With mobile on its mind, SugarCRM looks to expand

The idea is that instead of just inputting data, users like salespeople will get help as they go about their day

SugarCRM has been busy, acquiring mobile app and data analytics company Stitch earlier this month and then this week, announcing with Deutsche Telekom a customer relationship management hosting service in Germany. The moves highlight the company's progress beyond its initial position as a niche, open-source alternative for CRM.

"I describe it as we have evolved from an open source company that happened to do CRM, to a CRM company that happened to do open source, to now just a CRM company," said SugarCRM CTO and co-founder Clint Oram, during an interview at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany.

The Deutsche Telekom launch is the culmination of a project that was first announced in October. Under the agreement, the telecom operator's subsidiary, T-Systems, resells Sugar as a hosted product on its infrastructure. It also takes care of operation and consulting for the joint service.

The local approach to hosting software and services was a big theme at Cebit, and a necessary one due to a heightened sensitivity around how data is handled, in the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations of U.S. government mass surveillance, Oram said.

But while the deal is an important one for SugarCRM, it's the acquisition of Stitch that will help map out the company's future. SugarCRM already offers a mobile app, but one that has a very traditional approach to presenting structured data, with a forms based user interface, according to Oram.

Stitch has a more modern task-focused interface that aims to help users as they go about their day. The service's underlying technology analyzes email, calendar and customer relationship management (CRM) data to pull out the most important information at any time.

That technology will help SugarCRM take one step closer its vision of having a CRM system that can tell users something they didn't already know and help them with what to do next.

"The history of failed CRM implementations is that they don't actually help the salespeople sell, whereas this is very much about that and help them focus on the right customers," Oram said.

Exactly how that vision will translate to real products and functionality is yet to be revealed. But part of that work will be to transform Stitch from a Salesforce.com-focused service to one that integrates with Sugar. That change will be made easier by the fact that Stitch's lead engineer used to work for SugarCRM.

The company is also working on functionality that takes advantage of smartwatches. There will be some announcements later this year, but, for now, Oram isn't revealing details about that either, other than that he likes what Apple is doing.

Next month the company is once again organizing its SugarCon user conference. A big part of the event will be so-called customer journey mapping, which is the process of finding out, from the customers' perspective, where the bottlenecks are when delivering a product or service. The goal is not only to aid C-suite executives decide on a strategy, but also help people on the ground with their day-to-day work. according to Oram.

SugarCon takes place in San Francisco between April 20 and 23.

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Mikael Ricknäs

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