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Oracle takes new tack to vertical-specific CRM

The new Oracle E-Business Suite 11i.9 incorporates features designed for specific industries but delivers them in a way that differs from other CRM vendors.

You might say that Oracle Corp.'s newly released CRM upgrade takes a non-specific approach to delivering industry-specific features.

The more than 900 enhancements included in the new Oracle E-Business Suite 11i.9 contain functionality for several markets, including the automotive, telecommunications, financial services and the consumer packaged goods industries. However, unlike Oracle's CRM competition, the database giant has designed the E-Business Suite so that all those functions come embedded and are delivered to every customer, regardless of industry. The features can essentially be turned on or off by individual companies.

CRM vendors like Siebel Systems Inc., PeopleSoft Inc. and SAP AG have vertical-specific flavors of their software bundled separately.

While many industries say they have different needs, oftentimes the differences are just a matter of nomenclature, officials with the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle said. For example, the communications industry will likely improve service order fulfillment with the E-Business Suite's MACD (move, add, change, delete) processes, but utility companies may want to take advantage of that feature as well, according to Robb Eklund, Oracle's vice president for CRM marketing and applications.

"Theoretically, that makes sense," said Scott Nelson, a vice president and research director with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. "The reality is most industries stay close to what they're familiar with. I don't think many are going to be crossing over."

The upgrade is consistent with Oracle's past practices; the company has tried to prevent ending up with more code streams than needed, according to Nelson.

He added that Oracle's success may depend on how it assists customers with adjusting the functions. Eklund said the company has a service system in place to assist customers.

"The key is going to be in how well they handle the turn-off and -on mechanism," Nelson said. "If they don't do that well, they're going to end up with very frustrated clients who feel they're ending up with functionality they don't want."

The multiple industry-specific functions provide a broader overlay for Oracle customers, company officials said. Additionally, with the E-Business Suite 11i.9, customers do not have to pay for the enhancements.

"We have a different approach [than our competitors]," Eklund said. "We do not ask our customers to license additional products to [get additional] functionality."

Oracle's foray into deeper vertical functionality is a necessity in today's market, according to Larry Lapide, a vice president with AMR Research in Boston. While Oracle has been providing industry-specific solutions already, this is a more formal approach, he said.

The new Oracle E-Business Suite 11i.9 is now shipping.

The enhancements are focused on several key industries: aviation, aerospace and defense; automotive; communications; consumer packaged goods; financial services; government; health care; high technology; and life sciences. The update features enhancements to help customers deal with challenges in federal regulatory requirements and electronic signatures.

Eklund said more enhancements are planned for additional industries, but Oracle elected to focus on these groups first, based on market opportunity, the competitive landscape and the needs of its current customers.


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