Host promises to simplify CRM

16 Jan 2006 View Comments
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The hosted customer relationship management (CRM) market is getting a boost this month, as a new entrant launches, and established players NetSuite and Salesforce.com expand.

Though hosted CRM is already promoted for its simplicity compared to on-premises software, a new firm, Really Simple Systems, plans to limit functionality further.

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Officially launched last week, the company already does business with the Royal Academy of Arts and smartphone software developer Intuwave. The service currently focuses on opportunity management, but tools for campaign management and customer service will follow.

“Our unique selling point is less about hosting and more about simplicity,” said chief executive John Paterson, who also founded CRM firm Oxygen Solutions. “Software always has more features than what you need. Time and again we see companies with a third of sales staff who don’t want to use the system because it’s too hard.” Paterson said the service would cost £35 per user per month.

Separately, another hosting company, NetSuite, last week announced more than 30 partners who will integrate programs with the firm’s mid-market business applications. The NetFlex Applications Programme will see companies link in point-of-sale, telephony, project management, payroll and other capabilities via XML and web services hooks. Although the strategy is similar in some ways to Salesforce’s Sforce plan, NetSuite said it does not exactly mimic its rival’s intent to be a nexus for all other hosted services.

“We want to ease data entry and make our service apply to different industries,” said Craig Sullivan, NetSuite senior director of product management. “There’s a lot of visionary stuff from Salesforce but things like expense management don’t really fit in with the core of what they do.”

Meanwhile, Salesforce is due to launch the next version of its own hosted applications platform in Europe on January 24.

Key features of the Winter 06 release will include AppExchange, an online marketplace for Salesforce and third-party applications; and Sandbox, a service which lets enterprises try out applications before rolling them out for production. The release will follow two recent outages suffered by Salesforce’s systems, the first in the US in December, and a second across Europe, the Middle East and Africa earlier this month. Salesforce said it was not aware of any customer problems due to the more recent outage, and added that its systems were running well.

Robert Bois of analyst AMR Research pointed out that Salesforce aims for 99.9 percent uptime for customers. “[The firm] claims the recent outages should still keep it in that range,” he said. “The reality is that many companies running software behind the firewall experience outages all the time, it’s just that Salesforce customers experience them all at once.”

Bois advised prospective and current hosted application customers to look carefully at service-level agreements, and perhaps insist on terms to ensure compensation if these levels are not met.

Paul Hamerman, vice-president at analyst Forrester, said the recent problems should not have a much impact on customers’ confidence in Salesforce. “[But this is] provided that Salesforce takes appropriate steps to avoid such outages and slowdowns in future,” he added.

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