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In a display of CRM gravitas, Baan launches a configurator

Baan is reinvigorating its customer resource planning message. The company is rolling out a new product configuration application for its CRM system. But the company is still playing catch up

Now that it has been saved and turned around by automation and controls vendor Invensys, Baan plans to reinvigorate its CRM message.

In a move clearly designed to play up the firm's strength in both the back and front office, the company is rolling out a new product configuration application for its CRM system. Using the 'complete deduction' algorithm, the tool allows only valid configurations to be created. Based on the product definitions supplied by the product's administrators and the selections made by the customers, the application calculates all possible solutions that meet the requirements, and offers alternate ideas if the customer chooses a nonvalid configuration.


Product configurators are certainly not uncommon. Technology distributors have had online configurators for a few years, allowing value added resellers and systems integrators to build custom systems for customers without stocking huge inventories and without having to keep track of every manufacturer's requirements. Consumer-focused configuration tools also took off in popularity with the rise of online businesses-- Dell, for example, would see much slower adoption of its push to get consumers to buy over the Web if it didn't have a sturdy configuration tool to tell potential buyers that the system they wanted would work.

Configuration technology, through partnerships and acquisitions, has even begun to infiltrate mainstream CRM packages. What Baan and some of its prime competitors offer is deep integration with the manufacturing and supply chain process; in essence, they are offering the first tiny glimpses of the CRM holy grail ? tight integration with all other enterprise applications, such as supply chain and ERP.


Baan and its corporate parent, Invensys, face a particularly crowded field of battle. Longtime rival JD Edwards bought minor CRM suite vendor Youcentric this summer and has already rushed out a rebranded suite, now predictably named JD Edwards CRM. Following the same logic as Baan, JD Edwards already promised that an integration with its product configuration application would soon ship.

When Baan found itself in dire need of portal technology, it turned to its old adversary SAP to help out with technology it had just acquired from TopTier. But in the CRM space, Baan and its new buddy are also often slotted head-to-head. Both promise the same level of integration, and both are making their pitches to a similar set of existing customers. Besides these existing rivals, as Baan tunes up and fleshes out its CRM offerings it starts to enter the territory of front-office veterans such as Siebel, which bought configuration vendor OnLink Technologies in 2000, and E.piphany, which has a partnership with configuration specialist Selectica. Although it is a slight stretch, Baan could be seen as stepping on the toes of Selectica and its competitors, including Calico and Firepond, and even e-commerce vendors like Haht.


Although it is early in the game, the new configurator, technically part of the hosted iBaan package of hardware, software and business intelligence, highlights a likely path for supply chain and e-commerce vendors looking to parlay their strengths into success in CRM. To chip away at the lead of Siebel and PeopleSoft in getting their products into early rollouts at the huge players, companies like Baan, JD Edwards and SAP will undoubtedly be playing up the ease with which their customer-facing applications can be integrated with back-office applications. This pitch will obviously play best with their own installed base, but if they spin the message well, they could start to see heightened interest from companies either stung by drawn-out and unsuccessful CRM implementations or companies wary of befalling that fate. Unfortunately, while Baan, which bought Aurum and the CRM message in the late '90s, should rightfully be cruising as a company with strong CRM offerings, its numerous debacles and near bankruptcy leave it now playing catch-up.

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