Oracle and Microsoft square up for Fall CRM showdown

As you do

ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

NetLedger Inc, an Oracle Corp off-shoot and maker of the Oracle Small Business Suite, plans to launch NetCRM this fall, putting the Oracle/NetLedger combo firmly in competition with Microsoft Corp's CRM plans and its interest in seizing a share of the small- to mid-cap market for business applications.

San Mateo, California-based NetLedger started life as an ASP, founded by ex-Oracle VP Evan Goldberg and majority funded by Oracle's chairman and CEO Larry Ellison, who also holds the position of NetLeger chairman. But when the ASP model failed to find favor, the two companies agreed NetLedger would continue to develop the software, but it would be branded Oracle Small Business Suite.

The result was that NetLedger got to use a quality brand name, thereby gaining credibility, while Oracle gained a company to do its bidding in the SME sector and an all-in-one product suite that meant it was able to go to market with a hosted application suite specifically designed for the small-to-mid sized market.

Originally focused on providing accounting software, before expanding and adding payroll, personnel, inventory, sales force automation and customer management, the addition of NetCRM bolsters the all-important front-office applications and results in a suite that address and integrates both areas of the business.

NetCRM fills a gap in the suite's front-office functionality with the addition of marketing functionality, particularly with regard to campaign management and segmentation to support personalized campaigns. It also adds partner relationship management. Overall the suite is aimed at 500-employee companies.

NetLedger's offering originally challenged bCentral, Microsoft's software-as-service initiative for the small businesses community. bCentral has since been folded into the Microsoft Small Business Solutions division that also houses Microsoft's Great Plains and Navision acquisitions and from which Microsoft CRM will sprout.

Now we have two roughly equivalent divisions from archrivals Oracle and Microsoft, both offering all-in-one application suites, aiming to integrate front- and back-office functionality and going straight for the same SMB market segment.

To add to that heady mix, both are due to launch their CRM products during the final quarter of this year, by which point they will have their patchwork of applications more of less complete and can start to take them to market with gusto.

Over the coming months several fundamental issues will be addressed. Given that Microsoft has yet to outline how it will integrate and manage the various applications gained as a result of its own development work and its acquisitions, Oracle looks to have the more coherent product suite.

Yet Oracle Small Business Suite is a hosted offering and despite the success of CRM ASP Salesforce.com, this model has not proved popular with the business community at large and even Salesforce.com has introduced an offline version.

Finally there is the channel issue. Microsoft was attracted to Great Plains and Navision because of their established mid-market centric distribution channels, an essential element in succeeding in the SMB market while NetLedger cannot match that amount of specialist market reach.

What is certain is that as of this fall, many of the pieces will be in place for a fall CRM SMB showdown between Microsoft and Oracle.

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