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Siebel issues mea culpa for CRM complexity

At his company's user conference, Tom Siebel shouldered the blame for the "mind-numbing complexity" surrounding some CRM software and promised better days ahead.

By Matt Hines, News Writer

LOS ANGELES -- Tom Siebel, founder, chairman and chief executive of CRM market leader Siebel Systems Inc., used his keynote address at the company's annual user conference to ask his customers for a hand.

The often-outspoken executive who raised eyebrows across the IT sector by proclaiming earlier this year that "CRM is dead" admitted his firm has done more to create complex functionality over the past several years than it has to make software operate smoothly.

"We're highly imperfect; we make more mistakes than you do," admitted Siebel to a crowded room of users. "Be patient. We know that we're a little slow, but we need you to help us move forward."

Siebel committed his company to easing the enterprise application integration process. The CEO estimated that roughly 25% of CRM-related IT budgets are currently spent on making different software systems work together. To help, the San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel announced this week at the Siebel Worldwide User Week 2002 conference that its Universal Application Network (UAN) is now shipping.

UAN, a package of business process guidelines and design tools, is aimed directly at helping users drive better integration through use of common nomenclature and widely recognized XML-based architectures.

In asking for support from users, Siebel said his firm will work over the next several years to "dramatically simplify" the user interface of its products. The CEO admitted that his company has created "mind-numbing complexity" that makes it problematic for customers to integrate all their applications. He also promised that Siebel will focus more on the activities of front-line CRM users, such as call center employees, and spend less time trying to appease functionality-obsessed CIOs.

Conference attendees backed Siebel's new emphasis on driving faster integration. Fields said he hopes the new commitment will enable faster implementation of future Siebel software packages.

Siebel said that while his company's software may have become too complex for its own good, the current economic climate provides an opportunity for a change in direction that may deliver the return on investment (ROI) users are demanding. Providing the ability for users to more easily and affordably integrate within their existing CRM deployments through UAN and Siebel's new partnership with Microsoft Corp. will free up more time and money for innovation, he said.

The partnership calls for Siebel to invest $250 million to develop, market and sell its software on Microsoft's .NET platform.

Siebel did not resist the opportunity to take at least a few shots at his competitors, mainly enterprise resource planning (ERP) software makers, such as Walldorf, Germany-based SAP. He said these players have done little to successfully integrate front- and back-office systems, and he repeated his assertion that ERP vendors fudge their market share figures.

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