Midmarket CRM vendors release bumper crop of updates

Users of midmarket ERP and CRM software are getting a bumper crop of updated products.

As vendors jockey for position in the crowded midmarket enterprise applications field, their customers reap the benefits in rapid product enhancements. A half-dozen ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management) software makers are in the midst of major software releases right now, bringing deeper integration options and added customization features to their applications.

NetSuite went live recently with version 10.6 of its hosted sales, ERP and e-commerce applications suite. The update includes broader support of AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and Extensible Markup Language), allowing Web pages to update immediately in response to user actions, without a complete page reload. "It's a huge performance issue," said NetSuite Chief Executive Officer Zach Nelson. "You can re-sort a report, create lists and work through them -- transactions that might have taken five seconds are instantaneous."

NetSuite has also extended its integration with third-party programs such as Microsoft's Outlook and Excel, allowing data to automatically flow from NetSuite to Excel in order to update models and other analytical tools. A new tool called Custom Center lets developers build custom user interfaces, such as a personalized view showing a CEO the specific dashboards and business data he or she prefers.

Open-source CRM software maker SugarCRM is preparing to launch an enterprise version of its software, adding Oracle 9i support, an offline client and advanced reporting functionality. A beta version of Sugar Enterprise Edition is available now at the company's Web site, with full general availability scheduled for Aug. 15. Sugar Enterprise Edition is priced at US$449 per user annually, while the company's standard Sugar Professional Edition costs US$239 annually. Both versions include installation assistance, technical support and patch distributions. Sugar also offers a free, open-source version of its software, available for download at Sugarforge.org.

SugarCRM is also adding to all of its editions a new "module loader" feature to enable quick installation of third-party software extensions. So far, open-source developers have created more than 70 add-ons for SugarCRM, such as language translation packs, Java synchronization tools and timesheet management features.

Hosted CRM maker Salesnet built 50 enhancements into its just-launched new release, many aimed at refining users' customization options. A deal import wizard lets users bring in deal records from other CRM and contact management systems, while a "record-to-record relationships" feature enables links between customer objects such as a parent company and its subsidiaries. Navigational changes are designed to simplify the number of clicks required to complete common tasks.

Salesnet calls the new version a precursor to its 25th "anniversary" edition, due toward the end of 2005. That release will mark the 25th version of 8-year-old Salesnet's sales and marketing software. To celebrate, the company plans 250 new features, several of which will significantly expand Salesnet's offerings in areas such as campaign management and product catalog functionality.

RightNow Technologies, a hosted software company that focuses on customer service applications, plans a major update next week that will include the launch of two new products. Meanwhile, Siebel Systems and Salesforce.com each put out major releases in June, with Siebel's CRM OnDemand update focusing on collaboration features and Salesforce.com introducing its Multiforce platform for hosting other custom applications built on its architecture. Salesforce.com and Siebel are among the industry's most aggressive updaters; each rolls out three or four new versions per year of its hosted software.

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