He came not to bury Siebel, but to praise it. After years and years of bashing Siebel at every turn and on every opportunity, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has had a miraculous enlightenment and now recognises the firm's CRM applications as the best in the industry. And all it took to change his mind was $5.8 billion.
Ellison's new stance was expressed in a few, carefully chosen prerecorded words that were shown on video to the delegates at Siebel's CustomerWorld conference in Boston this week. Ellison wasn't there in person - Oracle President Charles Phillips will be sent in on Wednesday to do the live pitch to the wary Siebel masses - but as the shadow of Oracle was always going to hang over this conference, his giant 'Big Brother Is Watching You' cameo appearance was perhaps symbolically fitting.
It's clear from his words that splashing out $5.8 billion buying up the market share of one of your most bitter rivals does wonders for your appreciation of their product set. Siebel's technology - including its SOA vision - is great and will be the centrepiece of Oracle's CRM thinking going forward - which cheered up the crowd in Boston, but probably didn't do much for PeopleSoft CRM customers anywhere else...
Ellison's appearance was brief; but then so too was Siebel CEO George Shaheen's. In previous years at similar events, company founder Tom Siebel would command the stage and deliver heavyweight keynote sessions on all matters CRM related. Shaheen in contrast was low-key in the extreme.
"Business innovation is not enough; new product innovation is not enough," said Shaheen, to an audience of about 2,600 Siebel users. "Companies are wondering what to do. Our advice is to focus on the customer. Get more from the customer."
He cited an Accenture study that said 40 per cent of growth and 38 per cent of shareholder value is derived from customer loyalty, along with several customer highlights. For example, the Department of Homeland Security's US Citizenship and Immigration division, which has used Siebel's technology to reduce customer call times by 25 percent from a paper-based system and increased customer satisfaction by 6 per cent.
Admitting that events this week had been somewhat sidelined by the forthcoming Oracle takeover, Shaheen nonetheless pitched the conference's 'big idea': the Customer Adaptive Solution, whose aim is to solve user issues by enabling lightening-speed adaptability at the system and process level.
"With our Customer Adaptive Solution the end game changes big time to become truly customer adaptive," said Shaheen. "We will increase the breadth and depth of our product line. There is more coming your way. We will deliver on our promise [to enable you] to leverage one customer [for ROI]."
Shaheen made his first appearance as Siebel CEO at the company's European user gathering earlier this year, only weeks into the job. He conceded this week that on that occasion selling the company had been on the shortlist of options going forward, although he said that everyone on the management team would have prefered to have turned the firm around.
But he insisted that the future under Oracle would benefit everyone. "It has to," he said. "Look at the combined companies. We've invested over four billion in technology, holding over 39 patents. In the future we will present seamless continuity in everything we do. The technology will be easier to integrate, so you can get more out of it. That's our real goal.
"Both Siebel and Oracle have been pioneers in innovating on behalf of customers," he added. "We have a common gene pool set and the combined company will create more technology leadership."
Among the other announcemnts was the release of the Siebel Component Assembly for Microsoft's .NET platform. This provides integration with Microsoft Office and uses Visual Studio 2005 Windows Forms to speed CRM application development and deployment.
Siebel also introduced Real-Time Decisions (RTD), an addition to its Business Analytics Business family. RTD products help identify customer needs in real-time and respond with the most relevant offers and messages.
Siebel products head Bruce Cleveland outlined the company's plans to unify its Enterprise, Component Assembly and CRM OnDemand software user interfaces into one common interface for all of its applications. The company's goal is to make its products flexible enough to match its customers' varied needs and business processes, an approach Siebel has dubbed "customer adaptive solutions."
"Over time, all of our solutions sets will be offered on all platforms," Cleveland said. In describing the company's user-interface plans, he commented, "We're going to integrate the user interface so tightly with Microsoft Office that Microsoft Office can actually serve as the primary interface for any user."