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Oracle beefs up self-service

As CRM and self-service continue to converge, Oracle has enhanced Siebel self-service tools based on billing technology from Edocs.

Oracle Corp. today built out its self-service products, updating technology that's now been through two acquisitions.

Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle released new versions of its Siebel Communications Billing Manager and Billing Analytics applications, based on technology Siebel acquired with the purchase of Edocs two years ago. Oracle acquired Siebel in late 2005.

"This is a continuation of the Edocs products and the evolution of those products into CRM," said Bill Hou, vice president of self-service CRM products at Oracle and a Siebel veteran. "A key part of our strategy is realizing the nature of customer interaction is shifting from the direct call center or sales rep to the Internet channel."

The convergence of CRM and self-service, or e-service technology, has not happened as fast as some had predicted, but that may now be changing. M2M Holdings, the company that now owns Onyx, recently acquired Knova, an e-service firm. @30957

Process Energy, a Raleigh, N.C.-based utility, first investigated self-service several years ago, and shortly after the company decided to go with Edocs, the vendor was bought by Siebel. It saw some immediate returns with online self-service.

"The customer reception once we launched the product was outstanding," said Mike Liget, director of markets and energy services. "We actually got favorable customer feedback for something we did on the Web. The customer support in one of our online queues dropped about in half, starting the day after we implemented new products."

Many of the Oracle customers using its self-service tools are in telecommunications and billing-heavy operations such as credit card firms, utilities and healthcare, according to Hou. Organizations like these are trying to avoid adding head count to their call centers; self-service provides an attractive alternative -- but a challenge. Oracle has brought its billing operations and self-service together.

"If you're a large multi-channel enterprise, you have one billing system in the background, and it's a challenge to present all billing systems through a call center agent or Web self-service," Hou said. "Edocs had a clever trick in how to take this billing information and consolidate it into one. That's why we've lumped e-commerce and e-service together."

Siebel Communications Billing Manager 5.1.1 and Siebel Billing Analytics 5.1.1 feature an improved user interface and a hierarchy manager that allows users to group bills by organizational structure. For example, Hou said, sales reps in the northeast or northwest could be aggregated into different cost centers, and an organization could do a "what-if" analysis on the cost of merging the mid-Atlantic and northeast.

Both products are generally available now.

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