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Upgraded Onyx CRM adds Web services, Oracle ties

Mid-market vendor Onyx is out with the fourth generation of its CRM software, which features Web services support and added ties to Oracle environments.

CRM veteran Onyx Software Corp. is betting on new functionality around emerging Web services and links to Oracle Corp. database technology to help drive its fourth generation of enterprise applications deeper into the middle market.

Microsoft acquisition bait?
Some industry watchers can't help but wonder if Onyx is in Microsoft's sites as a possible acquisition in the CRM space. Onyx was founded by former Microsoft employees who designed their first CRM product while still working for the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant. And while Microsoft has repeatedly stated its intention to target only smaller-sized customers with its own CRM offering due out later this year, the rumors of a potential buyout persist.

Onyx officials won't comment on the subject but say the firm has no plans to sell. However, as in any dealings with Microsoft, even the experts aren't ready to rule out the possibility of a merger.

"From what Microsoft has told the market they're looking further downstream," said Gartner's Comport. "[Microsoft] says they have a set strategy to target the low end, but with this company you truly never know."

Comport said he believes Microsoft most likely has aspirations to compete in Onyx's territory in the long term and feels Onyx has much higher prospects for overall growth in the near future.

With this week's release of the Enterprise CRM 4.0 package, the Bellevue, Wash.-based company appears determined to solidify its position at the high end of the mid-market space, which it defines as organizations with 200 to 400 CRM users.

Onyx designed its new offering to run on a Web services-enabled platform built on Internet technologies including XML. The company is hoping that demand for cutting-edge Web services, business processes delivered as a service through standard Internet technology, will continue to develop beyond its current nascent stage.

"Early adopters of Web services strategy are asking us for integration support," said Dave Vanderhoff, product manager at Onyx. "They're already tying together systems and working behind the firewall with integration. It's still a forward looking area of business, but we're already working on it with customers."

Onyx contends the Internet architecture will allow for easier integration with other applications, thereby lowering total cost of ownership and speeding implementation time. The firm reported that pricing per seat for the new package generally starts at about $1650.

Another major element of the release is Onyx's shift away from its strict ties to Microsoft Corp.'s SQL database technology platform. In Enterprise CRM 4.0, the firm looks to capitalize on the widespread presence of environments grounded in technology from Oracle Corp.

Analysts covering the launch said the strategy is a significant shift and should open doors to new customers. However, at least one expert believes the company should continue to play up its focus on Microsoft architecture.

"This move toward Oracle technology should open up a wider range of opportunities, but Onyx still enjoys a nice level of differentiation based on its ties to Microsoft," said Jeff Comport, vice president and research fellow at researcher Gartner, Stamford, Conn. "They should continue to play on that going forward while other vendors focus on Java and J2EE. Even as they embrace Oracle, they're still very close to Microsoft."

Onyx is also playing up some 100 other modifications it has made to the enterprise platform but claims the additions have not cluttered the product. It continues to aggressively market the package's ability to roll out rapidly and cause fewer headaches around integration, all while remaining flexible and open to change. Vanderhoff said the average deployment for Enterprise CRM 4.0 should take about three months.

Among those using the new release are the Seattle Mariners major league baseball franchise. The team is using Onyx CRM to track the buying patterns of fans with hopes of selling out its stadium and moving more souvenir merchandise.

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