Product Plans Gone Awry
I attended the DCI (Digital Consulting Inc.: www.dci.com) CRM conference on Wednesday, February 13, to discover that some product visions have gone awry in enterprise solutions. Two competing trends have forced a tradeoff that leaves solutions short of speed and robustness. The browser-based user-interface and the PDA.
For the truly thin-client enterprise solution, such as PeopleSoft 8, there is no application software on the client. Only a browser that is pointed towards the PeopleSoft web-app server, probably pointed at a business tier that is tied into a database server. This is a very clean solution for enterprise needs. When PeopleSoft upgrades are unveiled, all of the upgrades can be done at the corporate office and there is no need to ship software to each of the end-users clients, install it, and then check it. Furthermore, new business rules can be inserted once at the business object layer, and rolled out to each user immediately. The same can be said to alterations in the data structure.
This is beautiful enterprise system architecture. It is clean, clear, and quick providing there is enough web-app servers to quickly refresh each user’s screens and the LAN connection is relatively strong. It is perfect for in-house needs. However, for the direct sales force that is in the field, they have a problem. All of the data is on the data server, and they only way they can get to it is through a browser. How do they recover client’s phone numbers while driving between Denver, CO and Cheyenne, WY? The answer from PeopleSoft is to use a wireless connection to the server.
While broadband wireless is on the way, it is still a few years off maybe a decade. In the meantime, PeopleSoft is requiring each of the Direct Sales Force individuals to live with slow access to their data something that few sales executives making between $150k and $250k per year are likely to be willing to do. This is where Pat Sullivan of ACT should cry out Useful Use .
While the PeopleSoft strategy may seem awry for the direct sales force, we can always go to an alternative software vendor, such as Siebel. They have a functional Palm Sales tool. Their Palm Sales tool appropriately separates contacts, companies, opportunities, and products the basic ingredients in making sales, yet falls short of being able to quickly draw links between the data to perform a series of activities like Find John Doe, Find what company he works for, Find all other contacts at that company, Start calling to develop and qualify an opportunity. It also lacks in the ability to let the sales department do blue-sheets, add data elements, etc. At $1200 per user, Siebel’s solution may be the thing Accenture plays with for a week before choosing their next e-Strategy. When the palm itself is only $199, and many business users look to purchase software in the $5 – $50 range and ACT going for less than $200, Siebel has missed the mass market and clearly gone for the corporate market with a premature solution.
This brief review of CRM products however points out the maturity of the enterprise market and the errors in marketing to it. We are far from the one-size-fits-all mentallity and are ready for the basics of a good marriage between marketing and technology segment, target, build, sell. On the outskirts of technology, we still have to play and discover unique means to manage data flow, access, and analysis anywhere and on any device. Something our own Sarvega is doing an excellent job at enabling. At the core of business, we still have to focus our marketing strategy, promotion, and sales to bring appropriate technology to solve real business problems.
For Chicago tech ventures, even in this semi-mature market space, there is room to do some innovative and profitable work.
The May Report, February 18, 2002