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Oracle's CRM in 90 Days prompts mixed reactions

With its announcement of its Global CRM in 90 Days initiative (see related article), Oracle planned to streamline the way companies implemented CRM software. Analysts had mixed reactions to the announcement, with one commenting that customers would either love Oracle's new initiative or hate it.

Pushing customers to a one-size-fits-all package is clearly the goal of the initiative, according to Kelly Spang, analyst at Current Analysis. "They're saying we'll get you to CRM quickly by limiting the customization and limiting the choices you have," she said.

"Certainly, a CRM in 90 days initiative that includes no customization would imply that Oracle thinks all its customers' customers are alike, which is ludicrous," said Erin Kinikin, vice president at Giga Information Group. For example, Amazon.com's customers are different from Cisco's customers, and there is a difference between an impulse purchase, such as a book, and a highly considered purchase, such as a router, she said.

But one analyst doesn't think that Oracle is pushing anything on customers. "What Oracle has in its applications are a series of switches and preferences that enable (users) to change business processes," said Sharon Ward, vice president at Hurwitz Group.

According to Ward, Oracle's FastForward Flows are allowing the software to work for any company in 90 days, depending on the configuration of the switches. "What they are saying is 'Don't modify the code if you can help it,'" she said.

One of the reasons why Oracle may not want customers to modify the software code is that upgrades become more difficult, Ward said. Also, in many cases customers have modified the code to match existing business processes, which Ward says makes no sense.

"Companies have flexibility, but for the most part, it's Oracle saying let us do what we know how to do best," Spang said. Some customers may feel that Oracle is trying to tell them how to run their businesses, and Oracle will need to convince those customers that the lack of choices in customization are offset by being able to quickly and effectively execute specific business practices, she said.

Kinkin said the Oracle initiative's list of caveats and exclusions, posted on its Web site, represents significant challenges to CRM initiatives, such as single site implementation, English-only software and the inability to integrate with back office systems. "Any CRM software can be implemented in 90 days if you take into account all those exclusions," Kinikin said.

Most companies begin with a solid business goal, such as retaining their top 5% of customers, Kinikin said. Companies then look at software, with conversion utilities to integrate existing customer data, customization to implement new business processes and metrics to measure success, she said. Also, most CRM implementations take nine to 12 months, with larger companies taking as much as two to five years before the software is implemented across the enterprise, she added.

"In the mid-market, (out of the box) has been how companies have historically implemented software," Ward said. The mid-market companies have then used switches to change business processes, but rarely have they modified software code unless they're in a unique industry, she said.

The Oracle initiative "is a shot to the Siebels of the world," Spang said. "If you look at what Oracle achieves in 90 days, Siebel implementations are not coming anywhere near there."

"What's revolutionary is that Oracle has taken the knowledge of the mid-market and applied it across the board," Ward said.

"From the customer perspective, you're going to love it or hate it," Spang said. "Customers looking at CRM but (not knowing) what to do will take advantage of Oracle." On the flip side, customers may not be willing to reengineer their business processes for Oracle, she said.

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