Siebel picks its targets

Vendor views customer relationship management as central to homeland security, e-government initiatives

Siebel Systems Inc., a giant in the commercial market for "customer-facing" software, is seeking to play a bigger role in the public sector.

Siebel is a $1.8 billion vendor of customer relationship management (CRM) and e-business software. CRM products help organizations better serve their customers — or, in the case of government, their citizens.

The company is angling for inclusion in federal acquisition vehicles, briefing agencies on how its products could work in homeland security initiatives and positioning its latest release, Siebel 7, as a platform for e-government projects.

"We're doing the basic blocking and tackling to get into the market," said Frank Bishop, vice president and general manager of Siebel's public-sector business. Siebel is in the third year of a public-sector push, having already established itself in such commercial markets as financial services, high technology and consumer products. So far, the company has accumulated more than 50 public-sector customers, including the General Services Administration, the Virginia Department of Taxation and the city of Leeds, England.

Bishop said he believes more government customers are ready to embrace CRM software, noting that the public sector typically trails the commercial market in technology acceptance. Accordingly, Siebel is working to make its products more widely available. To date, the company's main path to government accounts has been through integrators adopting the vendor's software on a project-by-project basis.

But now Siebel is "working to get on a number of existing contracts with integrators," said Bishop, who declined to identify the contracts. Currently, Siebel's main governmentwide vehicle is the GSA schedule.

On another front, Siebel is talking up CRM's attributes as a homeland security solution. Bishop said Siebel's products promote data sharing, a key requirement for agencies seeking to collaborate on homeland security efforts.

Overall, Siebel is emphasizing its expertise in providing e-government platforms for managing call centers and e-mail response operations. Siebel also sees itself helping governments set up one-stop online shops for citizens seeking information or requesting services.

With the release of Siebel 7 in November, the company aims to broaden its reach into employee relationship management, or ERM. Siebel 7 includes the ERM 7 suite, which facilitates communication between organizations and employees. Bishop said ERM 7 could play well in government, given the logistics of communicating with a far-flung workforce.

Siebel 7's Smart Web Architecture is another feature that Bishop said could benefit government customers. The architecture eliminates the need to install client software other than a Web browser. In past iterations of the product, customers had to install HTML client software on their PCs.

Technical personnel "like the fact that it is browser-based," said Bob Schultze, executive commissioner for customer relations at the Virginia Department of Taxation, which has a 700-seat license for Siebel software. The department has deployed Siebel's CRM software as part of a tax systems overhaul and plans to upgrade to Siebel 7 next summer. The new version will ease the organization's administrative chores, because information technology staffers won't have to deploy software on each PC or laptop.

In general, Siebel's "methodology- driven" nature fits well with the governmental penchant for policies and procedures, said Adam Honig, president of Akibia Consulting, a CRM specialist and a Siebel Premier Consulting Partner.

Siebel and its partners have challenges ahead in the public sector. Bob Thompson, founder and president of Front Line Solutions and founder of the CRMGuru.com Web site, cites budget pressure and the transitory nature of top-level management among agencies. Then there's the issue of CRM's spotty reputation in the commercial market.

Bishop contends that the CRM industry's challenges have more to do with poorly defined project requirements than technology. To pave the way for public-sector CRM, Siebel is certifying the integrators who deploy its software. Project success "has a lot to do with the implementation phase," Bishop said.

Moore is a freelance writer based in Chantilly, Va.

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