SAN FRANCISCO — At SugarCRM's annual SugarCon event, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The open-source CRM pioneer's annual confab opened at the Palace Hotel here this week with an address from the company's chief executive officer, just as last year's SugarCon '09 did. The difference, of course, is that a year ago the chief executive officer who took the stage to greet hundreds of attendees was John Roberts; this time around, the corporate honcho addressing the crowd was Roberts' successor, Larry Augustin.
Augustin, a longtime SugarCRM board member and a member of the group credited with coining the term "open source," signed on as interim CEO last May after Roberts' departure, but by October had shed that interim tag.
"Sugar sucked me in," Augustin joked, before welcoming the 700-plus attendees with a raft of company announcements. The main attraction for most conference-goers, of course, was Sugar 6, the latest edition of the company's flagship product. The new version, Augustin said, reflects the company's commitment to continual improvement in CRM -- a commitment, he noted wryly, that many of SugarCRM's competitors have lately made a lower priority.
"If you look at [the competition's] Web sites, it's all about clouds, not about CRM," he said. The gibe was clearly directed at software-as-a-service CRM leader Salesforce.com, which recently rebranded itself as "the enterprise cloud computing company." (In fact, during Salesforce.com's user conference last November, SugarCRM launched a guerrilla-marketing campaign mocking the cloud-based positioning.)
"Sugar is not in 'the cloud business,' " Augustin told the SugarCon faithful. "It's in the CRM business." Calling Sugar 6 a "new generation of CRM software bred for the Web — for speed, simplicity, and interoperability," Timing the release of the beta version to coincide with the conference, Augustin hinted at a July date for Sugar 6's general release. Benefits of the update, he said, include new shortcuts and an improved user interface, reducing the number of clicks required for basic processes, thereby increasing user productivity.
Key features in Sugar 6 include:
- A "Facebook-like" interface: The application follows the flow of how people think, Augustin said, and presents users with bold tabs, data visualizations, and customization capability rooted in the popular Java programming language.
- Shortcuts bar: A common problem for salespeople — and managers — is the failure to log sales calls; with a quick click of the new Shortcut Bar, Augustin said, users can log incoming calls and assign tasks, all within the same screen.
- Global search: In previous iterations of the SugarCRM software, users had to navigate to another screen when searching within CRM records; search results now come down as an overlay, saving time and clicks.
The company also announced the availability of an application developed to run natively on Apple's newly released iPad tablet, as well as wholly retooled apps for the iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android handheld devices.
Augustin also stressed the importance of community as one of SugarCRM's core strengths, citing the fifth anniversary celebrated this year by SugarForge, the vendor's open-source development community. At the conference this week, SugarCRM announced an open development tree that will deliver daily code changes for the community edition.
"The camaraderie around SugarCRM sets us apart," said Clint Oram, the company's vice president of products and its cofounder. "Not as a product, not as a company, but truly as a community."
In an exclusive interview with CRM magazine following his keynote address, Augustin made a point of highlighting one of his goals as CEO — fostering and nurturing the company's partner community. With 200 resellers worldwide and integrations with more than 50 applications, Augustin said, the results speak for themselves. "I have always had this philosophy that was about working with partners," he said. "If we help others make money, we make money as well."
In other SugarCon news, the company announced a strategic alliance with SnapLogic, a cloud integration company, that includes the launch of an application-integration site called SnapStore. SnapLogic, according to its CEO, Gaurav Dhillon, sees its role with SugarCRM as a perfect complement: "We worry about connecting your applications -- you don't have to," Dhillon said. "You can focus on getting, keeping, and growing your customers — and we take care of the burden."
News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine.
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