Customer Data in Cyberspace: What was the tipping point?

Somebody at one of the LinkedIn groups I am a member of posed an interesting question. His question was (and I paraphrase a bit here: “what was the tipping point for customers to start entrusting online services like Salesforce.com with sensitive customer information?”

The entire post I reprint below:

LinkedIn: Discussion: CRM Experts

Salesforce.com , an asp log-in CRM system that involves no downloading of software, now has 55,400 enterprise customers world-wide and has even spawned imitations (eg., SugarCRM.com ).

I must confess to initially running with the herd – the cynics. It was easily done. The conventional wisdom was that large, medium and small organisations would not accept the risks (real and perceived) of hosting their customer data (arguably their most valuable asset after their people) outside of the enterprise – no matter how secure the site. What a PR disaster it would be if their customer data records were ever compromised.

As this orthodoxy has been shattered, pundits are left reflecting on what exactly was the tipping point? Was it improved internet security, broadband availability, increased trust in online systems or a rise in teleworking?

Or did the company simply build a damn good product that was better than traditional CRM systems managed and maintained by the IT department, especially those for SMEs, with much higher price tags?

Did the rise of sensitive data held by online retail, gambling, networking (like LinkedIn) and dating sites also lower tolerance thresholds?

And if such an entrenched orthodoxy can smash like a glass beaker on a marble floor….what’s next?

My take? The tipping point I think happened long before Salesforce.com came. It happened when people began using web-based email systems to store sensitive (business and private) information. It began when people started using websites like eBay and Amazon, or B2B exchanges and marketplaces to transact and share credit card information online.

Using web-based (oops the term is now cloud-based) services was I think just a small step from what people were already doing anyway.

What’s next? Perhaps the idea of having all of our services and data residing in the “cloud” and the death of personal or enterprise computing as we know it today may not be far off. Perhaps a “utility” based computing model makes sense after all.

Top 5 Low Cost SaaS CRM Alternatives for Small and Midsized Busineses

In continuation of my last post, I want to tackle this time low cost CRM packages or services for small and mid-sized business looking to implement CRM in their organization. In this post I will focus on five CRM SaaS Vendors:

  1. Salesforce.com. Salesforce.com is an acknowledged pioneer in Software-as-a-Service applications and market leader in CRM. When you sign up for the service you can choose from different editions–ie Personal, Group, Professional, Enterprise and Unlimited. The system itself is broken down into several applications:
    Sales, Service & Support, Partner Relationship Management,
    Marketing, Content, Ideas and Analytics. Updates are done acording to seasons of the year–so they have a Winter release, Spring release and so on. Pros: Large user base; stable company; long term viability; mature infrastructure and feature set; rich ecosystem of third party apps to extend functionality; highly configurable and extensible platform called Force.com. Cons: Purely online service; lock in a real danger; the really nice features are only available in the high end editions; expensive for large deployments.
  2. Rightnow. RightNow’s suite of applications includes multi-channel Service, Sales,
    Marketing, Customer Feedback Management, Voice Automation, and
    Analytics. Rightnow started off as a traditional on-premise CRM  vendor but now seems to focus on On-Demand. Pros: Really strong in customer service; rich feature set in customer service type applications and workflows; close partnerships with telephony vendors make it a good choice for a contact center. Cons: Premium pricing; can be expensive over time; not much third party support developing on the platform.
  3. ZohoCRM. Zoho CRM is a new entrant to the SaaS CRM market and is gaining a lot of interest I believe because of its low cost, and its relationship and integration with the Zoho suite of online SaaS applications. Its feature set seems to be primarily focused on sales force automation (like Salesforce a few releases back) and has some basic features to extend and customize its features and functionality. Updates like many of the Zoho applications are frequent. Pros: low cost; integration with Zoho apps; unique features such as online spreadsheet integration; good choice as an entry level solution. Cons: little or no extensions or 3rd party support, basic APIs, functionality geared towards small teams.
  4. LongJump CRM. Technically speaking LongJump positions itself as an application platform when it started out which can easily be configured for CRM (this is the opposite of Salesforce.com which started out focused on CRM and is now repositioning as a platform provider, or Zoho which is more of a suite of different apps than an integrated platform). Longjump is easily extensible and configurable, and templates exist to reconfigure the application into something else. Overall a promising vendor although not as well known. Pros: Highly extensible and configurable; integrated platform. Cons: Seems to have a low customer base, small company, not as well known as other competitors, purely online service; lock in a real danger.
  5. Netsuite. Netsuite originally was focused on hosted ERP but has now reached a point where they now offer a comprehensive CRM solution as well. Everything is intergated together and offered as a suite, and on top of CRM you have a mature ERP product as well as modules for SCM, E-commerce, PRM, Analytics and others. Pros: mature product; wide breadth of features and functionality; complete beyond CRM. Cons: Expensive, purely online; vendor lock in a danger; limited third party extensions.

Next time I’l try to post CRM solutions from open source vendors. If I missed anything let me know!

Open Source Vendor SugarCRM Embraces Cloud Computing in a Big Way

Open source CRM vendor SugarCRM is one of a few companies to embrace open source and cloud computing in a big way. When SugarCRM first came out, they immediately offered to provide the software as a service online–similar to Salesforce.com, with the important distinction that you can choose to download and host the software yourself if you want. Larger organizations who want to roll their own hosted software service for customers can opt to use a special package called the SugarCRM Data Center Edition.

Just recently SugarCRM launched a new way to meld Internet services and open source software by launching Cloud Services and Social Feeds. These new Cloud Connectors for SugarCRM allow for company and contact data residing in other cloud environments to be called and presented in SugarCRM. These services include such sites as LinkedIn, ZoomInfo and Crunchbase. The Sugar Feeds feature on the other hand provides a Facebook-like rolling set of notices and alerts based on activity within SugarCRM.

SugarCRM is interesting to watch because of the pace of innovation they bring to open source and how they unabashedly marry commercial interests with the altruistic motivations often-associated (rightly or wrongly)  with open source. From the looks of things they seem to be succeeding.