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Siebel 'cautious' on software market

Tom Siebel, chief executive of Siebel Systems, says the "slightest thing just siderails everything" in the business software industry.

Tom Siebel, chief executive of Siebel Systems, said he's keeping a "cautious" outlook on the mid- and short-term prospects of the business software industry, which is still in the throes of a multiyear contraction.

"In the past three years, we've seen a number of false starts," Siebel said Monday via a teleconference call to a group of securities analysts. "The slightest thing just siderails everything."

However, Siebel said he remains confident in the long-term health of the industry and his company, the largest developer of customer relationship management (CRM) software in the world. "We believe we're poised to grow this thing," he said.

The call was a routine midquarter update that the company holds on a regular basis, the CEO said.

Siebel, once a fast-growing software company, has seen revenue and profits fall during the global economic turmoil of the past few years. The San Mateo, Calif., company is reorganizing in response to slackening demand for its products and falling prices.

Siebel said Oracle's ongoing fight to acquire PeopleSoft could have a negative impact on Siebel's third quarter, which ends Sept. 30. "I'd be surprised if Oracle goes away, and when this thing amps back up, it might have the same affect that it did before," he said.

Siebel said in July, at the end of its second quarter, that Oracle's bid to buy PeopleSoft had slowed its sales because it made information technology buyers uncertain.

The company released a new version of it CRM software, version 7.5.3, in July and expects as many as 300 out of 3,500 Siebel customers to upgrade to it by October. The company also is working on a next-generation release, code-named Nexus, that will incorporate some of the development work it has embarked on with Microsoft and IBM. Siebel said anticipation for that version, which may not be available for another year or two, isn't holding up customer migration to interim versions.

"I don't know of any customer on the planet that's waiting for the .Net release," Siebel said, referring to the Microsoft .Net technology the company is building into Nexus.

Asked about competition in the CRM market, Siebel gave German rival SAP credit for becoming a "factor in the market." "We watch them all the time," he added. He described Microsoft's presence at the high end of the CRM market where Siebel competes as "smaller than a bread box." He also dismissed the competitive threat from Salesforce.com and Intuit, the latter of which just announced a new CRM initiative Monday.