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SugarCRM Reaches Further Into The Cloud

SAN FRANCISCO – SugarCRM is ramping up plans to be take on rival Salesforce. At the company's annual SugarCON conference today, it made several announcements that at least one analyst thinks puts it solidly in the conversation with other big name customer relationship management (CRM) players.

Among the key announcements were cloud connectors for Zoominfo and CrunchBase, an improved Web services framework, and customization capabilities to optimize SugarCRM for mobile devices.

"Our focus is on making the best product possible," SugarCRM CEO and co-founder John Roberts said in his keynote speech today. "It's all about delivering value to the customer."

Analyst Paul Greenberg said the company is making significant strides. "SugarCRM's becoming competitive," said Greenberg, president of research firm 56 Group LLC and executive vice president of the National CRM Association. "They're open source but, more importantly, they're really good," he told InternetNews.com.

Cloud Connectors for Zoominfo and CrunchBase are embedded within SugarCRM. The Cloud Connectors connect over Web services to third-party data service providers so SugarCRM users can get account and lead information from within the application.

Zoominfo is a major business information search engine, with profiles of more than 45 million people and five million companies. CrunchBase is a free database of more than 14,000 technology companies and 25,000 people.

Developers can use the Cloud Connectors framework, announced in December, to build new cloud connectors and make them available on SugarForge, for SugarCRM extensions, or SugarExchange. SugarExchange is similar to Salesforce.com's (NYSE: CRM) AppExchange marketplace. SugarCRM is using the same model as Salesforce, whose customers develop applications with the Force.com application development platform and can upload their applications to AppExchange.

Making a play for mobile

Another item announced today is SugarCRM's Mobile Studio Editor which lets developers customize SugarCRM for mobile devices. It delivers pre-built layouts and previews for modules designated for mobile use.

SugarCRM also introduced dynamic team capabilities that let users add multiple individuals or teams to a CRM record to enhance collaboration on complex projects. While it still lags behind Salesforce, which recently announced features that will let users connect all the different cloud computing services that are forming for enterprises and create presentations that include slide presentations, PDF documents and video, it may not be far behind.

In November, Salesforce announced tie-ins with Facebook and Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN). SugarCRM unveiled Cloud Connectors for Hoover's, online business directory Jigsaw and LinkedIn, the social networking site for professionals, in December.

"SugarCRM have an awful lot to offer at this point," Greenberg of 56 Group LLC, said. "I wouldn't have said that two years ago." He sees the company competing with Salesforce.com, NetSuite (NYSE: N) and other players in the small to medium sized business (SMB) and enterprise departmental markets.

"SugarCRM is very attuned to the trends and has accelerated its speed of innovation," Greenberg, of 56 Group LLC, said. "They've got strong support from the open source community and that helps, but the main development work is done by their own people," he added.

Roberts, SugarCRM's CEO, said the company emphasizes innovation. "It's not the companies that cut costs that will make it in the next five years, it's the companies that innovate."

In a swipe at Salesforce, Roberts said traditional CRM vendors, whether offering on-premise or software as a service (SaaS) applications, lock in their customers. "We don't believe in lock-in, we believe in sharing," he said during his keynote speech.

That might help SugarCRM's growth, Greenberg said. "Their business model fits what needs to be done in this downturn."