Clarity -- or at least the search for it -- is a central theme for the estimated 600 registered attendees at this week's SugarCon 2009, the third annual developer-and-user conference for Cupertino, Calif.–based open-source pioneer SugarCRM. One thing that's already quite clear is that there are a large number of announcements jockeying for the limelight at the show -- including new features, learning programs, and connectors to further streamline operations.
Martin Schneider, director of product marketing for SugarCRM, explains that many of the attendees are trying to determine what cloud computing truly means for their respective businesses. "As end users, people are trying to understand what 'open source,' 'software-as-a-service,' and 'the cloud' [mean] for them," he says. "The terms are somewhat amorphous and unclearly defined."
In addition to presenting speakers trying to clear away the clutter, the company also previewed new CRM features with the Cloud Connectors framework as the headliner. The framework will enable SugarCRM users to connect to various third-party data services, social networks, and more. According to Schneider, Cloud Connectors for ZoomInfo, a business information search engine, and CrunchBase, a free database connected to the TechCrunch blog, are now embedded within SugarCRM -- allowing users easy access to internal and external contact information.
"This allows people to think about CRM data in a whole new way," Schneider says of the latest development. "It's about being able to say, ‘OK, the data that's out there in the Internet -- "in the cloud," so to speak -- could potentially be CRM data.' You can pick or choose what information is important, how to consume it, and do so with the push of a button."
Additional new CRM features include:
- Sugar Themes, the user-interface layers -- presenting prebuilt and custom themes -- help users create a look and feel that will jibe with internal business users as well as external ones, according to Schneider.
- The Mobile Studio Editor will allow for more customization capabilities in optimizing SugarCRM for devices, with prebuilt layouts and views for mobile-specific modules. "We're obviously getting into mobile more and more," Schneider says. "We're trying to make it easier to deploy [with this enhancement] and simplify the application…so there's not a lot of maintenance."
- Dynamic Team capabilities from SugarCRM will enable users to add multiple individuals or teams to a CRM record to further enhance collaboration -- and perhaps even help unite the traditionally siloed areas of customer service, marketing, and sales. "This allows us to create teams in a manner that most fits the way teams really are in business," Schneider says.
- A hugely revamped Web-services framework, the last newly previewed functionality, hopes to streamline the performance of Web-service calls and help third-party developers create and maintain integrations to the SugarCRM application.
(In tangentially related news, a new custom connector between SugarCRM and Boston-based Web conference provider Dimdim was forged by MYCRM, a Germany-based systems integrator focusing on implementing solutions based on open source and software-as-a-service (SaaS). The companies say that the arrangement will provide users with access to enterprise Web conferencing and CRM at a fraction of the traditional costs.
Clemens von Dincklage, chief executive officer of MYCRM, explains that the cohesion is good for companies that do not have a large amount of money to invest yet still rely on flexible and scalable offerings for survival. "Our objective was to make it easy for SugarCRM users to start a Web meeting by staying in the application for a better user experience -- and convenience," he says. "So it fits well in the trend of combining open-source and SaaS applications to create solutions with more value than possible ever before."
Kevin Micalizzi, community manager for Dimdim, explains that having this type of integration with SugarCRM is beneficial for all parties, perhaps the end users most of all. "This gives direct business value to folks using that product and gives us the opportunity to more heavily participate in that space," he says, pointing out that the connector works with both the free and paid versions of Dimdim. "We have a unique message in the Web conferencing space in that, especially in these terrible economic times, companies can get more done [by] spending close to nothing. We're allowing both large and small companies to collaborate with customers more directly."
In other news, as a move to accelerate the adoption of CRM best practices across SugarCRM's global customer base, SugarCRM has unveiled its Sugar Authorized Learning Program (SALP) -- designed, according to the company, to enable all users to best utilize the software's functionality.
The SALP is a set of instructor-based training programs offered by a select number of Sugar-certified partners -- including Bhea Knowledge Technologies, iZeno, Levementum, Plus Consulting, and Redpill-Linpro. "Quality training by experienced instructors is a primary driver of CRM success," said Andy Dreisch, vice president of worldwide services at SugarCRM, in a statement. "The SugarCRM Authorized Learning Program provides a structured methodology for SugarCRM experts to deliver the educational services that drive CRM adoption and success."
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