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Some CRM users happy to wait for Fusion

Some Oracle CRM users are content to wait for Oracle's Fusion timeline, but they should still monitor the long-term roadmap, according to Forrester analyst Bill Band.

While the lack of details and long-term vision surrounding Oracle's Fusion CRM products may have left some at last month's OpenWorld conference dissatisfied, others are fine waiting.

The first generation of Fusion products is due in 2008, marking phase one of Oracle's plan to bring together the spoils of its massive acquisition binge and assemble "best of breed" functionality. The first products will be CRM applications, focused on the salesperson. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison demoed the products during his keynote address at OpenWorld. New products include Sales Prospector, a data mining tool that helps identify opportunities; Sales Reference, a tool that identifies reference customers; and Sales Tools, a database of sales presentations provided, and rated by, a social network of salespeople.

"It looked like some good, solid incremental improvement. They said they were going to be Fusion-izing Siebel over last year and it looks like they were doing that," said William Band, vice president and principal analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. "But from what I saw, there wasn't all that much new and exciting in terms of the longer-term vision that I expected to see."

Room for Fusion at IHOP

That was just fine for Jeff Valine, director of IT, applications and project management at Glendale, Calif.-based restaurant chain IHOP Corp. Oracle's acquisition spree has worked out quite nicely for Valine. @45357

"Every time they buy someone it seems like it happens to be software we already use," he said. "That's a good thing for a company like ours that is solidly midmarket. We believe that minimizing the total number of vendors can really help us reduce our cost and minimize our risk. In the old days, we used to have a lot of best-of-breed stuff. We put in Hyperion, put in other products. You had to worry about integration. You spent a lot of money on consulting partners. Today, you go to one vendor for that."

IHOP uses Oracle's E-Business Suite CRM product (version 11.5.9) to track comments from customers who visit its 1,300 franchises, as well as the Telesales and Sales Online modules for selling to and qualifying franchisees.

The CRM application strategy got a little more confusing for IHOP in July when it announced plans to acquire Applebee's and its 1,195 restaurants.

"We had planned this year to be the 'year of upgrades,' then we decided to buy a $2 billion company, so it became the year of transitions and integration," Valine said. "It works out quite well. We were going to do an upgrade, so now as part of the integration we will move up to the latest versions."

Applebee's runs PeopleSoft products, and IHOP is in the midst of determining which direction it wants to go with its applications. As it integrates the two companies, Oracle's roadmap for Fusion suits IHOP.

"I'm quite happy with the way Oracle has been announcing continued support of PeopleSoft, as well as the path to Fusion," Valine said. "Either one looks quite good in terms of how you get there. We think that we can do that in either direction. We're in the restaurant business, not in the leading-, bleeding-edge software business."

Equifax content to wait

Similarly, Equifax Inc., a credit reporting agency in Atlanta, is bringing aboard a sales force of roughly 600 users, previously using Saleslogix, and integrating them into its Siebel CRM OnDemand system. Equifax currently has 1,400 users on OnDemand, an implementation that began in 2005 with four countries in Latin America.

The Software-as-a-Service deployment replaced "custom spreadsheets and custom Lotus Notes apps in the U.S., a Siebel instance in Argentina, spreadsheets, little black books and napkins," said Tripp Partain, chief information officer of Equifax. The company is also relatively new to Oracle's financial applications, which it installed two years ago. Partain is optimistic that Fusion will evolve as the company's applications needs evolve.

"We've been running Hyperion for a while, so I think from a maturity standpoint, we'll be at about that step to the next integration about the time Fusion is going to hit," he said. "We were on Siebel, Oracle and Hyperion, and now they're the same. As we're getting ready to integrate all of those, our expectation is Fusion is going to come out and take care of a lot of that for us."

Meat and potatoes

Like Equifax and IHOP, many of Oracle's CRM customers running products acquired by Oracle -- such as Siebel, PeopleSoft, and JD Edwards – or running Oracle's own E-Business suite are an upgrade or two behind and not yet ready for Fusion, according to Band.

"The bulk of the market is still in the 'meat and potatoes, get value out of what they've done' mode," he said. "A number of the CRM versions are getting a little long in the tooth. People are starting to think about re-platforming."

Companies looking at their long-term CRM and applications strategy need to continue to move to service-oriented architectures and carefully establish a business case. Organizations also need to think longer term about Web 2.0 technologies, social computing and how these technologies may affect them both internally and with customers.

"There's a longer-term change in how consumer and Web technologies are going to drive a different conceptualization," Band said. "The traditional software vendors don't seem to be grasping that. I think it's a little like Software as a Service. It doesn't fit their model, so they don't think anybody is going to be interested. I expected Oracle to talk more about collaborative CRM."

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