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Oracle to unveil customer management suite

The database software giant will tomorrow announce the Oracle Service 11i component of its customer relationship management suite.

Database software giant Oracle will tomorrow announce the Oracle Service 11i component of its Web-enabled suite of customer relationship management (CRM) software.

Oracle Service 11i, which will be available in May, enables companies to automate several areas of customer service via the Web, such as field service, customer self-service, customer inquiries via email, delivery of products, scheduling of products and customer service contracts.

CRM software includes applications that automate a company's sales, marketing and customer service needs.

Nine software modules are included in Oracle's Service 11i CRM component, such as Oracle Customer Intelligence, which gives companies an overall view and analysis of customer data; Oracle iSupport, a self-service information portal; Oracle Depot Repair, which automates the product returns process; and Oracle Contracts, which automatically manages a customer's service contract.

Release 11i, which incorporates the company's CRM suite with a Web version of Oracle's flagship enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, was originally slated to be shipped to customers last November. However, delivery dates for both ERP 11i and CRM 11i were delayed to the first and second quarter of this year, as the company fine-tuned development.

Regardless of product delays, analysts say Oracle is positioned to grab a hefty portion of the lucrative CRM market, well ahead of the game against rivals SAP, PeopleSoft, Baan and J.D. Edwards, which have all made moves on the market.

"In many respects, Oracle is far ahead of its ERP competition," said Judy Andaloro, an analyst at AMR Research. "(Being late) definitely doesn't help them because there are many customers waiting for (the product). But you have to remember that Oracle is really taking on a lot (with Release 11i), so I'm not surprised by the delays."

Release 11i has been modified to include a new user interface designed to look like an Internet portal--similar to what Oracle rival SAP has been trumpeting with its set of Internet-based business applications.

Relase 11i will also give Oracle customers access to a host of new self-service applications. For example, a new accounts-receivable module will let users perform their own collection inquiries, cash applications and bill disputes online.

Another major selling point: 11i has the ability to automatically link to data housed in back office systems.

"Having CRM and ERP integrated is extremely important because companies need to be able to track customer information throughout their entire enterprise," said Bob Ferrari, an analyst at AMR Research. "The very fact that it will provide customers CRM integrated with the supply chain and the back office is compelling ... (Oracle is) providing customers not only the ability to have CRM but the seamless integration with the back office."

Last month, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said the company's third-quarter sales of CRM software reached $49 million, up 179 percent from a year ago. He predicted sales will double next quarter. Ellison has been known to target front-office software leader Siebel Systems, claiming Oracle is No. 2 in the CRM market and vowing to knock Siebel very soon out of its No. 1 spot.

Oracle said it expects to continue rolling out components of its CRM suite in the next few months. Pricing for Oracle Service 11i was not disclosed.