SAP opts for web interface to boost CRM use

Update to bridge the “cool” gap

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SAP announced an update to its customer relationship management (CRM) software with a Web 2.0-style interface that could help to increase usage rates among workers.

Companies often report that usage levels for their business software is lower than they would like, with, for example, salespeople managing accounts in Microsoft Outlook instead of their more expensive CRM software. SAP hopes to address that with CRM 2007, an update to its CRM product that will be widely available early next year.

The firm hopes to tap into users familiarity with Web applications in their personal lives and says it is trying to bridge the “cool“ gap between Web and enterprise applications.

SAP competes primarily with Oracle in the market for broad CRM suites, which include tools for managing sales, marketing and customer service. Other rivals include Salesforce.com, Chordiant Software and Infor.

Oracle probably has the broadest set of CRM capabilities, thanks to its acquisitions of Siebel and PeopleSoft, said Vuk Trifkovic, a UK based analyst with Datamonitor. "But I don't think that reflects badly on SAP. They have good tools with a lot of features, and they're a natural for anyone in the SAP ecosystem," he said.

CRM 2007 has a portal-like interface that workers can customise with information from within the CRM system or from external sources, such as publicly available newsfeeds and maps. They interface colour and theme is changed through different skin options.

The idea is to make the software more appealing to work with but also to provide information that might increase productivity. A salesperson might add a feed showing news about companies he plans to visit that week.

The software also looks different inside. The content is laid out in task windows that users can drag and drop to rearrange. The interface is built on SAP's NetWeaver platform and uses AJAX (asynchronous JavaScript and XML), a popular interface technology on the Web.

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