SugarCRM Adds Hooks to Cloud Data Services

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Commercial open-source CRM (customer relationship management) vendor SugarCRM said Monday it will give customers the ability to plug in feeds from third-party data sources like the business social-networking site LinkedIn.

The new "Cloud Connectors" feature is part of the vendor's new SugarCRM 5.2 release, which will be available worldwide this month.

While users could obviously tap such third-party services separately, SugarCRM created the new integration capability because it keeps users in a CRM context, as well as makes the process more convenient and efficient, said Martin Schneider, director of product marketing.

If you're logging into third-party sites "while you're on the phone with someone, you're going to be hemming and hawing and you're not going to have it at your fingertips," he said. "The idea is to drive adoption and keep people in one space, but also give them unfettered access to bringing content into the CRM system."

Windows, which SugarCRM is calling "Cloud Views," will pop up with relevant information, such as which of a user's LinkedIn connections work at a certain company. Users can also import this information into SugarCRM.

The Cloud Connectors are made possible by a new data services framework that Schneider characterized as "a toolkit for developers or really astute users to bring in any type of data source."

Other new features in SugarCRM 5.2 include:

-- "Social Feeds," which provide the types of alerts and status details common to social-networking sites, applied to a CRM milieu. Salespeople could set up alerts to tell team members about newly closed deals, for example. "It's kind of like using an internal Twitter inside Sugar," Schneider said.

-- More granular administration capabilities that can give various department leaders authority to manage specific parts of the system, without the need for IT involvement. For example, a company's director of marketing might be granted admin rights over the campaigns module, Schneider said.

-- "Portal Dashlets," which can display information from third-party Web sites inside SugarCRM.

One industry observer said the Cloud Connectors feature is similar to past efforts by CRM vendors like Salesforce, but is nonetheless "a great idea."

"It seems to me that offering the ability to connect CRM and social apps like LinkedIn makes sense," said Denis Pombriant, managing principal of Beagle Research Group in Stoughton, Massachusetts. "It's essential to the next iteration of CRM that we have good embedded social-networking tools."

451 Group analyst China Martens said via e-mail that SugarCRM has been talking for some time about adding more collaborative features to its software, but "had a couple of other major calls to make before turning its attention to social CRM, notably, the revamping of its on-demand architecture with Sugar 5.0 and then the improvement of its mobile support in Sugar 5.1."

Martens speculated on whether SugarCRM will expand on the Cloud Connectors idea, using information from sources like LinkedIn and Hoover's "to prepopulate its CRM apps from the get-go, so a customer in a given industry can sign up for their own version of Sugar and download it already complete with predefined prospect contact details."

Pricing for on-demand versions of SugarCRM starts at US$40 per user per month, while on-premises edition costs begin at $275 per user per year.

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