SAP puts a Web 2.0 spin on CRM upgrade

By , IDG News Service |  Software

SAP on Tuesday announced an update to its customer relationship management
software with a Web 2.0-style interface that could help to increase usage rates
among workers.

Companies often report that usage levels for their business software is lower
than they would like, with salespeople managing accounts in Microsoft Outlook
instead of their more expensive CRM software, for example. SAP hopes to address
that with CRM 2007, an update to its CRM (customer relationship management)
product that will be widely available early next year.

People accustomed to using easy-to-use Web applications in their personal life
are starting to expect that same ease of use in their business software, said
Stefan Haenisch, SAP's vice president of CRM product management.

"We're trying to bridge the gap between a cool, user-driven Web application,
and an enterprise software application," he said.

SAP competes primarily with Oracle in the market for broad CRM suites, which
include tools for managing sales, marketing and customer service. Other rivals
include Salesforce.com, Chordiant Software and Infor.

Oracle probably has the broadest set of CRM capabilities, thanks to its acquisitions
of Siebel and PeopleSoft, said Vuk Trifkovic, an analyst with Datamonitor in
the U.K. "But I don't think that reflects badly on SAP, they have good
tools with a lot of features, and they're a natural for anyone in the SAP ecosystem,"
he said.

CRM 2007 has a portal-like interface that workers can customize with information
from within the CRM system, such as reports, or from external sources, such
as publically available newsfeeds and maps. They can change the color and "theme"
of the interface by clicking through different designs, or skins.

The idea is to make the software more appealing to work with, but also to provide
information that might increase productivity. A salesperson might add a feed
showing news about companies he plans to visit that week, Haenisch said.

The software also looks different inside. The content is laid out in task windows
that users can drag and drop to rearrange. The interface is built on SAP's NetWeaver
and uses AJAX (asynchronous JavaScript and XML), a popular interface technology
on the Web.

There are also new CRM tools, including a pipeline management tool that can
run "what if" scenarios on upcoming deals. A salesperson can view
quarterly sales in a bar chart, and then move deals from one quarter to the
next, or push expected targets up or down, to see the effect on the quarterly
totals, Haenisch said.

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