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J.D. Edwards tosses its hat into self-service ring

J.D. Edwards has tossed its hat into self-service ring.

Now that J.D. Edwards has jumped into the CRM game, the ERP vendor is working hard to fill out its front-office...

product line.

The company is touting new self-service applications that help companies cut costs by allowing customers and suppliers to access critical information on their own. In addition, J.D. Edwards has also offered a refresh of the OneWorld Portal that serves as the front door for most of the company's applications.

Context

Watching J.D. Edwards' progress in the CRM product buildout is like seeing one of those films showing the life cycle of a plant in 30 seconds. Due to its late entry into the market, the company's development schedule is on fast-forward as it moves quickly to build out the functionality that its competitors have either developed slowly or bought along the way. But it is not just aping the competition ? this new product set, for example, features a distinctly J.D. Edwards-like spin on self-service. Because of the company's roots, JD Edwards did not just whip up a customer self-service application, it also constructed a self-service application focusing on supplier relationships. This can also be seen as one application for CRM self-service and another for SRM self-service.

J.D. Edwards had been hobbling along in an unprofitable partnership with Siebel until last August. At that time, the company bought struggling CRM vendor Youcentric for a song (about $83m in stock and $3m in cash). Since that deal closed, the company has issued an update to the CRM product. The self-service application has some Youcentric technology at heart and has actually been available for a few months. Although J.D. Edwards claims to already have 25 customers for the product, it just got around to announcing it this month.

Technology

Like everything else in its arsenal, this new application will fit into J.D. Edward's all-encompassing OneWorld strategy. The self-service technology includes both a portal application accessible over the Web and a toolset that allows companies to build out and expose any other OneWorld application to customers. The theory, common among all self-service vendors, is that providing customers limited access to enterprise systems through a Web browser lets them help themselves whenever it is convenient for them while greatly reducing the company's cost.

The CRM self-service application allows customer to perform numerous tasks that really require little customer service involvement, such as applying for an increase in credit limits or checking shipping status on an order. Customers can also perform more complex rules-based actions like setting up alerts to send a message when balances are past due and a credit hold is imminent.

On the SRM side, customers can tap into suppliers' applications to check inventory levels, see on-time delivery rates and put out requests for quotes. Companies can also head off fiscal bickering by proactively checking what the supplier believes the customer owes. Joel Reed, J.D. Edwards' director of product market for the CRM and SRM lines, told the451 that there is a very large demand on the supply chain side from customers that want to tell suppliers what their internal forecasts for that supplier are. That way, the supplier is not guessing how much customer X will be buying from them down the road, giving the supplier a better idea of production demands and a better way to avoid product shortages.

While self-service projects have proven fairly disappointing on the whole, J.D. Edwards says the technology is not difficult to implement. According to Reed, deciding what information to expose to which customer is the biggest task -- not really a technically difficult operation, just one that requires a company to set aside the time for people to sit down and think it through.

Competition

Despite JD Edwards' assertion that it plans to tackle new accounts with this product, for the most part this release fills a hole in its product line that limited the CRM product's appeal to its installed base. Within that installed base, J.D. Edwards will not have much competition other than homegrown systems.

When it ventures outside the safe walls of its own customers, the picture changes dramatically, though. Since linkage to back-end data is what makes self-service of this sort effective, customers tend to go with whatever vendor owns their back-end account. So, if the customer uses SAP's ERP or PeopleSoft's supply chain system, they are extremely likely to choose that vendor's self-service offerings. At this point, J.D. Edwards is not offering anything glowing enough to disrupt that pattern.

Conclusion

Since these products have been out in the marketplace for a bit, J.D. Edwards has been able to mull over its early results. Its biggest surprise: while it expected that the most demand for this technology would come from supply chain customers, it has turned out to be overwhelmingly from CRM users. However, given the recent mania for anything that drives customer loyalty, perhaps this result should not have been a major shock.

HR> the451 (www.the451.com) is an analyst firm that provides timely, detailed and independent analysis of news in technology, communications and media. To evaluate the service click here.

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