EmergeCore Targets Small Biz with CRM Upgrade

Privately owned EmergeCore Networks announced Thursday that it is shipping a CRM upgrade for its “IT in a Box IT-100” network appliance. The upgrade is free for existing owners of the IT 100, while new purchasers of the IT 100 or future IT in a Box models will also get the CRM software gratis.

About the size and shape of a laptop turned on its edge, the IT 100 is a Linux-based network appliance — a sort of “LAN in a Can” — aimed primarily at small businesses. The Boise, Idaho-based company said that while its CRM software is new, the unit has been on the market for a year and provides nearly all the of IT functions small businesses need rolled into one small box.

The IT 100 is essentially a local-area-network server without print or application services. The appliance’s 20-gigabyte hard drive powers e-mail, firewall, routing, file serving, multiple domains, FTP, even 802.11b wireless connectivity and more – all at a the price of US$1,395, about the cost of a low-end laptop computer. An optional 60-gigabyte drive is available for $300 more.

According to EmergeCore, the IT-100 is well suited for workgroups of 5 to 25 users, and the upcoming IT-500 will have additional processing power, a 16-port hub and an optional dedicated phone connection with 1.5 megabits per second data rates for supporting workgroups up to 75. Both have a built-in virtual private network (VPN) that provides multiple wireless users a secure wireless connection with their office.

Not To Worry — Yet

In an interview with CRM Buyer, Megan Bowen, EmergeCore’s sales executive and marketing manager, said that the company didn’t design the product to compete in the CRM space but to solve the small-business problem of tracking customers.

According to Bowen, a survey of EmergeCore’s small-business customers showed that CRM was this group’s most-pressing need. “We’re not trying to provide an enterprise-level solution,” she said. “But small companies need more than Outlook or Excel for CRM.”

However, Paul Greenberg, president of The 56 Group and author of CRM at the Speed of Light, told CRM Buyer that he didn’t think that Siebel or hosted CRM companies needed to worry just yet.

For her part, Liz Roche, vice president of technology research services at Meta Group, agreed, adding that Siebel and others target a different audience. She told CRM Buyer that the “CRM-in-a-Box” solution might be more of a concern to companies like Microsoft.

So far IT in a Box has attracted the attention of architects, graphic artists, attorneys, accountants and real-estate companies, Bowen said, noting that none of these groups has used the new CRM software yet.

For now EmergeCore’s CRM software provides just the basics – contact management, task management and reporting. But Bowen says that upgrades are in the works. “Trouble ticketing is on the roadmap,” she said.

“I find it interesting and kind of clever really, but to decide whether or not EmergeCore’s CRM in a box has value is ultimately no different than anything else,” Greenberg noted. “Is the functionality sufficient to make a user want it — and make a company want to implement it?”

Instant CRM

Bowen said that EmergeCore designed its own CRM software. She described it as Web-based, running on the company’s CoreVistaWeb that provides the graphical interface to Linux.

“To set it up you need some information from your Internet service provider, but after that it’s just a series of pull-down menus and check boxes, and you’re ready to go,” she said. “In about 30 minutes, you are basically self-hosting your own CRM application, and any employee given permission rights can share and manage customer data.”

Yankee Group program manager Sheryl Kingstone agreed that such products do help get CRM up and running faster, although she cautioned that companies must still remember that they have to personalize and integrate a CRM program to get what they need out of it.

“For a small business, this can be a hidden cost,” she told CRM Buyer.

To prove that the set-up works in a small-business environment, EmergeCore, a 25-person company, uses its own product.

“We run our business on IT 100s,” Bowen noted. She explained that several IT 100s can be hooked together, their only limit being bandwidth.

From Excel to CRM

Before its CRM program was available, EmergeCore used Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to manage its customers, a less-than-adequate solution because only one person could open an Excel file at a time, with the others being limited to a read-only version of the data, Bowen said.

Bowen and others at EmergeCore beta-tested the CRM software before its release. “We could all see and work with the same customer information for the first time,” she said. Currently the company’s support team uses IT 100-based CRM solution for customer service she remarked.

But “[a]s cool as it sounds, it’s better not to be dazzled by the idea of ‘CRM in a box,'” said author Greenberg. “Onyx has a ‘Powered by Onyx’ embedded software solution that has similar characteristics to EmergeCore’s idea, though the box is someone else’s.”

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