Siebel Systems' new global alliance with midrange enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendor, Great Plains Software, has drawn a mixed response from analysts.
Siebel, which has carved out a lead position in the enterprise customer relationship management (CRM) market, has long held ambitions to extend its reach into the midrange, but its enterprise pricing model and the complexity involved in implementing its applications have so far excluded it from the market.
Earlier this year, however, the company outlined what its expectations for a midrange product would be, and started trying to seed the market with free, single user versions of Siebel Sales, which included basic calendaring and sales pipeline management capabilities.
Great Plains, on the other hand, has been successful in winning mindshare in the US, but is only just becoming visible in the highly competitive European ERP market.
Neil Robertson, Great Plains' UK managing director, said: "We were well below expectations earlier in the year. Things have picked up significantly in the last couple of months, but we’re still behind. This relationship will help us get to a wider market – it will broaden the appeal."
Phill Robinson, Siebel UK's alliances director, added: "It’s true there are more CRM vendors like Onyx and Pivotal in the mid market, but we think this is a good opportunity for us to demonstrate product superiority in an important market."
But question marks remain over whether the combined offering will appeal. ERP and CRM have not proved good bedfellows, largely because they address different parts of the enterprise, which have differing requirements.
Robertson said: "There isn’t a good track record of communication between sales and finance directors. The fact there is a unified platform between us, based around Microsoft servers, will help in technical discussions, but we still have to bridge the understanding gap, so individual executives see what this offering means to each of them."
And even if Siebel and Great Plains overcome this hurdle, there are still questions as to whether functionality is adequate, whether the timing is right and whether sufficient expertise exists in the channel to deal with the joint offering.
In a recent profile of Siebel, Tom Gormley, a senior analyst at Forrester said: "Dozens of start-ups like Silknet, BroadVision and Octane are pioneering applications to support email, Web based self-service and the delivery of deep, action oriented insight about customers. By 2001, rapid adoption of self service technology will turn employee centric sales and service applications like Siebel's into legacy solutions."
Nick Hewson, an independent CRM analyst, added: "I’m not sure the market is ready for this. CRM applications are proving complicated for all software vendor sales people to understand. OK – Great Plains has a comprehensive channel, but I reckon it will take at least a year before it shows any substantial progress."
But he did concede that Siebel’s new offering could prove competitive. Although prices have yet to be finalised, it is understood that Great Plains Siebel Front Office will cost $800 per seat for up to 100 users.
"If that turns out to be correct and Siebel restricts configuration options to make implementation relatively easy, it might work, although I expect early buyers to try this on a module by module basis at first," he concluded.
And the new functionality is expected to appear primarily in Siebel’s core sales product. Apart from contact and address book management, sales pipeline and account management, it will also include forecasting, quotation and product catalogues.
Great Plains Siebel Front Office is expected to be available by the end of September, to "fit in with our anticipated release of the workgroup product," Robinson said.
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