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Can Oracle be 'social' with CRM?

At the Enterprise 2.0 conference, Oracle previewed its newest social CRM tool, but some question how quickly such a large company can adapt.

BOSTON -- Amidst a hall full of bloggers, twitterers, social networkers and startup companies focused on extending the consumer Web to the enterprise, Oracle today outlined its latest designs on the Web 2.0 phenomenon.

The question remains whether Oracle is nimble enough to adapt to such a rapidly changing environment.

"All these things are driven by one fundamental element -- things are changing and the speed of that change is at a really, really fast rate," said Mark Woollen, vice president of CRM product strategy at Oracle, in an address at the Enterprise 2.0 conference being held here. "Static top-down business processes are not going to allow [businesses] to respond."

Acknowledging that enterprise applications have been driven "top down" and business users also require "bottom up" technology, Woollen today provided another look at Oracle's approach to Web 2.0 in the enterprise.

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Sales Prospector, an on-demand sales collaboration tool, is the latest of a number of social CRM applications Oracle has been demonstrating at events like OpenWorld and Collaborate. It will be released this quarter.

Past vs. future in CRM development

Social CRM tools that leverage communities and user-friendly interfaces promise to solve some of the problems that have plagued CRM systems for years. In fact, Woollen cited a recent survey of chief sales officers by the Harvard Business Review which found that enterprise applications fall short when it comes to populating and maintaining data -- and getting people to use the system.

"It's the same basic things we've heard time and time again," Woollen said. "Have we fallen down on the job? I would contend we haven't. Business process management is, by its nature, a top-down hierarchical endeavor."

Oracle's upcoming Sales Prospector application leverages social networking. (Click to enlarge image.)


While CRM applications have traditionally been designed for management and reporting, the new applications will serve the sales end user, Woollen said. That requires a shift in the historical approach of Oracle.

Changing perception

Surrounded by startup companies trying to leverage Web 2.0 here, Oracle has some perception challenges to overcome.

"They're trying to change," said Sheryl Kingstone, director of customer-centric strategies for Boston-based Yankee Group. "Oracle has in the past been one of those behemoths. Now they own so much of the market they're trying to reinvigorate. They've really bought into the Web."

But overcoming market perception may be a task easier said than done.

"Getting enterprise applications socially adapted was very interesting, and I think it might be a challenge," said Neveen Sharma, principal researcher and area manager with Norwalk, Conn.-based Xerox Corp.

Sharma is attending the conference to get a handle on how Xerox can leverage Web 2.0 internally, as well as with customers and development.

"We're perceived as an old company ourselves, and we're trying to change and open up and innovate," he said. "The startups here, they have the chance to pull it off."

Enabling sales collaboration

Sales Prospector is designed to mine internal and external sources to identify potential references and purchase probability, Oracle's Woollen said. For example, the application analyzes the product-purchase history of an organization to recommend deals for sales reps. By augmenting information in the system and improving results, it provides salespeople an incentive to keep feeding the system.

"The best way to think of Sales Prospector is for salespeople," Woollen said. "Amazon will say, 'People who like that book also like this book.' The idea here is to take that metaphor and take private and public information and use that to suggest to a sales rep the probability of time-to-close for prospects."

Oracle did not release pricing information. Sales Prospector will be followed by other social CRM tools, Sales Campaigns, Sales Library and Deal Management. Oracle is also developing collaborative HR applications to help with recruiting.

A loosely coupled application built on Oracle Middleware, Sales Prospector will be sold as a standalone application to complement existing CRM systems. Oracle will initially target its own customer base, Woollen said, but it will also target customers of competitive applications like SAP.

Though the application is designed for sales end users and delivered on-demand, IT will still need to do its part, Kingstone warned.

"Sales Prospector is going to rely on internal systems for information," she said, "and it's really up to IT to point to sources of information for the analytics."

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