Siebel: 'We Can Do Better'

Partners and competitors circle the field, as Siebel's new leadership promises a bright future.

Executives at the popular CRM vendor Siebel are trying to shake the speculation surrounding their company's fate after announcing their second new CEO in a year.

Last week the board of directors at the San Mateo, Calif., software company decided to jettison its CEO, J. Michael Lawrie, less than a year after he first took the job. He was replaced by long-time board member George Shaheen of Webvan and Andersen Consulting fame.

Shaheen's opening remarks as Siebel CEO drew sharp criticism for their lack of detail and focus on long-term improvements, a business strategy not much different than Lawrie's own.

His first test as CEO came early with the Siebel User Week in Barcelona, Spain, which runs until Wednesday. The event opened with a keynote speech by Shaheen Monday and was followed by an executive question-and-answer period.

He dispelled any notions of a buyout by another company, saying Siebel's business, operations and finances are strong and that is what he is focused on.

"We intend to be here next year and years beyond that," Shaheen said. All that's needed, he added, is for the company to execute better on the solid foundation of its software.

"I think what the market is telling us is they expect us to do better, and, to be quite frank, I agree with them," Shaheen said. "I think we can do even better; by no means should anyone think that this is a company sliding down a hill. It's not.

"We have much more going for us than even someone standing on the sidelines might realize," he added. "I think we can do better and I think our board feels we can do better and we are going to do better."

That's welcome news to Siebel partners who make software that integrates with the CRM provider, which in turn extends to Siebel's CRM capabilities to the benefit of the customer.

Nsite is a business process automation vendor that develops an automated quote approval application that ties into Siebel's hosted OnDemand CRM service. The company will announce Wednesday it has joined Siebel's alliance program as an OnDemand CRM software partner.

Bob Jandro, Nsite CEO and president, said he's heard of no changes in store for partners with the change in management at Siebel. In fact, he thinks the added emphasis by Shaheen on delivering better software means nothing but good changes for them in the future.

Siebel's OnDemand strategy, which emerged only after companies like proved there was such a big demand for hosted CRM, has developed slowly, but officials are trying to make up for lost time.

It's an area they've handled well, Jandro said, despite his initial doubts about whether Siebel was entering hosted CRM wholeheartedly or as a wedge against's growing popularity. He points to the sales compensation components added to Siebel's SMB program last year.

"When you're paying your sales teams to be aggressive in selling the OnDemand solution as part of your core component, that changes a lot," Jandro said. "I do believe they're out aggressively working this, not just upgrades for existing Siebel clients, but they are winning deals with their [OnDemand] solution with companies with no other Siebel relationship in place."

Others in the software industry look at Siebel's CEO shakeup and other current events as a larger indicator of things to come in the enterprise application arena.

Last week IBM posted disappointing returns in its latest quarter, well below Wall Street estimates. Last month Oracle beat out SAP in a bidding war over retail software specialist Retek.

Nancy Harvey, CEO of application development tool vendor TenFold, said the consolidations and flattening revenues indicate a change in the way customers look at software and the services that vendors provide.

Today's software vendors, which create software that's been developed over the course of years, are going to be replaced with software created on platforms like TenFold's, she said, which can be programmed much more easily and powerfully by IT departments.

"When you see companies as august as Siebel floundering or challenged, or perceiving that they need to keep turning over their leadership, or seeking to be consolidated into other players, it's a sign of how pervasive the fear and concern is in the IT sector," she said.

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