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Siebel's hosted software gets early thumbs up

One beta customer shares its initial experiences with the soon-to-be-released Siebel CRM OnDemand.

Competitors aside, Siebel Systems Inc.'s second foray into hosted software has met with mostly positive reviews, including words of praise from one beta customer that the San Mateo, Calif., company offered up this week.

Mark Selcow, president of Merced Systems Inc., Redwood City, Calif., said his company saw two distinct advantages to Siebel CRM OnDemand: being able to migrate to a client-server application as his company grew, and using analytics to better understand his business.

"We're an analytical shop," Selcow said. "We loved the idea of having analytics as a component. It would give us better reporting but investigate the data. That was particularly important to us because we're building a sales model."

Merced makes software focused on performance management, particularly for call centers, that helps track top performing teams, people and sites. Merced has been beta-testing CRM OnDemand for about three weeks, with three employees using it on a regular basis and two using it intermittently.

Siebel announced CRM OnDemand one month ago. The partnership with IBM is Siebel's second attempt at hosting, and Siebel's return to the hosted market flew in the face of oft-quoted comments by CEO Tom Siebel that the model wouldn't succeed., the company's first hosted CRM venture, was scrapped after two years.

Selcow is optimistic about this latest project. His users have found CRM OnDemand particularly intuitive.

"I've never used the full installed application, but I think they got the Web application right," Selcow said. "It's easy to create a lead, a contact and build opportunities in the pipeline. It's pretty straightforward."

Merced was using a homegrown application before electing to run CRM OnDemand. In its CRM search, the company evaluated services from and UpShot Corp., which Siebel acquired last month. A large factor in Merced's decision was Siebel's long history with sales force automation and its feature-rich enterprise edition, Selcow said.

"We believed Siebel could do it and, with IBM providing the [hosting] capability, it gave us confidence," Selcow said. "We're betting on the platform, knowledge and experience of Siebel. It's speculative, but it's a good bet over time."

Selcow is confident that some of the other features he needs will become available in the future, including integration with Microsoft Office and Outlook.

Siebel's acquisition of UpShot is expected to help speed that process. UpShot's applications integrate with Outlook.

The UpShot buy bolstered Merced's confidence in its Siebel investment, Selcow said. From a business perspective, he added, it makes sense for Siebel to acquire a customer base and knowledge of features that are most important to users.

While Merced is a beta customer handpicked by Siebel to talk to the media, its experience matches industry analysts' largely positive response to CRM OnDemand.

"One has to think, when IBM and Siebel join forces, it's got to be something quality," said Kelly Ferguson, an analyst with Current Analysis in Sterling, Va. "The fact that Siebel is doing beta, is late to market and has gotten heat from ASP competitors shows they're not rushing anything out. It seems to be a good product strategy. We'll see how distribution goes. From a feature and pricing perspective, it seems to be reasonable."

The service is due to launch later this quarter. It will cost $70 per user per month.


Tip: Hosted or in-house CRM? It depends

Column: Siebel Systems -- the host with the least

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