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Siebel updates hosted CRM, again

Customer relationship management software maker revamps its online hosted applications for fifth time in past year.

Siebel Systems, the customer relationship management software giant, has introduced the latest update to its online hosted software, adding new tools for workplace collaboration and product marketing.

Wednesday's launch of the hosted software, dubbed Siebel CRM OnDemand Release 8, marks the fifth revision of the online tools that the company has released in the past 12 months.

The software maker has been increasingly focused on the market for hosted CRM as rival Salesforce.com continues to grow at a rapid pace, while Siebel has struggled to meet earnings and sales expectations.

Among the updates to the CRM package, which is aimed at helping companies gather and manage data regarding their customers, are a number of tools designed to let workers share information more effectively. These include new group-calendar and task-management applications with onboard integration with Microsoft's dominant Outlook e-mail software, as well as a new set of collaboration applications for sharing information on accounts, contacts and sales leads.

Other additions to the hosted offering, through which companies hand over their corporate data to outsourced providers to manage on Siebel's servers, include new tools for tracking relationships between contacts, and a marketing segmentation application for use in creating targeted promotional campaigns.

Siebel, which played a pivotal role in launching the market for CRM in the 1990s, has seen its sales slow over the last several years as companies such as Salesforce.com have introduced hosted applications that offer faster installation and lower cost of ownership than Siebel's traditional packaged software. However, Siebel was faster to move into hosted CRM than some if its rivals, such as SAP, and continues to fight to increase its presence in the hosted, or on-demand, market.

Laurent Pacalin, general manager of CRM products at Siebel, said the company's biggest advantage in the market today is its flexibility to offer customers both hosted and on-premises CRM, and to let companies mix and match applications as they please.

"With both options, we're leaving the field wide open for customers no matter what they need. That's where we can distinguish ourselves from the competition," Pacalin said. "Customers want some pieces done differently than others, for specific tasks and geographies, and we can give them the option to do that."

Pacalin said that Salesforce.com has done a good job of championing the hosted model but that businesses, especially large and midsize companies, continue to approach Siebel based on the greater levels of sophistication it can offer.

"At the end of the day, customers want choice to grow as they choose, not wait for products to become mature to meet their demands," Pacalin said. "Underlying data structure is more important than how you market your applications, and that's why we will succeed."

Last week, Siebel announced at its annual shareholders meeting that it will pay out its first-ever stock dividend to investors. The announcement came amid calls by some shareholder to withhold re-election votes for several of the company's directors, including founder and Chairman Tom Siebel. The company's leaders, including recently hired Chief Executive George Shaheen, denied at the meeting that they are losing ground to Salesforce.com, SAP and others, and indicated that the software maker's hosted offerings represent one of its best opportunities for renewed growth.