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User Week offers glimpse into Siebel's future

At the User Week conference, Siebel execs gave customers a peek at Siebel 7.7, the company's upcoming CRM software, due to ship in mid-2004.

SAN DIEGO -- In between touting a new hosted offering and showing off added analytic capabilities at its User Week conference, Siebel offered a glimpse into the next version of its enterprise software suite, due out next spring.

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Siebel 7.7 continues the push the San Mateo, Calif., vendor has made into specific vertical markets.

For example, the new version will include a customer relationship console for branch banking. A standalone dashboard will provide bank tellers with customer data, an area where many banks are "still working off of antiquated green screens," Siebel executive vice president David Schmaier said.

That struck a chord with Todd Renaud, assistant vice president of management information systems for the Security Service Federal Credit Union in San Antonio.

"We really like it because it's a way to get Siebel on the desktop quickly and without a lot of overhead," Renaud said. "It gets our service reps familiar with what Siebel can do."

Version 7.7 will also include a captive finance function for the automotive industry to help those companies that are no longer selling just cars but insurance and financing as well.

Bill Buffalo, business systems development manager for Toyota Financial Services in Torrance, Calif., a newcomer to Siebel CRM, was impressed with some of the new capabilities. Toyota Financial Services signed on with Siebel 7 in April.

"We're just beginning to get into this," Buffalo said. "We're still exploring our options, but it's been a business revelation for us."

Buffalo said Toyota Financial Services had previously been using 20-year-old legacy systems in its call center. The automotive-specific functions announced this week looked like a promising way to keep customers using Toyota for insurance and financing, he said.

Outside of vertical functions, 7.7 will offer a customer loyalty management capability to optimize services and promotions based on a customer's expected value. For example, the suite will be able to generate reward points and segment customers by value, through systems that, for example, might classify customers as gold, silver or bronze. A wireless support function will allow mobile sales and service employees to send and receive customer data from the field. Opt-in capabilities to comply with "do not call" legislation have also been improved.

From the statements of senior executives, it seems Siebel 7.7 will be around for a while. CEO Tom Siebel pledged to support 7.7 through the next decade, saying, "We see this as a product with legs." The company's focus on reducing the total cost of ownership (TCO) for Siebel applications will continue with 7.7, he added.

Siebel's keynote speech unveiled an ambitious strategy in which the company will not only focus on TCO and industry-specific needs, but will also execute on a new campaign -- "CRM for everyone" -- with the company's hosted offering and a mix-and-match approach allowing customers to choose only the functions they need.

The new approach is clearly a way to fight the perception that Siebel implementations are costly and complex.

Last year, Siebel set a goal of cutting TCO in half. While that target has not been reached, improvements to the installation and configuration processes, operations, upgrades, performance and usability resulted in an estimated 39% reduction, Tom Siebel said.

The TCO-reduction news and the conference's apparent focus on existing customers were welcomed by Renaud.

"They are finally focusing on service and support instead of selling more licenses," Renaud said. "To me, it shows they're maturing as a company. People can't keep upgrading every year in this economy. They can't afford it."

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