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Will customers get lucky with Siebel 7.7?

Upgrading software is always a big question, but moving to Siebel's latest version appears to be a smoother transition than past experiences.

There is a time to upgrade and, for some, a time to wait.

For Siebel users, it is at the very least the time to start thinking about the move to the  7.7 line , said Liz Roche, vice president of technology research services with Meta Group of Stamford, Conn.

"Our clients are saying it's not always a no-brainer to justify moving," Roche said. "But organizations should at least start planning."

Siebel customers have a little breathing room if they're on an earlier installment of version 7, but a new architectural configuration makes the move more important for those on version 6, Roche said.

Not to mention the costs.

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"We've heard from our customer base -- and Siebel has confirmed this -- that organizations on versions prior to 7.x, or those who don't have a plan to move, will face up to 25% more in maintenance charges," Roche said. "Siebel is saying we want everyone upgraded."

The more difficult decision is whether to move from version 7.5.3 to version 7.7.

Bill Steinman, project leader for a 7.7 implementation at a large medical technology company, made the difficult decision, and so far is pleased with the results.

Steinman's company had been using the call center application from 7.5 for about a year when it decided to upgrade. So far, reaction has been positive, Steinman said.

"We've received a lot of feedback about performance," he said. "The biggest thing is user response times, the quick login time, fast-screen loading."

A beta tester for Siebel, Steinman's shop runs the application at a 60-seat call center and is thinking of adding a complaint handling and the enterprise content management module.

While higher maintenance fees are the stick to get people to upgrade, the usability enhancements and the focus on lowering the total cost of ownership are the carrot, Roche said. It was the usability and the performance that convinced Steinman to make the move.

Additionally with 7.7, Siebel has evolved its  vertical strategy . With what Siebel calls "industry specific solution sets," the company has added pre-bundled best practices, vertical processes and new products. The acquisition of Eontech, a banking software specialist in Dublin, has bolstered Siebel's retail banking products, and customers in the automotive and hospitality industries should also consider the upgrade, Roche said.

The move to 7.7 should also be an easier experience than the move from version 6, which many have still not made.

"Version 6 was one of the most popular and stable Siebel releases on the old client server technology," said Denis Pombriant, managing principal for Stoughton, Mass.-based Beagle Research Group. "When Siebel jumped up to 7.0 and re-architected, they took a hit in customer satisfaction that was pretty widely reported in the industry."

Pombriant's research, however, indicated that in the 7.3.4 release, Siebel was able to turn that around and by 7.5.3 it was heading back to pre-7.0 customer satisfaction numbers, he said.

Additionally, Pombriant expects Siebel to continue developing the 7.7 architecture for a long period of time and doesn't expect a version 8 before the end of the decade.

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