As of the most recent Forrester Wave Report for Customer Relationship Management applications, Oracle’s Siebel CRM is still quite a way ahead of its competition.
This is despite the fact that around 2011-2012, Oracle invested heavily in the Fusion CRM stack, which unfortunately did not stand up well against the competition. In early 2013, Oracle restarted the development on the Siebel application stack and has been consistently delivering enhancements to the application year on year as Innovation Packs. The key change has been the deployment of the Open UI architecture. This came out with the Siebel Version 126.96.36.199, or patchset 9, on top of Siebel version 8.1.1. The open UI architecture dramatically changed the user perception around the Siebel UI, since this effectively made Siebel browser independent, moving away from the previous dependence on Internet Explorer. The earlier dependence was primarily because the Siebel High interactivity client was heavily dependent on Active X controls. Over the last few years as Oracle launched the Innovation Packs (IP 2015 is the current one), this dependency has been done away with.
The new Innovation Packs are also adding in a lot of processes along with fixing bugs on the way. The biggest of the changes is that with IP 2015, Siebel tools, a thick client used for any kind of development, has now becoming Siebel composer, a web-based tool similar to most of the development clients for Cloud CRMs (this is still in a beta version in IP 2015 but is a step in the right direction). This will significantly reduce development and deployment times and will finally allow for zero downtime deployments as is common with most cloud applications.
Now the big question which comes to haunt the existing Siebel customers on why they should upgrade and how the upgrade process should be managed.
The existing Siebel customers fall into 2 distinct brackets:
- Old Siebel customers who deployed Siebel 15-odd years ago with Version 6 (Siebel 2000), upgrading to Siebel 7.X and then Siebel 8.0. (From the Oracle reports it appears that almost all of the Siebel customers moved to Siebel 8.0 since that is the version Oracle started the lifetime support from)
- Recent Siebel customers who deployed Siebel 8.1.X.
This article is primarily for the first set of Siebel customers.
Why should we upgrade to the new version?
- Siebel 8.X only supports the high interactivity framework. This is only officially supported on IE 8.0. IE 8.0 is no longer supported by Microsoft. While there are ways to make the HI framework work on IE 9 and higher, these are not supported by Oracle. As per recent updates, Microsoft is no longer supporting any IE version and instead only supports their newer Edge browser.
- A lot of objects which are standard in the newer version were not available in the older versions. This led to customizations in terms of new tables, business components, business objects and the relevant UI objects on top of these. The new objects effectively make the custom objects redundant.
- Most of the older versions of Siebel were dependent on scripting for basic things like data validations and these have been carried forward through the previous upgrades. Siebel, over the last few versions, has been reducing the dependence on scripting and increasing the dependence on workflows. These are available out of the box.
- Due to the lack of a proper workflow engine in the previous versions, customers had a tendency to use business services for managing the business logic. The newer version has a lot of this business logic by default.
- The data models have been changed dramatically. As an example, the address model has been completely changed. In versions prior to Siebel 8.0, Siebel had a concept of maintaining business addresses (Account Address) and personal addresses (Contact Address) separately. This was changed completely by having one common address table and maintaining intersection tables and the relevant joins for accounts and contacts.
- The Siebel horizontal application (SEA) does not exist anymore. The organizations must migrate to Siebel industry applications (SIA).
- The newer versions are 64 bit and not 32 bit and hence support newer hardware and operating systems.
Should we upgrade or re-implement?
The next key question to ask is whether the CRM installation should be upgraded as-is, or if should there be a reimplementation. The answer, however, is not that simple. Based on the previous section, let’s weigh the pros and cons of both.
- This gives the organization the opportunity to start with a clean slate and get rid of any old customizations which make no sense in the current world.
- Custom objects which have been created in terms of new tables, business components, business objects and the relevant UI objects on top of these may be redundant, with vanilla objects replacing them. While these do get upgraded, it makes sense to use the vanilla objects. The primary reason being that the inherent business processes around these vanilla objects have been tuned for performance. More importantly, these processes will get upgraded in future releases based on customer feedback.
- Using scripting for data validation is effectively redundant. There are user properties and the data validation manager available for the same purpose. The scripts (especially Siebel VB Script) do not get upgraded properly and can lead to significant performance issues as well. Trying to get rid of the scripts by going through lines and lines of code and setting up corresponding rules is an exercise which is best left alone, as it adds a lot of delays to the upgrade project.
- Many of the business services created by organizations to manage business logic or integration have been done away with, replaced by vanilla workflows and business services. Again these vanilla objects are tuned for performance and will always get upgraded with future releases.
- The upgrade will not accept custom data models for critical changes, for example the address data model. The upgrade will force the change. This leads to a lot of effort in changing the existing setup by identifying every single entity which is accessing the old structure.
- Reimplementation gives the comfort that there is an existing application live, while the new development goes on in the background.
- The reimplementation, while it has a lot of benefits, will definitely take longer to implement than an in-place upgrade. This is primarily because of the fact that it has to be treated as a new implementation.
- Since the application itself will be new, the test scripts will need to be redone.
- An in-place upgrade has a shorter deployment cycle than a reimplementation.
- The organization has a comfort factor that whatever has been deployed can easily be tested and signed off.
- The application will not be future proof. The new business processes will not be taken up as effectively the application will still have the old custom code but under a new hood.
- There can be significant performance issues.
- The errors induced because of an in-place upgrade will reoccur every time a new Innovation Pack is deployed.
In short, for the old Siebel customers, the best way forward is a reimplementation.
For the existing pre-Siebel 188.8.131.52 customers, the upgrade is fairly straightforward. For these customers the ideal way would be to undertake an in-place upgrade rather than a reimplementation.
This article is the first in a series of articles. The next few articles describe the actual upgrade process.