Siebel Systems Inc. will announce the general availability of its latest software upgrade, Siebel 7.7, this week at its user conference in Cannes, France.
Eighteen months in development, the new version from the San Mateo, Calif., company focuses on three areas: new industry-specific features, enhanced capabilities and usability and improvements to the software's underlying architecture that improve total cost of ownership (TCO), according to Skip Bacon, Siebel's vice president of technology.@2361
"I think the good news about 7.7 is [that] Siebel is starting to get back on the offensive," said Erin Kinikin, analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. "We've seen a lot of focus on TCO, which is good for [Siebel's] install base, but does not really bring the next generation of users to Siebel. What I saw with this release was some real deepening of their vertical capabilities."
Among those vertical additions are a Java-based dashboard for financial firms aimed at users like branch tellers, new case management functionality for the public sector and a new loyalty management application built for the travel and hospitality industry that may also appeal to other industries, Bacon said.
The loyalty application caught the attention of Kinikin, who was interested in the improved connection between CRM and proactive loyalty programs.
Also new to 7.7 are certain handheld and Pocket PC functions for field sales and service. For instance, a new headquarters-based dispatch notification system can send information over a wireless network and requests from the field can likewise be sent back to the server, Bacon said. Field functionality will also include electronic signature capture and barcode scanning.
Siebel has improved usability with adjustments to its interface, drill downs and simpler menu structures and tabs. The 7.7 software runs 20% to 60% faster than any other Siebel system, Bacon said.
"We've significantly reduced the number of tabs and fields within forms," he said. "Our approach before was shotgun. We put in everything anyone could possibly want. What we realized was a lot of people just went in and turned a lot of things off."
Based on internal Siebel testing, the changes have improved task completion rates for novice users by 200%, Bacon said.
Siebel has worked with Mercury Interactive Corp. to add test automation to 7.7, a sign of relationships to come with other technology vendors around inner processes such as testing, monitoring and change management.
"That's really the next big opportunity for us to reduce TCO on the customer side," Bacon said. "The next big problem is around how we get the solution to monitor the production end."
Siebel shipped 75 pre-release versions of 7.7 to organizations interested in beginning testing and configuration. It will ship a general availability packet in May. Siebel did not raises prices for 7.7, Bacon said.
Siebel did not make available a 7.7 beta user before deadline.
Siebel is taking the carrot-and-stick approach to upgrades, according to Kinikin. 7.7 usability and TCO enhancements are carrots directed at moving existing customers off of version 6 products, which most are still using, Kinikin said. The stick comes with the threat of higher maintenance rates for those who do not begin moving to 7.
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