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The PaaS Era, Part 2: Who's In It All the Way?

By Erika Morphy
Feb 27, 2009 4:00 AM PT

Part 1 of this two-part series describes the emerging trend toward Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings and touches on how some vendors are experimenting with this model in the customer relationship management software space.

The PaaS Era, Part 2: Who's In It All the Way?

Open development platforms and their offspring -- mashups -- are behind the significant changes in CRM functionality that have been introduced over the last year or so. These are early days for Platform as a Service, though, and each vendor is approaching the technology on its own preferred path.

Following is an overview of who's doing what in this space, focusing on the major vendors whose roots are in CRM. Clearly, there are other major providers: HP, for example, has been offering Software as a Service for more than eight years now and recently launched a Platform as a Service offering.

Also, the number of vendors that have opened their architecture enough to allow developers and users to create mashups is too large by far to mention all of them. "There are a lot of permutations out there," Yankee Group analyst Sheryl Kingstone told CRM Buyer.

NetSuite's NS-BOS

Those that offer limited access are on the lower end of the Platform as a Service industry spectrum, according to Kingstone.

"The higher value-add offers have actually opened up their platforms," she noted. Although there are few companies that meet the fully open criteria, Kingstone believes their numbers will grow.

NetSuite is one example. It introduced its own version of a development platform in 2008. In contrast to Salesforce.com, however, it based its Business Operating System, or NS-BOS, on open standards.

NS-BOS uses industry standard JavaScript as the basis for its programming capabilities; developers use it to create suitelets or applications that can either leverage the NetSuite user interface or a different UI.

The application includes SuiteFlex -- NetSuite's platform for customization, verticalization, integration and business process automation -- and SuiteBundler, capabilities that allow independent software vendors to deliver vertical solutions to SaaS customers in a packaged, repeatable manner.

Omnify Software, Configure One, SuiteCommerce, and SPS Commerce are among the NetSuite ISVs and VARs (value-added resellers) that have used NS-BOS.

Oracle On Demand

Then there are the companies that have opened their applications up to allow users to create their own mashups. Some are more flexible than others, bordering on mini platforms in their own right.

Oracle On Demand is one example. Oracle is still maintaining and expanding the on-demand CRM application it inherited with the acquisition of Siebel. However, it has also introduced mini applications -- or "gadgets," as Oracle calls them -- that are essentially highly advanced mashups.

It first introduced mini-applications that provide enterprise data and service leveraging Web 2.0 content last November, along with the application's Version 8.1.1 rollout.

Generally speaking, their purpose is to improve the user's productivity, mainly through leveraging Web 2.0 content such as corporate information, public data or personal information from social networking sites. Indeed, one of their key selling points is the ability to quickly access information without having to launch a browser or log onto a corporate network.

Other gadgets are available in Contacts, Accounts, Deal Management, Search, Sales Quota and Sales Prospector. Oracle also introduced Oracle Mobile Sales Assistant, a mobile app add-on with features designed to make life easier for on-the-road sales reps -- getting driving directions to an appointment via PIM (personal information management), for example.

In fact, "with release 16 of Oracle CRM On Demand, we're seeing a push to offer some of the similar things that Salesforce.com did with Force.com," said James Brehm, senior consultant with the information and communication technology practice at Frost & Sullivan.

"It's not quite the same thing as offering a platform as a service, but does give end users more control and customization capabilities," he told CRM Buyer. "Who knows what could happen with the next offering?"

Sugar Data Center Edition

SugarCRM ratcheted up its open source bona fides last year with its own development play, Sugar Data Center Edition. It bundles existing software, systems management, monitoring, subscription and license management tools, as well as activity reports, so partners and customers can control the deployments.

It allows developers and partners "to create, manage and monitor cross-instance reporting of entirely different versions of SugarCRM," Martin Schneider, the company's director of product marketing, told CRM Buyer at the time.

The company recently enhanced this functionality with new tools and features introduced at its global developer conference earlier this year. It launched a new Web services framework and mobile customizations and rolled out connectors linking third-party data to Zoominfo and CrunchBase. Users can tap them as lead generation engines or for use in sales or marketing activities. It already offered connectors for Hoover's JigSaw and LinkedIn.

This latest wave of innovation has given SugarCRM a significant boost, Denis Pombriant, principal of Beagle Research, told CRM Buyer.

SalesLogix 7.2

For its version 7.2, which debuted in spring 2007, SalesLogix rebuilt its architecture using standards-based, scalable Web technologies that set the stage for the company to expand in a number of directions. The offering includes its own version of mashup capabilities.

SalesLogix uses Representational State Transfer (REST) Web services to request data via embedded URL-style addresses to enable Web applications including Google Maps, Jigsaw, LinkedIn and Zillow.

For example, using REST, a CRM application can access inventory data in an enterprise resource planning application from a Web browser. This data can be made available to third-party applications and services as well.

The PaaS Era, Part 1: Everybody's Pounding Out Mashups


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