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CRM details in short supply at OpenWorld

One week after its market-transforming Siebel acquisition, Oracle Corp. offers few details on their plans for integrating new customers and products into its portfolio.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Debra Lilley, principal consultant for business solutions at Fujitsu Corp., is an Oracle -- and a Siebel -- user.

She had a question for executives from both companies during a "town meeting session" at Oracle's OpenWorld user conference being held this week. Does she have to wait for Project Fusion -- Oracle's ambitious plan to integrate its recent acquisitions of PeopleSoft Inc., J.D. Edwards & Co., Retek Inc., and now Siebel Systems Inc. -- before she can get the best of both?

"It was not the answer I expected," said Lilley, also vice president of the U.K. Oracle Users Group. "When Oracle bought PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards, they made an offer that if anyone wanted to transfer application they could. The answer I got [here today], was that I could move to Oracle CRM and get some of the Siebel functionality."

Many attendees are looking for some insight into Oracle's plans for its San Mateo, Calif.-based rival. Oracle announced last week it will acquire Siebel for $5.85 billion, pending regulatory approval. Yet in press briefings and at yesterday's town meeting, senior Oracle executives have been short on specifics.

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"We'll take the best of both products," said Charles Phillips, Oracle co-president. "We can't take any features away if we want people to upgrade. It's going to be a superset."

Siebel's CRM applications were one of the key reasons for the acquisition and will be blended into Oracle's own CRM tools, executives have said, but they have some harder decisions when it comes to customer data integration (CDI) technology, applications that reach into multiple systems to provide a comprehensive view of customer data. Siebel has an existing product with its Universal Customer Master, a counterpart to Oracle's Customer Data Hub. Some of the first products to come out of Project Fusion will be data hubs, Phillips said. Those are expected to be available in 2007.

Fujitsu runs Oracle Financials, Supply Chain Management and Siebel CRM, but had to develop its own data hub for a universal view of the customer, because the two companies' CDI systems could not reach into the other for information. The company would invest in a packaged CDI tool, but wants it now, Lilley said.

"The issue is it is two different silos of data," she said. "I don't want to wait until 2008."

One area of focus going forward will be hosted applications, executives maintained. Siebel OnDemand, its hosted CRM application, is one of its most successful business units, and Phillips pledged to continue development.

"We've been in the on-demand hosting business five years," he said. "We think we can provide better integration for back office and CRM." While Siebel's OnDemand products is hosted in IBM data centers, an Oracle competitor, Phillips pledged to continue support and said the company has yet to decide whether to move to an Oracle data center instead.

Phillips also downplayed the difficulty of absorbing the multiple corporate cultures, as it brings aboard employees from PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards, Retek and Siebel.

"It's like a homecoming, these last few acquisitions," he said. "Oracle has really populated the enterprise software market. It's not as dramatic a change as it looks like from the outside."

One Siebel employee who likely won't have a significant role is Tom Siebel himself. Siebel, the founder of Siebel Systems and a one-time Oracle employee himself, will "have an ongoing roll in some consulting capacity for several years to come," Phillips said, cryptically when asked at a press briefing.

The acquisition itself is expected to close in early 2006, according to Oracle executives. While the PeopleSoft acquisition was a lengthy process, thanks to an antitrust challenge from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the resistance to a takeover by PeopleSoft's board and CEO, the Siebel acquisition should prove easier.

"It's very much the same process as the PeopleSoft and Retek acquisitions," said Safra Catz, Oracle co-president. "We expect the DOJ and the European Commission are pretty familiar with this market, and we don't expect it to take as long."

Teri Lancaster, IT manager for CRM at the Pella Corp., a window specialist based in Pella, Iowa, is an Oracle CRM user looking forward to the possibility of some new functionality and remains confident it will be delivered.

"I know Siebel is a best-of-breed," she said. "I'm also trusting that it's a merger and not a problem. I'm not unhappy with Oracle CRM, and I like the direction Oracle is going."

Oracle is not depending entirely on its customers' faith in its ability to integrate new companies, however. One lesson learned from the PeopleSoft acquisition is that the company needs to act quickly and be clear about its plans, Phillips said.

"You need to make decisions quickly so people have an understanding of their jobs and customers know what's happening," he said. "If a customer doesn't know anything, even if it doesn't immediately impact them, just the absence communication leaves them concerned."

Oracle has gone directly to its user groups to provide some of those answers. Oracle's head of global customer programs, had a conference call set up with user groups before the announcement was even made and was available to answer questions immediately afterward, Lilley said. "They do recognize that its users who will make this stand or fall," she said.

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