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I attended Oracle’s annual OpenWorld conference this week. The company claims it holds the world’s largest technology conference, with 50,000 attendees and a million people viewing sessions online. It was a great opportunity to get close to the Oracle Fusion Applications, which the company presented as proven and ready, with customers using them on-premises and in private and public cloud computing usage methods. In keynotes from executives Larry Ellison, Mark Hurd and Thomas Kurian and application-focused sessions with executives Steve Miranda and Chris Leone, Oracle repeated the message that Fusion Applications are not just for cloud computing and web services but are also accessible through mobile technology called Oracle Fusion Tap that operates natively on the Apple iPad. The company left no confusion about its applications’ readiness for cloud and mobile computing, and provided insight into future advancements.

After last year’s Oracle OpenWorld I made a cloudy forecast for Oracle Fusion for CRM and HCM due to Oracle’s lack of clarity in its message, the applications’ lack of readiness for cloud computing and slow progress on its on-premises customer deployments. These items have been addressed over the last year. The company presented significant customer and partner validation on deployments of Oracle Fusion Applications in HCM and some in CRM for Sales. Oracle discussed marquee Fusion HCM customers such as ConAgra, Nikon and Red Robin, and boasted about overall progress on adoption. Oracle Fusion for HCM has expanded with the company’s acquisition of Taleo, which has been progressing nicely. Oracle recently announced its intention to purchase SelectMinds, whose software adds depth in recruiting and hiring processes through the use of social media to promote a company’s brand and attract talent. Oracle is rapidly filling any possible gaps in its ability to meet the expanding need to manage human capital effectively.

On the Fusion CRM side, especially for sales, I didn’t find as much validation from customers at OpenWorld, though the application is ready for faster adoption, as it proved by earning our highest-level Hot rating in our Sales Performance Management Value Index research; you can download the executive report at no cost and see for yourself. Oracle discussed its own transition to using Oracle Fusion CRM for Sales, which for any sales organization the size of Oracle would not be easy. Oracle also has embedded in the application a spectrum of analytics including predictive ones to provide indicators of retention issues with employees, just as it can help predict the potential behavior of customers in sales.

Oracle also showed off advancements for offerings in the contact center and marketing, but we will talk about those offerings and provide deeper analysis in the future.

On the mobile side, Oracle officially unveiled Oracle Fusion Tap, which provides an intuitive approach to using Oracle applications on the iPad. Oracle made a demonstration version of the software available on the Apple AppStore in August. I tried it out after seeing the demos at the conference. The application took seconds to start and was easy to use. The demonstration is focused more on sales organizations than on broader human capital management. Oracle takes advantage of Apple’s swipe and gesture support, and its organizational selector makes it easy and fun to assess a team and their activities. Oracle Fusion Tap is well ahead of offerings from many other companies that compete in sales and human capital management. It should be on HR and sales organizations’ evaluation lists, especially since they can try it in seconds themselves without having to do any complex configuration or waiting for approval by Oracle.

Oracle’s largest challenge with Fusion Tap is in the performance indicators part of the application. It provides easy access to key areas of focus, but its metrics charts are not well presented and not designed for autosizing and interaction. When you try to examine a chart more closely, it does not size to the maximize size of the display, nor does it let you explore charts interactively. On the plus side, eventual integration with Oracle Social Network will make Fusion Tap more powerful by adding collaboration features. The other challenge with Fusion Tap’s performance indicators is a problem I have written about recently and tried to educate people about for years: Performance is only one type of indicator necessary for action on analytics. I hope Oracle will address these issues and make the analytics more actionable and engaging. I wrote about this same issue of usability of mobile analytics in my analysis of Oracle Business Intelligence Mobile earlier this year.

I decided to see if the underlying Oracle Business Intelligence Mobile has advanced since much of this technology is used in Oracle Fusion Applications. Oracle had updated its mobile business intelligence for the iPad in August, but it appears the offering has gotten more complex in many areas of presentation and interactivity, and the demo performance compared to Oracle Fusion Tap was very slow. This could be compensated for with Oracle server computing power unless Oracle has placed the burden of processing locally on the iPad. Also, unlike Fusion Tap, Oracle still makes quick access to try its mobile business intelligence cumbersome with required configuration and registration, which leaves more room for improvement.

I found it refreshing to see the embedding of Oracle Social Network within Oracle Fusion for CRM and HCM. I was pretty harsh on Oracle last year for not being ready in its presentation of the software. I thought that we would not hear a lot more about the product until this year’s conference, and I was pretty much right. Now Oracle seems to have learned that simply providing social collaboration software by itself is not as valuable as embedded in the applications. Social collaboration should be part of business processes, as we have found in our business-specific research across sales, customer service and human capital management. According to Oracle it plans to make it available inside of Fusion CRM in 2013; it’s not clear yet when it will be available for Fusion HCM, but I expect also in 2013. I believe that Oracle Social Network is enough of an advancement that offering a trial of the software on the Internet via public cloud computing, as Salesforce.com has done with Chatter, would help give customers and us in the industry more confidence in its human and technological advancements. It would have been great to have everyone at Oracle OpenWorld using it to socialize and engage about Oracle advancements. Maybe next year.

Oracle also sees the importance of engaging employees and managers on a routine basis to increase the efficiency of their interactions. Oracle previewed what appears to be a Fusion employee and manager self-service set of applications. I liked what I saw but I am not sure when the company plans to release this, but competitors such as SAP, Workday and even Salesforce, with its Work.com and Do.com, already have similar existing approaches in the cloud today. Oracle also showed the future expansion of its footprint in traditional workforce management, where worker time and absence are tracked no matter whether they are salaried or hourly employees. This expansion beyond what Oracle already offers in Fusion HCM today, informed by its experience with previous Oracle and Peoplesoft approaches, is critical to helping the company stay competitive, and could be especially useful as organizations blend their focus on talent and workforce management together.

After two days of Oracle and customer sessions, along with a visit to the demonstration stands in the exposition area, it was clear that Oracle has made an important change in its approach to the market and its executive-level commitment to Fusion Applications. I saw more dialogue with partners to complement its applications, and many announcements, including Oracle’s on partners in Fusion CRM, who were also visible during presentations and demonstrations.

Oracle largest challenge is marketing to a business audience and being seen as a friendly and effective supplier of business applications. Businesses that have established relationships with other cloud computing application providers will not be easy to gain as customers just because Oracle is Oracle or their IT departments say it is a good idea.

Oracle Fusion is worth your consideration whether you are considering a move to cloud computing or still run applications on-premises or use a hybrid approach which provides more choices to customers than just a cloud computing only approach. We are now in a renaissance of business driving what it needs from business applications, and vendors that convince business they can be trusted will be at the center of a new world of cloud, mobile and social computing.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO & Chief Research Officer

Businesses aim to make their sales function as productive as possible, but they don’t always support that goal with investment in technology. I recently wrote about sales needing a swift technology kick. Sales application vendor Xactly provides a boot with the release of Xactly Incent 8 and will make parts of the application suite available from the Apple App Store for the iPad in the coming weeks.

According to our benchmark research on sales applications, 40 percent of sales organizations plan to deploy tablets initially or deploy them further. Since sales is already one of the largest adopters of tablets and smartphones, vendors that provide relevant applications will have a ready market. On the iPad, Xactly is providing sales analytics, easy access to quota and commission metrics and specifics of compensation plan performance by product and customer. Users can quickly determine sales performance and interact with the analytics. In addition to the native iPad app, Xactly offers a browser-based version that can work across a variety of smartphones, including those running Android. These advancements in sales analytics are smart as sales is one of the fastest growing adopters of using mobile tablets and smartphones for getting to applications and information. The new Xactly Explorer provides drill down and ad-hoc analytics needed by a range of sales roles. But beyond analytics they now provide the ability to set objectives to address the larger scope of sales performance that can be monitored and scored for integrating into a sales review for providing any additional compensation.

Along with the advances in mobility, Incent 8 helps administrators and sales operations team communicate within the application through its announcements, which can provide immediate notification for reviewing plans or when payments are ready to be made.

I like Xactly’s eDocs and Approvals module, which automates workflow for compensation documents and plans and integrates them within the system. This saves time and hassle by bringing all the components of a compensation plan into one application. Another module, Xactly Territories, lets users manage and optimize territories and define crediting rules and assignments, which is an area where mistakes often occur in manual and spreadsheet-based approaches. Xactly Sandbox provides users with a copy of their production data they can use to experiment as they deal with the changes that are constant in sales and strive to achieve their goals.

Almost half (49%) of sales organizations in our research admitted that the use of spreadsheets impedes the management of sales. Xactly can integrate data from sources such as sales force automation (SFA) and accounting applications and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets with its enhanced data integration service Xactly Express Connect, which uses technology from Informatica Cloud. This helps organizations bring data into the application and send it out to payroll and other systems that need commission and quota information. This application is built using Force.com, so it already integrates with Salesforce.com’s SFA environment.

Incent 8 shows sales administrators the state of their data and documents. To expedite access to the many applications that sales people might need to sign in for, Xactly has added SAML integration for easier single sign-on across applications. This release provides all the core capabilities for compensation and planning and management of sales commission payments. If you need analytics, modeling, territories and other capabilities, you can upgrade to other packages, which Xactly facilitates through its support services.

Xactly provides its applications on demand via software as a service (SaaS), which has become the preferred choice of 41 percent of sales organizations. By operating in the cloud Xactly can provide benchmark metrics that aggregate above and across its customers, providing broad insights into sales operations.

In addition to Incent 8, there is a new version of Xactly Express for small and midsize businesses; it also includes a tablet-based application that helps users ascertain their teams’ reps performance toward quota, which tops the list of concerns in our sales analytics research. Express also empowers sales teams to review their progress at any time without resorting to spreadsheets. The new version provides the drill-down and ad-hoc analytics needed by a range of sales roles, but beyond analytics, Xactly can set objectives and so monitor and score the complete scope of sales performance as part of reviews and for compensation purposes.

Xactly has supercharged its applications with analytics, which our research has found is the number-one technology trend for sales organizations, and now offering internal communication within its products that will hopefully evolve to further collaboration which is the second most desired technology trend in sales. Xactly goes well beyond sales compensation to provide a suite of applications for the needs of sales operations and the overall sales organization. Xactly understands the role of sales operations in supporting both management and account representatives, which is a major reason its business continues to grow. With Incent 8 it offers more sophisticated mobile and sales analytics support while addressing many of the core sales process and efficiency needs of organizations. I expect Xactly to continue to expand and support more needs of sales teams and impact not just the pipeline and forecast, but commissions and incentives. Xactly has advanced significantly since my last written analysis and continues to deliver incremental value to its customers and the industry. If you have not looked at Xactly recently, now might be the time to learn about the latest version.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO & Chief Research Officer

Mark Smith – Twitter

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