Rivals gloat as Siebel users left in the dark

Von Julian Bajkowski

If the merger between the world"s leading CRM vendor Siebel and serial acquirer Oracle Corporation could reasonably be expected to produce a strategy giving customers comfort through communication, think again.

As Australian CIOs and IT managers sit down at meetings across the country to figure out what the merger means to their enterprises, both Siebel and Oracle are remaining decidedly vague.

Calls to Siebel"s Sydney headquarters to ascertain what it is telling its customers found only a stressed receptionist, a marketing manager on leave - and a recorded answering message giving the number of the person on leave.

Computerworld enquiries to Siebel"s government manager, John Moran, confirmed it has been a very busy morning in Canberra. Asked about Siebel"s plans to communicate how it sees the way forward with Larry, Moran was only able to confirm a local plan is being worked, but declined to say when it will be communicated to customers.

The chief of Oracle"s Australian office, Brian Mitchell, was having similar difficulties elucidating exactly what his company will be able to tell either Siebel or Oracle IT managers on where they stand on a issues ranging from integration to licensing - or even when he will be able to tell them.

"We plan to speak to as many customers as possible. We do have a plan to communicate as soon as possible," Mitchell said. Asked if he could say when such a plan will be executed or revealed, Mitchell said he was unable to talk about that at present.

Other Oracle sources revealed the merger had been communicated to parts of the Oracle"s Australian operation late last night by text message.

Meanwhile, Siebel"s rivals are working overtime to fill the void with predictably grim warnings about the future.

Australian managing director of Salesforce.com, Doug Farber, said users on both sides need to consider the cultural baggage that will come with the deal.

"Oracle and Siebel hate each other," he said. "Larry [Ellison] has been dedicated to Tom Siebel"s demise for years. The corporate cultures are just so different. Now everyone has to act nice," Farber said, likening the deal to "dinosaurs mating."

Farber was also quick to claim the deal validated Salesforce"s hosted, on-demand CRM model which, he said, Tom Siebel, a former Oracle employee, "spent the last three years disparaging."

Ironically, Oracle is now talking up Siebel"s belated on-demand capability, with CEO Larry Ellison saying during a conference call the product is "a very important asset and we want to preserve and invest in it."

Siebel OnDemand is based on IBM"s DB2 database platform, a direct competitor of Oracle"s flagship 11i database product.

An Oracle briefing note on the company"s Web site states it hopes to achieve similar levels of customer satisfaction as when it acquired PeopleSoft.