market, and no one else but me is responsible for these views.  My  recommendation to clients, prospects, and anyone interested remain the same: this is just an opinion and you are admonished to do your own Due Diligence before committing to this or any other vendor.  I am not responsible for your decisions, and even if you hire me to help you select the best solution for your organization, it is still YOUR decision.