Inside Business: Software systems that hit the road

As Siebel proves, technology can be used to increase sales as well as cut costs. Roger Trapp reports

Like the managers they support, technologies have becomeincreasingly focused on cutting costs. A large part of the attraction of investing in financial and human resources software has been the potential efficiencies created.

But now that management is thinking about increasing revenue rather than cutting costs as a means of survival, it is looking for information technology solutions that support growth.

This at least is the theory behind Siebel Systems, which claims to be the fastest-growing software company in the world. Although it was founded in 1993 and did not ship its first product until 1995, its latest annual figures show $39m (pounds 24.5m) of sales, an increase of more than 400 per cent on the previous year. Revenue for the third quarter of this year was $32.6m, and markets are predicting that the Nasdaq-quoted company will top $100m for the full year.

The company, which employs 400 people around the world, can see no sign of the bubble bursting just yet. It points to a report by analysts at Forrester Research indicating that the "customer applications market", of which Siebel is a part, will grow by the turn of the century to $3.5bn, or far bigger than the more traditional applications, such as manufacturing, financial and human resources.

Phill Robinson, European marketing director, explains the success as the result of a focus on companies' front offices to match the attention given to their back offices by the likes of SAP and PeopleSoft, which respectively concentrate on financial and human resources.

Previous efforts in this area had centred on automation, but - says Mr Robinson - came to nought because the roles performed by sales and marketing people and indeed all those in what are termed "customer-facing" positions cannot effectively be automated.

But this does not mean that information technology has no role. "We talk about sales force effectiveness, about supporting sales people," Mr Robinson says. What this means is supplying members of sales teams - typically in international companies that have thousands of employees in the field - with the information that enables them to do their job better.

"If I was a mobile salesman, the application would download on to my laptop information about prospects, competition and the like," he explains.

Moreover, he points out, more sophisticated companies can link this information with that serving the service department, for example, so that a customer problem will be logged when received and the information known to the sales person when they next call on the customer.

The approach is also applicable to banks that have for many years mystified their customers when unable to call up the simplest details about them, such as their current account balance, unless they call into their home branch. With consolidation in the sector carrying on at a dizzying pace, Siebel is doing a lot of business with the financial sector as well as with industries that are heavy in sales people, such as pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and other utilities.

But, as Mr Robinson accepts, these sorts of uses have only become feasible through the sharp reductions, in recent years, in the costs of computer hardware and software. Until recently, just the cost of equipping each member of a 10,000-strong sales force with a laptop computer would have been prohibitive.

The idea came to the company's founder, Tom Siebel, when he was working for Oracle, the software company based close by Siebel's headquarters in California's Silicon Valley. Having been in at the beginning of Oracle, Mr Siebel subsequently became vice-president responsible for sales and marketing before setting up the company's telesales operation. He looked around for a support system for this activity and, finding none, wrote his own. As is frequently the way in Silicon Valley, Mr Siebel then went out on his own. He built up a successful company that he sold to another Valley player and used the money to start Siebel Systems.

Not being beholden to venture capitalists has allowed Mr Siebel and his colleagues, in Mr Robinson's words, to "plough their own furrow" and so follow their conviction that multinationals needed a means of supporting their sales and marketing people in an increasingly competitive business environment.

With globalisation in full flow, it is particularly necessary for large organisations to be able to integrate their sales and marketing efforts around the world so that rival sales people based in different countries do not find themselves unwittingly competing against each other for one company's business.

But they have also backed their vision and the quality of their technology by forming partnerships with hardware suppliers, such as Compaq and Digital Equipment, and, more importantly, consultancies such as Price Waterhouse and Andersen Consulting. The latter has a stake in the business and its managing partner, George Shaheen, serves on Siebel's board.

Such organisations, with their hundreds of staff, have substantially aided Siebel's growth by implementing its systems, so saving Siebel from having to devote its resources to that sort of activity, as Mr Robinson acknowledges.

Siebel stresses that, while certain IT applications require processes to be re-engineered to fit them, most of its applications work through being adaptable to different situations. Mr Robinson points out that if companies change their ways of dealing with their customers for the sake of becoming more effective they could end up having the opposite effect through threatening their competitive advantage.

But this approach is also beneficial for Siebel itself. Because the way in which the software is used depends on the individual company's application, it can be sold to competitors within the same industries - so boosting Siebel's revenues.

As founder of a company that is growing fast even by the standards of Silicon Valley, Mr Siebel obviously feels he has a thing or two to teach companies aspiring to increase sales. In Virtual Selling (The Free Press), the book he wrote with journalist Michael Malone, he draws an analogy between sales people and the cowboys of the Wild West.

"Sales is the untamed frontier of the business world: unpredictable, passionate, theatrical, full of eccentric characters, and dangerous to the newcomer. Like the frontier, the destiny of sales is to be explored, settled, and tamed by people using the right tools and technology. But many also will perish on this frontier, because they are unprepared, unnecessarily exposed to the elements, and annihilated by quick-footed and aggressive foes."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Direct Marketing Manager - B2C, Financial Services - Slough

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity h...

Carlton Senior Appointments: Sr Wealth Manager - San Francisco - Inv AdvisoryFirm

$125 - $175 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Senior Wealth Manager – In...

Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser