Exclusive: Siebel's hosted CRM doesn't rise to the top

Although impressive, nicely priced OnDemand Release 8 falls short on heavyweight features

A longtime leader in on-premises applications, Siebel Systems has been fighting an uphill battle in the hosted CRM space against powerhouses like Salesforce.com and hot service-centric evangelists like RightNow Technologies. With the latest release of CRM OnDemand, Siebel takes a significant step toward catching up.

The InfoWorld Test Center has an exclusive look at Siebel CRM OnDemand Release 8, including its full call-center option, Contact OnDemand.

OnDemand provides hosted SFA (sales force automation), marketing, and customer-service capabilities, along with an integrated call center, enabling companies to manage communications across customer-facing channels both in-house and remotely. Impressive IVR (interactive voice response) and skills-based routing are also part-and-parcel.

New to this release is team-based collaboration -- including record sharing and group calendaring, as well as relationship charting -- used to carve leads out of existing contacts. And for marketing campaigns, a new desktop tool helps segment target lists.

Although impressive, the product is not without limitations. Siebel CRM OnDemand has difficulty managing multiple simultaneous sales methodologies; task-based workflow offers no real-time alerting; the role-based interface development tools are clumsy; and top-level administrative responsibilities can’t yet be delegated to workgroups. Client support is also sparse.

Yet even with the added cost of Contact OnDemand, Siebel CRM OnDemand is an affordable option for shoring up service and sales operations. And the extra padding left in your wallet might cushion any functionality bumps along the way.

Are You My Customer?

Like many of its competitors, OnDemand uses Internet Explorer to deliver a familiar tabbed interface for accessing sales, marketing, and service records, as well as search, dashboards, and reporting.

SFA offers creation of subaccounts for easier management of larger customers and multiple products per opportunity.

Definable sales steps and the Process Coach serve to structure agent performance expectations, and there are good features to track customer interactions and build audit trails. But I would like to see more comprehensive criteria available for audit tracking.

In addition to field-level security, OnDemand’s role-based permissions offer good control over an agent’s view of data; however, an inability to copy and reuse existing layouts forces users to create pages for each role from scratch.

Custom tabs can’t be added, but custom fields within a page can. Unfortunately, the number of fields and data types is limited and, once created, can’t be deleted -- so plan well. Those custom fields also don’t trickle through to existing pages; you have to manually update all layouts for all roles that demand access.

Workflow consists of automated task generation. Triggered when a record is created or updated, new tasks get assigned to your agents. Although they fall short of actual alerting -- such as firing off an e-mail before an opportunity falls through the cracks -- tasks can be used to build a framework of best practices using due dates and sales stages.

Rules-based assignment of leads and opportunities can be configured to ensure the right agent or territory is on the job. But rule assignments are not truly queue-based: Each requires assignment to a specific account.

Contract management and quote-generation tools, such as those found in Salesforce.com, are missing. Features for data scrubbing would be a benefit in the absence of real-time duplicate detection.

An Outlook plug-in bridges e-mail capabilities and an Excel client provides offline access to data. Although good in a pinch, it would benefit from smarter sync management, such as delta-change to speed record exchange on the road. The option for conflict resolution on upload would be nice, too.

Flash-driven dashboards bring decent graphical insight. Analytics on pipeline condition and aging service requests are brought to life and can be drilled through for details. Unfortunately, dashboards are limited to one per page (outside the Dashboard tab) and none can be modified beyond basic predefined sift criteria, such as time period.

Reporting features were superb. With a good number of reports at the ready and a wizard-driven facility to build and customize new ones, specific insights are gleaned from your unified customer data. Not all reports are real-time, however, requiring nightly system updates.

Campaign marketing facilities were a bit lackluster; good for basic tracking and lead association but missing comprehensive campaign-building tools.

Reports can be generated, though, to reveal clear-cut insight into ROI and campaign effectiveness.

To Service With Love
I found the most advanced components of OnDemand in the service-focused facilities. Siebel provides a good out-of-the-box service and call center experience that runs atop Telephony@Work’s CallCenter@nywhere engine.

The service delivers VoIP integration (SIP and H.323) and call routing to off-premises numbers such as a cell phone or home office, along with decent tools for IVR development (despite the inability to preview outbound audio files) and rules-based communications routing.

OnDemand assigns agents to cases based on skill set, rather than just pulling them randomly from a queue. The screen pop-ups put customer data at their fingertips, and wrap-up screens ensure pertinent data is always collected properly. The call center and CRM service portions of OnDemand are in lock step, guaranteeing customer records are updated with full audit trails and activity histories.

Managers can monitor inbound queues, and a good tool set allows them to track agent performance and lend guidance using features for call monitoring and recording, offline coaching, and conferencing into a call to provide a positive customer experience.

Although a good bit of Siebel’s on-premises package has yet to find its way into OnDemand, there are a number of perks, such as IP-based access restrictions, historical forecast comparisons, and decent help and training facilities, which could favorably skew adoption rates.

Despite its shortcomings, OnDemand is a good hosted service with solid potential. Were Siebel to throw some of its sizeable cash reserves into accelerating development, the company would not only give Salesforce.com a run for its money but might actually begin shaping the future of the on-demand CRM market.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Integration (15.0%)
Performance (15.0%)
Features (30.0%)
Ease of use (15.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Administration (15.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Siebel OnDemand Release 8 8.0 8.0 8.0 8.0 9.0 7.0 8.0