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SAP Keeps It Simple with CRM 2007

New customer relationship management offering stakes enterprise software juggernaut's claim to SaaS bounty.

German enterprise software giant SAP AG just barely beat the clock with its release of CRM 2007. SAP released the customer relationship management suite in December 2007 and announced it at an event that month in Boston. But if the name already seems a bit dated, the enterprise resource planning (ERP) market leader's latest CRM offering itself isn't.

The new release is fully ready for Software as a Service (SaaS), available both in a hosted, off-premise model and as a full-client, on-site suite. However, the major selling point of CRM 2007 is likely to be its improved interface.

CRM 2007 sports a simple, white-screened, Google-like interface to which users or developers can add mashups from the world beyond CRM. Users can drag-and-drop on-screen elements to suit their tastes, and the UI can be as complex and busy or as spare as the user dictates.

SAP AG

SAP CRM 2007
Dec. 4, 2007
Customer relationship management suite available as both hosted application and on-premise installation

Key Features:
-- Option of hosted model or on-premise deployment
-- Simple, Google-like interface that allows for mashups and user customization
-- Net Weaver code base to match SAP's enterprise resource planning offering

Competition:
-- Salesforce.com Inc.'s hosted CRM suite
-- Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 and Live hosted and on-premise versions
-- Siebel CRM and Siebel CRM On Demand from Oracle Corp.

Opportunities:
-- Option of hosted model or on-premise deployment offers flexibility for customers and partners
-- Simple interface promotes ease-of-use for users, helping to alleviate a major concern with enterprise software applications
-- Net Weaver code foundation matches that of SAP's enterprise resource planning applications, easing development and integration

Bob Stutz, SAP's CRM chief, said in December that CRM 2007's look represents a big UI improvement over that of the last release.

"[CRM] 2006 was more of a beta release to get more customers on and get more feedback, find out what's missing, what we needed to do. [CRM] 2007 is a pretty radically different UI. It has the ability to do things like add mashups. It's quick, simple and fast. In 2006, nothing was drag-and-drop," Stutz, senior vice president for CRM global strategy and product development, said at the Boston event.

SAP has also simplified custom development and integration with its latest release. CRM 2007 is based on the company's Net Weaver foundation, meaning that corporate developers can parlay Net Weaver skills from the ERP realm in the new CRM offering.

The Competition
CRM 2007 is part of SAP's Business Suite, which the company aims at larger enterprises. It's more likely, then, to compete with Microsoft's new Dynamics CRM suites and Oracle's Siebel CRM offerings-both also available in hosted and on-premise versions-than it is with Salesforce.com. The titan of hosted CRM, mostly for small and midsize businesses, Salesforce.com doesn't have its own back-end ERP offering to match those of Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.

On the other hand, as is usually the case with SAP, there's some question about how dependent CRM is on sales and adoption of the company's market-leading ERP suite. Even the company admits that ERP is the cargo ship that carries CRM to market.

But one large SAP customer paints that dependency in positive terms. "If you don't have the ERP and the other connections you need, what you really have is SFA [Sales Force Automation], and as a sales manager, that's a limited battle. It's a great place to start but not a great place to finish," says David Macauley, senior vice president for CRM sales transformation at Siemens Corp., one of SAP's largest customers. "A salesman has questions and wants answers without having to care where they reside."

Macauley notes that while Siemens currently uses a raft of CRM products, including Salesforce.com, Siebel and others, it's standardizing on SAP CRM.

The Final Word
Any major release by SAP is noteworthy simply because of the ERP giant's massive installed base and the amount of corporate money worldwide already invested in SAP technology. Sometimes criticized for its clunky, hard-to-use interfaces, SAP has taken pains to make CRM 2007 look and feel good to average users. That effort is likely due to direct competition from Microsoft, which ties its Dynamics front-ends into a Microsoft Office interface familiar to a broad user base.

It's hard to say how much pick-up the hosted version of CRM 2007 will get, given that the suite is aimed at large enterprises, but SAP's flexibility demonstrates the company's commitment to offer "Web 2.0" options of its applications.

In all likelihood, those companies already invested in SAP ERP and looking to implement or upgrade CRM will take a long look at CRM 2007. That factor alone means that CRM 2007 will probably be a hit. Whether the new offering will attract new customers to SAP or lure others away from Oracle's Siebel apps or Microsoft Dynamics-or, for that matter, Salesforce.com-is harder to predict. But either way, CRM 2007 is likely to be a moneymaker for SAP and its partners.

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