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Siebel creates software buzz for BT

The company cuts a deal with British Telecommunications for CRM software. But in tough times, will such CRM deals proliferate?

By Eugene Lacey

LONDON--British Telecommunications has partnered with software maker Siebel Systems to bring customer relationship management tools to small and midsized companies in the United Kingdom.

Traditionally, customer relationship management (CRM) tools have been the preserve of large organizations, with big IT teams to handle the complex integration required to produce real-time information on customer accounts.

Producing the information quickly enough is only half the problem. Using it to help customers on a range of platforms--Web, e-mail, phone--presents even greater challenges, which again has tended to restrict the use of CRM in larger organizations.

BT says its new Contact Central product cuts out this expensive complexity, combining resources to handle inquiries in all media forms. Contact Central is also faster to implement than older systems--taking just 25 days, according to BT.

The implementation of a CRM system by smaller companies enables them to compete with larger ones and realize a 20 percent improvement in customer satisfaction levels, the company said. "BT brings it in, installs it for you, and stands behind it. We are behind them 100 percent," Siebel Systems Chief Executive Tom Siebel said.

BT sees CRM as a natural market to compete in because of its strong dependence on communications and says it is the United Kingdom's leading supplier with "25 percent of the CRM market already," according to Pierre Danon, chief executive of BT Retail.

At roughly $286,000 for 36 people, Contact Central will be beyond the reach of very small companies, but may be seen as a possibility by midsized companies. BT also hopes to interest government departments and police forces. BT says it is investigating offering Contact Central through application service providers.

Siebel refuted the suggestion that CRM is seen as a discretionary purchase in these hard times. "CRM is the No. 1 priority on the CIO's list today," he said.

Staff Writer Eugene Lacey reported from London.