September 2009 - Siebel CRM Productivity Tools

As staff come back from summer holidays the news from the EU, US, and Asian economies is that we are emerging from the recession with projections of small growth. At this time many Senior Managers are looking at how they can take advantage of the growth and work their way back to prosperity. While some companies are still cutting costs and laying off people others are looking ahead and restructuring to take advantage of the resources that made their companies grow during the good times. Should the rebound of the economy accelerate companies will either need to be more productive with the staff surviving or hire new employees and continue the viscous cycle of feast then famine.Too often growth occurs at a pace that we cannot keep up with. As new technologies emerge often they can support the Enterprise with tools that enable departments to do more with less staff.

This month I would like to highlight the differences between old and relatively new automation tools available in the Oracle Siebel CRM Enterprise product that supports the concept of doing more with less. During my training classes I typically identify the differences between what I call Passive versus Aggressive Business Process Adherence. Instead of letting people go who are not fully productive, now would be an excellent time to have them build new productivity tools for your community of users, helping them to more easily complete tasks.

I do not know of any company today that is not basing all IT development on Business Process logic. In many applications the knowledge of the Process is the responsibility of the user. While processes performed daily are familiar to us and burned in our brains, those that are done Monthly, Quarterly, or Yearly experience higher error rates and lower productivity as we may forget and miss important steps.

In Siebel 8.x implementations it may be difficult for those guiding the CRM initiative to understand the differences between similar but different Technical features of the Siebel application. Before I highlight how I look to use different Automation Tools to solve different user needs, it is important to understand how I define passive versus aggressive automation tools.

In my last position I worked for a company that was having quality problems and decided to implement a Japanese based Quality Management program including a mechanism called Poka-Yoke which loosely translated means "Fail-Safing". As part of this initiative every employee was tasked to develop Fail-Safing tools that could be deployed in the company. One such tool I came across was the development of simple plastic keyboard templates that highlighted major steps in critical and error prone business processes. The user was responsible for reading the template and directing the application through the business process. The tool was passive as it just lay there on the keyboard with the user doing the work of following the documentation.

On the other hand some Poka-Yoke's that I reviewed included new automation tools that would force the user through the Business Process while validating data entered. These tools I label as aggressive as they are telling the user what must be done and ensuring it gets done.

In the Oracle Siebel CRM Enterprise product there are features like Drilldowns (Hyperlinks), iHelp, and custom Help features that are passive in nature while other tools like SmartScripts, Interactive Workflows, State Model, the Haley Business Rule Engine, and Task UI that are aggressive in nature as they force the user to adhere to steps in the process. For many it may be confusing as to which tool to use to solve the myriad of challenges experienced by users. I thought it might be useful to discuss these tools and identify how they can aid developers in making the Siebel solution easier to use.

Passive Business Process Adherence Tools

· Drilldowns/Hyperlinks - in the normal Siebel List Applets, Drilldown configuration displays a Hyperlink that will navigate the user to another view in the system. These Drilldown objects are compiled into the Siebel Repository File and can easily be modified to navigate users to the most common view that would represent the next step in a typical Business Process. The Drilldown object can be configured to be dynamic using a condition to navigate the user to different views dependant on data in the active Business Component. The ease of configuring Drilldowns and benefit to the user should cause Business Analysts to align the Siebel Drilldowns with the Views typically represented in the next step of the process. As the user must identify and click on the Hyperlink, I consider this to be a passive tool.

· IHelp - introduced in Siebel 7.x iHelp enables an administrator to document the Business Process with Hyperlinks to the Siebel Views supporting the process along with the ability to highlight the important data Fields needed to complete the process. The user accesses iHelp via the Toolbar or Screen Home Page Views. The user is required to move the process along by scrolling through the iHelp documentation and click on each step making the user the aggressor and iHelp a passive tool. As iHelp is administered in the Siebel client it does not require any compile or distribution of a Siebel Repository File making it a very easy way to document those difficult processes. iHelp development is relatively easy and can support multiple languages and I would recommend documenting every major Business Process with this tool.

· Since the beginning of Windows based applications the traditional Help features presented in most applications are also available in Siebel. If your users are all using Windows Operating Systems you can customize the out of the box Help files to include your custom documentation, which could include Business Process documentation. While this is the oldest form of Windows Application documentation it is also the least exciting and has little direct association to the application as do Drilldown and iHelp features. I personally prefer iHelp as a documentation tool as it adds a new Web Page frame to the existing UI rather than Help which is a separate window overlaying the UI.

· Siebel Assistants - Made up of Activity Plans and Assessments these two Client based administrative tools enables an administrator to support Business Process logic with Assessment Questionnaires that can support either Sales or Service representatives with questions resulting in a score that would aid in the decision making process included in analysis steps of a process. The Activity Plans are very useful in that Administrators can group and assign activities associated with an Activity Plan Template. User accessing the template inherits all the related activities and their assignments. Used in both Sales and Services the Activity plan could represent work needed to take action on steps associated with the Business Process. Since both Assessments and Activity Plans require user action, I consider them to be passive automation tools.

Aggressive Business Adherence Tools
· Declarative Configuration - Siebel Development Staff should be well aware that the most efficient way of implementing business logic is via the three layers of objects that make up the Siebel Repository. While these changes require a compilation and deployment of a Siebel Repository File, they also provide the ability to define logic that will enforce relationships between Business Components (Link Object), implement validation logic (Field Object), Filter data (Business Component or Applet Objects), enforce database insert, delete, and update Editing Options (Applet or Business Component), enable Required Field Logic (Field Object), or special functions embedded in the underlying Siebel C++ code via User Properties that can invoke methods or update a Field when another Field is modified. These changes are relatively easy to upgrade and have superior performance characteristics when compared with their more focused Business Automation Tools. This logic can force users to enter Required Field data or ensure entered data conforms to a bounded set of values used in a Pick List. Making it an aggressive tool. I do my best to discourage customers from extending Siebel's capabilities via code-based scripts when a Declarative Configuration or Automation Tool can perform the same function.

· Workflow Processes - A graphic programming language, Siebel Workflow processes enable a developer to create a Flowchart of business logic with properties that enable the Flowchart (Workflow Process) to execute like a standard piece of code with branching and error handling logic. In Siebel version 6 Workflow was enhanced with a User Interact step that enabled the process to wait for an event and navigate the user to another view, forcing them through the Business Process. While I consider this the first fully aggressive Business Process Adherence tool, anyone who tried to implement Interactive Workflows soon realized that the logic needed to handle forward and backward process logic required more development to handle navigation than it did to accomplish the objectives of the process. With many ways to invoke a Workflow Process it is a versatile tool that is more easily upgraded than apiece of normal code. Because the Workflow process can force the user through a set of views, I consider this to be an aggressive automation tool. The uses for Workflow are many; today it is a popular tool to use in Integrating Siebel and other Applications, and acting as an Electronic Agent, performing critical tasks in the background responding to changes in the Database. A deep understanding of Siebel and its architecture is needed to develop new Workflow Processes.

· State Model - An administrative based tool State Model can control the transition of values displayed in a standard Siebel Pick List. State Model can hide Static Pick List values that a user does not have the authority to access. An example would be that an Employee could transition an Expense Report Status Field from a status of In Progress to a status of Submitted, while hiding the Approved value the Employee does not have the rights to select. As State Model hides data only showing valid values a user can pick, I consider this an aggressive Business Process Adherence tool. This is a wonderful tool that requires no development resources to maintain.

· Business Rule Inference Engine - In Siebel 8.0 the Haley Authority Business Rule Development Tool and Processing Engine were integrated with the Oracle Siebel CRM Enterprise product. The Haley product is a departure from traditional application development as it enables Business Rules supporting Business Processes to be developed using a Natural English Language Rule Statement Authoring Tool. As a Technical person I am concerned at the time it would take to read the equivalent of a book of rules written in English and understand what logic is being implemented. I have heard from my students about projects using Haley Rule Authoring with very good results. Since Rules are developed with the Haley Authoring product they are not compiled in the Siebel Repository File making the release cycle faster than typically associated to the deployment of Declarative Configuration alternatives. While Haley can be used to define validation logic, set default values, and enforce rules across multiple Business Components, these capabilities are also available through Declarative Configuration, which will out perform the Haley Engine. The advantage of Haley's is that a Business Analyst could become a Haley Developer defining new logic. I have heard from students working in the Public Sector that Haley is quickly becoming a favorite tool enabling these agencies of the government to adapt their IT processes at the same speed they implement new laws and policies in the government.

· Administration - Data Validation - Though developers can build validation on a Field using Declarative Configuration steps to modify the repository Field object, this process requires a re-compilation and distribution of the Siebel Repository File which takes time and operations resources. An alternative is to use the Siebel Client Administration Data Validation tool to build similar logic without the need for compilation. Like the Haley tool, this enables faster response to changes in Business Logic, which forces users to adhere to Business Process requirements making it an aggressive tool.

· SmartScript - Since I started working with Siebel in 1998 SmartScripting has been available as alternative to the normal Siebel User Interface. With a SmartScript, a text based User Interface replaces the standard UI. Originally meant to reduce training of Call Center operators performing Out Bound Marketing based Campaign Calling functions SmartScripting used to require considerable development in order to save data spread across multiple Business Components. The latter versions of SmartScripts perform the same functions with development performed mainly in the standard Siebel Client with greatly reduced and in many cases no need at all to develop code to support the storage of data collected. I was impressed by the ease of development in Siebel 8.x of complex scripts collecting data across multiple Business Components. While this tool is still valuable for Marketing Campaign Calling it has greater capabilities that can also assist in Service processes to collect information and guide the user through a diagnosis or repair process that may have many steps with many conditional branches. The SmartScript framework provides for Forward and Previous stepping through the script with no additional development needed by its author. As the SmartScript progresses the user through the process, I consider it to be an aggressive Business Process Automation tool that can quickly respond to changes in process logic.

· Task User Interface - My favorite Siebel 8.x New Feature the Task Based User Interface can be thought of as a SmartScript on steroids. Like a SmartScript it replaces the standard UI with a Wizard like UI. The framework supporting the TUI provides for user progressing through the task using forward and backward navigation buttons. Like the SmartScript the data entered in the Task is only written to the Database at the end of the Task. Like a Workflow the Task is developed using Siebel Tools and is not compiled into the Siebel Repository File though any of the UI Applets or Views used in the Task must be compiled. The Task UI like a Workflow can invoke Siebel Business Services (Code packets global to the Siebel System and written in either Siebel VB or eScript), Siebel Workflows, and Sub-Tasks making it very robust and able to handle even the most complex processes. Though the Task UI is powerful, it should not be thought of as the Primary User Interface; instead it is the extra productivity tool to aid users as they perform complex processes. The Task UI has another advantage as it is administered like a Siebel View via Responsibilities giving administrators total control over which users have access to the Task. As the TUI forces the User through the process it allows a user to pause, resume, and transfer the Task to another User, making it my favorite Aggressive Business Automation tool.

Congratulations, you made it to the end. I hope this list of easily upgradeable automation tools provides ideas that will help you improve your Oracle Siebel CRM implementations making it easier for your users to deliver error free adherence to complex business process challenges.

As this is my last article and blog, I thank my readers for their kind and motivating comments and hope to keep in touch with everyone through other channels of communications.


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