“At any conference these days, you have to talk about the Cloud,” reckons Larry Augustin, CEO of Sugar CRM. “We love Clouds – I like the big white fluffy ones, not the dark ones though.”
Augustin made his comments as he kicked off the two day SugarCon user and developer gathering in San Francisco this week – an event pitched as “the business applications conference for the Cloud”.
It's an interesting pitch from a firm that to date has been most readily categorised as an open source applications firm. It still is of course, but now there's an increased emphasis placed on Cloud-iness. But above all, insists Augustin, SugarCRM is a CRM firm.
“If you look at other CRM vendors websites, it's all about the Cloud, the Cloud, the Cloud,” he says, choosing not to elaborate on which firms he was alluding to despite the conference venue's close proximity to the Salesforce.com headquarters down the street.
“There are plenty of companies out there who are spending millions of dollars on building out Cloud infrastructure. That's not our business. We're here to create CRM software and to invest in CRM software. If you go to our web site it's all about gaining and retaining customers.”
But Cloud is important, he adds, but needs to be kept in context. “Some people talk about the Cloud as revolutionary, but we think about it as evolutionary,” he argues. “We think about Cloud as an evolution of how service providers can bring their services to their customers.
“If you back to the days of client server, that was going to conquer the world. It was a fantastic solution for the time but it had some drawbacks. It went through the hype cycle and the world moved on. Along came the late 1990s and a new technology called the Web turns up as a universal client. But data centres remain difficult to manage and compute resources are expensive.
“Fast forward ten years later and the bar has gone up in terms of what infrastructure is available,” he continues. “Servers can now be set up with a couple of clicks on the web and access to virtualised infrastructure is now easy.”
That has implications for firms such as SugarCRM. “Cloud infrastructure is now ubiquitous and easy to get access to,” says Augustin. “It really doesn't make sense for apps vendors to build the infrastructure. We focus on the applications and rely on other vendors to build the Cloud infrastructure services. As we look at the Cloud, the combination of our Cloud-enabled applications and Cloud service providers brings choice and control to the next generation of SaaS.”
For SugarCRM, a core element of that next generation is Sugar 6 which comes complete with a re-designed user interface with new buttons and icons. “Sugar 6 delivers a look, feel and user experience that consumers of popular social networking and other collaboration tools will appreciate,” says Augustin.
According to SugarCRM's own usability tests, version 6 requires 20% fewer clicks to navigate than in previous versions. The focus in Sugar 6 is on the user experience," said Clint Oram, vice president of products and co-founder of SugarCRM.
One early adopter is Control Technology Corporation, a leading provider of programmable automation controllers. “I'm a veteran CRM user, and I was blown away by Sugar's new approach in Sugar 6,” said Martin Umed, regional sales manager at Control Technology. “They obviously focused on the single biggest challenge in adopting/using a CRM package, the user experience - and they read the room perfectly.”
SugarCRM plans to release Sugar 6 in July.