BOSTON -- Just months away from the day his company is due to be acquired by one time competitor Oracle Corp., George Shaheen, CEO of Siebel Systems Inc., strode to the stage and promised to continue to innovate in CRM.
Roughly 2,600 attendees, a 13% increase from last year's User Week, came to Boston for the renamed CustomerWorld. Many were hoping for words of assurance that their CRM investments would still hold value once Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle completes the $5.85 billion takeover of its San Mateo, Calif., neighbor. The deal still requires regulatory and shareholder approval.
Attendees got some assurance from Oracle's CEO Larry Ellison who appeared in a brief taped statement.
"We're very excited about the combination of Siebel CRM and Oracle applications," Ellison told attendees via a giant television screen. "These will be the foundation of Oracle CRM going forward. We're looking forward to you joining the Oracle family in the very near future."
That was welcome news for some.
"Obviously, the vision of the company can change, but as long as they're committed to keeping Siebel as the centerpiece, I'm fairly reassured," said Jeromy Heidemann, senior application developer with AdminiStar Federal Inc. in Indianapolis.
However, despite Ellison's assurances here and at Oracle OpenWorld several weeks ago in San Francisco, some customers are still concerned.
BellSouth Corp., in Atlanta, is in the midst of a lengthy process of phasing out Oracle CRM and replacing it with Siebel.
"We have some reservations about the sale and how it's going to work with Fusion," said Matt Heacock, business developer with BellSouth. "The CRM we have from Oracle is not very communications specific."
Siebel's emphasis moving forward will be on combining process work and knowledge work, said Bruce Cleveland, senior vice president and general manager for products.
"Current CRM systems have done a great job of improving operational efficiencies, what I call process work," he said. "They have not done a great job improving knowledge work. This is a fundamental reason behind the adoption failure rates."
Siebel's future direction will focus on Customer Adaptive Solutions, a combination of software and services that address both process and knowledge work requirements based on service-oriented architecture (SOA). Project Nexus -- Siebel's plan to move all its products to an industry-standard SOA and its strategy to provide component assembly for customers, helping to build specific applications -- was a theme at last year's User Week. However, with the looming Oracle acquisition, any future for Siebel products will depend on Oracle's plans.
"[CustomerWorld] originally was set to be a very loud release for our SOA product," Shaheen said, in an interview session with reporters following his address. "It got a bit upstaged with the Oracle acquisition. But we continue to come out with additional releases of OnDemand, business intelligence and core CRM."
Many of the questions in the follow-up session were met with a simple response, look to Ellison's recent comments. Siebel executives repeatedly turned to comments made by Oracle's CEO, which promised a central role for Siebel CRM in the future company and Ellison's plans for Siebel's workforce.
The day's events held a little of something new and a little of something old for Kelly Lam, CRM manager for Toronto-based BMW Canada.
"Oracle realizes they've got to be able to support all the customers they've inherited. I don't know if we heard anything that new today," Lam said. "We feel a lot more comfortable with the fact that Oracle is giving its customers an opportunity to upgrade to Siebel. On the Siebel side of things, we heard CRM is really based on BI [business intelligence] and that's where we were headed."