Oracle to Announce Free Sales Automation Software

Database, tools and applications vendor Oracle Corp. will unveil Monday, a free online CRM (customer relations management) software service.

Based on the Oracle 8i database, is designed to assist companies with mobile sales forces by making CRM information, such as contacts, leads, performance tracking and schedules, available online at no charge.

The software service, which has been operating, unannounced, for sixty days, is designed for companies who are looking to make the transition to operating as e-businesses, said Mark Barrenechea, Oracle's senior vice president of the vendor's CRM division.

Targeted at medium and large-sized enterprises, those with 50 to 500 users, Barrenechea says the service will help companies the most who have work forces spread over multiple regions.

Available to any company who wants to sign up for it, is free for basic use, but will include a pay-as-you-go-model starting in December, designed to only charge users who exceed the abilities of the basic package, such as those using travel, time or expense management options, as well as marketing services.

Oracle expects to make money off of this free service in two ways, Barrenechea said. First, the company hopes the service will drive sales of its other e-business software, and secondly, it expects that it will eventually make money off of the fee-based services.

Oracle claims that companies can begin using in a matter of minutes after signing up. This is because the offering requires no special software or hardware on the client side, instead basing all data and storage at an Oracle facility, much like the ASP (application service provider) business model. After entering data online, users will be able access that information from any computer with an Internet connection and Web browsers Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer 4.0 or America Online Inc.'s Netscape Navigator 4.0 or later versions.

Also included is online training in the use of the system and customer support.

Analysts, however, aren't too impressed with

"It's a big yawn at this point. It's a day late and a dime short," said Michael Maoz, research director of market research company Gartner Group Inc.'s CRM practice.

This is not the first time that basic sales automation software has been given away for free, Maoz said, and it's not the first time Oracle has made its software freely available, either. Oracle has been doing that for months, he added.

Such basic CRM services will not help many customers, Maoz said. Most likely, will appeal to organizations who already use Oracle's more powerful and full-featured back office software, startups who have no investment in CRM software or small companies who are only seeking the most basic services, he added.

Oracle's move to make some of its CRM software available for free is designed to slow the momentum of the leader in this market, Siebel Systems Inc., according to Maoz.

The new service is a challenge to Siebel, who cannot duplicate these offerings, according to Oracle's Barrenechea. To do so would erode Siebel's business model, he said.

Gartner's Maoz, however, is not convinced that will threaten Siebel. "won't change the CRM market," Maoz said.

Businesses will gravitate towards the best software, whether it is free or not, he said.

Oracle claims to already have 300 companies signed up for, including Auto Exchange, GlobalCenter Inc. and Barclays Bank PLC.

However, "there's a big difference between signing up and using," Maoz pointed out. Inc., another Web-based CRM company has 30,000 users and "is only a blip on the CRM market," Maoz said.

The question is, according to the analyst, is what benefits users, what improves customer relations? In his view, does neither.

Oracle, in Redwood Shores, California, can be reached at +1-650-506-7000 or via the Internet at

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