August 2008 - Welcome
By harvey.saks on Aug 27, 2008
This month I celebrate one decade working with Oracle Siebel CRM applications. When I contemplated sending my resume (CV) to Siebel Systems, I wondered, why the industry so heavily favored this product and company. At the time I directed sales related information system initiatives for a global hardware manufacturer. I regularly evaluated products in the Sales Force Automation market as part of my job. Many vendors demonstrated applications that looked good but never seemed to get implemented. I remember a few vendor references that admitted to having bought products but latter found they could not afford the implementation and maintenance costs, and the product just sat in its box.
Being from New York I was naturally a suspicious person, so prior to accepting a job as Technical Account Manager with Siebel Systems, I requested a demonstration of the underlying technology used to customize and implement the Siebel 98 product. I knew I would work for the company after that first meeting.
It was a late meeting, on a Friday afternoon. The New York City population was beginning their weekly summertime migration to the beach. I was greeted at the door by a very professionally dressed Sales Consultant and introduced to her pet Iguana as I walked into the office. The two of them were getting ready to leave the office and begin the trip to their weekend beach house. After saying goodbye to the Iguana and owner I was treated to a tour of the Call Center Application, Siebel Tools and a lesson on its capabilities.
What I saw in the demonstration was a way to describe application functionality without the need to write program code. My 35 years in the Information Technology industry taught me that program code based applications have a short life span with a very poor ability to adapt to change. I became convinced in the power of the Siebel product, but at the time I did not really understand all that I had seen.
Soon after beginning my employment with Siebel I was sent to California for three weeks of technical training. My time in the office before my trip was spent pouring over technical manuals so when I sat in class, many terms were already familiar to me. While in class I drew diagrams in order to visualize and understand the materials presented by my instructors. I was nervous as I knew that the Monday after my return home I was scheduled to be a senior resource on a high profile project.
During my three weeks of training I got to know the 19 other new employees attending training. It was an interesting mix of people with varied technical abilities and future roles in the company. What would become a continuing trend in my Siebel career, there were people joining the company with skills in a product whose company was acquired by Siebel and they were hired to assist in the integration of the products database models.
I was very critical regarding the fact that the training was disjointed with many instructors and no guidance during the case study week we participated in. As a result I sat down with the program director (who would latter become my manager) to discuss potential improvements to the three weeks of training. For me the most beneficial day of training was the final day of the case study. On that day we were required to present our solutions. In the meeting sat some managers that our direct managers reported to. These experts were there to critique our solutions and progress. No pressure.
My team totally missed the point early on and followed a path that had us do a long and impressive presentation and a very short and dysfunctional demonstration of the working product. Another team completed many more objectives than we did, but during their presentation the solution fell apart as it did not adhere to best practices. It seems that the second team accomplished all the objectives by writing Visual Basic code to extend the application and satisfy the requirements (we were not supposed to write code). The chief programmer on that team got into a heated discussion defending the solution with several of the senior managers. It was painful to watch him defend himself while missing the point of the criticism, yes it worked, but it was a dead end and not maintainable.
He argued, the solution worked, what’s the problem. What he did not have an answer for was, would he be available when the application needed to be modified, upgraded, or enhanced. Like many who do not consider the long haul, as a technical rather than a business person he was willing to trade the high future costs of maintenance for a working solution today. While Oracle Siebel does enable programmers to extend the application writing complex code segments, it is an option that should only be used as a last resort. Instead, developers are encouraged to extend the application by manipulating objects in Siebel’s three layer Object Oriented repository. Oracle Siebel CRM also provides many Business Automation tools to help route data, implement sophisticated business rules all without writing program code. These alternatives to code/scripts are more easily and cost justifiably maintained and updated.
As Karma would have it, a week after I began on my first project, this coding genius whose technical capabilities I had a deep respect for but whose business decisions scared me, came on to my project as one of its lead developers. The customer, a major bank, who in 5 years had gone through 6 significant mergers, decided that two pilot programs would decide the future of Siebel at the bank.
The Project Manager running the Call Center pilot including integration to the CTI environment was required to say yes to all customer requests. No one wanted to jeopardize the big potential Branch opportunity. We were all encouraged to keep the customer happy and give them what they wanted. The customer at the end of the project wondered why the project was behind schedule and above cost estimates. The second pilot was run by a third party consulting team only one of whom had been on a training course. Though the second project personnel did not understand the product they were implementing, we managed to keep the needed changes to a minimum and implement with mostly out of the box functionality.
My job was to support both Pilots, keep them aligned, and lead them to a future integrated architecture including workstations in each of the banks branches. After spending 6 months trying to accomplish the impossible, and managing to negotiate the possible with the customer and implementation teams, I jumped at the chance to join the Curriculum Development department and help transform the three weeks of internal training I was so critical of, into a flagship program for our implementation partners.
For the last nine years I have focused my attention in the education department, sharing my experiences with my students. I have been asked to write a monthly article for this new publication. My future articles will start by covering topics describing the different stages in the life cycle of an Oracle Siebel CRM implementation. I will present topics covering implementation project and development best practices as well as interviews with people in the field, working with the product.
Next month starting at the early requirements gathering and design solution stages of a CRM project I will share the best practices I have learned, experienced, and have collected from others. I am eager to cover topics of interest to our readers and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with requests. Future articles will also include interviews with Field, Sales, and Development personnel working with the Oracle Siebel CRM solutions. If you are interested in hearing more about how we managed to generate over 9,000 lines of program code and still be successful, then look for next months article.