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Pivotal readies biggest release in years

Pivotal is trying to shore up its CRM midmarket position with a retooled application suite that integrates technology acquired in its buyout of MarketFirst.

Midmarket CRM specialist Pivotal Corp. will release its latest application suite, dubbed Pivotal 5, later this month. Among the upgrades the software maker is adding are extended sales force automation, integrated marketing tools and a new user interface.

According to Jesper Andersen, Pivotal's executive vice president of products, Pivotal 5 will debut April 29. Andersen said the release marks the most significant product development process in the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company's history, ending an 18-month period in which the company was retooling its platform and integrating technology gained through acquisition. Pivotal's last major release arrived in February 2000.

Pivotal 5 is the first product to include functionality acquired in the firm's October 2002 buyout of marketing automation tools vendor MarketFirst Software Inc. Another major element of the launch is the introduction of Pivotal Assisted Selling, a set of capabilities that brings together sales force automation, guided selling, quote creation and product configuration.

"We feel the new functionality, combined with our meta data-driven architecture, can help us separate from other software makers entering the market," Andersen said.

Pivotal is stressing the flexibility of a package based on Microsoft's .NET architecture. Another major step for the company is the debut of a new user interface, along with a range of access methods that include browser-based and wireless options.

Andersen estimated that a typical implementation of Pivotal 5 would cost about $500,000, with half of that sum going toward software licensing and the other half to professional services. The company is also promoting its ability to offer fixed-price bidding, monthly licensing and risk-sharing opportunities for customers.

Pivotal will release versions of the platform aimed at specific vertical markets in the future, Andersen said.

Pivotal is facing increased competition in the midmarket -- which the firm classifies as businesses with $100 million to $3 billion in revenue -- from enterprise CRM providers such as PeopleSoft Inc. The Pleasanton, Calif.-based enterprise software maker re-emphasized its own presence in the space with the introduction Monday of a new family of midmarket-specific applications.

According to Rod Johnson, vice president at Boston-based AMR Research Inc., Pivotal 5 represents a return to "CRM innovator" status for Pivotal.

"They had almost taken a step back over the last year," Johnson said. "Now they appear capable of offering enterprise functionality to the midmarket."

Johnson said that high-end functionality such as the assisted selling tool is not available from any other vendor serving the midmarket exclusively. He believes it will help Pivotal stand out from the competition.

Johnson said that some larger users may go with Pivotal because of the idea that the company is a "bigger fish in a smaller pond," as opposed to dealing with enterprise specialists such as Siebel Systems Inc., San Mateo, Calif. On the low end of the midmarket, the company may already feel pressure from Microsoft Corp.'s new CRM offering, Johnson said.

If there is a weakness in Pivotal's strategy, it may be that the company has acquired much of its new functionality rather than having it "baked into" the architecture of its products, Johnson said. Yet he said Pivotal should be able to compete based on its balance of pricing and performance.

"Pivotal should avoid becoming part of the industry consolidation trend because it's hitting quarterly numbers and differentiating with functionality and price," he said. "If they can hang on and survive now, it should mean better times lie ahead."


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