SugarCRM offers CRM to OEMs, readies native iPhone app

SugarCRM Platform Edition will allow users to rebrand and customize SugarCRM's software

SugarCRM has repackaged its open-source, browser-based CRM (customer relationship management) platform to make it easier for other vendors to put their own brand on products and services built with SugarCRM, the company announced Thursday. But it is also working on a native iPhone app that will put the brand under the noses of many more users.

With SugarCRM Platform Edition, the company hopes to draw more attention to a line of business few people know it has, CEO Larry Augustin said. SugarCRM already has six partners reselling or repackaging its software in this way, including database marketing company Harte-Hanks, which uses it in its Allink Connect tool.

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By creating a special edition for the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) or white-label markets, Augustin hopes more companies will incorporate SugarCRM into their product offerings rather than trying to build their own CRM system or using competing offerings such as Salesforce.com.

Vendors working with SugarCRM Platform Edition will have access to SugarCRM's code and developer tools, enabling them to integrate CRM functions into on-premises or cloud-based systems under their own brand or Web address. That's one thing that will set SugarCRM Platform Edition apart from, say, Salesforce.com, where the customer would be forever tied to a salesforce.com URL, Augustin said.

The company also released Sugar Logic, a suite of new JavaScript and PHP code libraries that customers can use for managing and defining workflow and business logic in SugarCRM applications. The company described the libraries as "upgrade safe," suggesting that customers building business processes with Sugar Logic will face fewer problems when upgrading to a new version of SugarCRM than those who have hard-coded their business processes in other ways.

SugarCRM issues a couple of major updates a year, the most recent of which, 6.0, included the ability to create Web interfaces tailored to mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad, or mobile phones running Android.

Those interfaces still look like Web pages rather than native apps, though, and users are more comfortable with native apps, said Augustin.

Native SugarCRM apps for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry are on the way, and will offer all the same capabilities as the Web interface, he said.

SugarCRM is testing the mobile app internally and with some resellers, Augustin said. The SugarCRM iPhone app, and a version for iPad, should be released by the end of the year, but the Android and BlackBerry apps will take a little longer.

While the BlackBerry may be seen as more of a business tool than the iPhone, in general, there is a lot of interest in the iPhone among SugarCRM customers, Augustin said.

Rather than code for the three platforms separately, SugarCRM is using a development tool from Appcelerator that lets it build the interface in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

The first version will primarily be a conversion of the Web interface into a native app, without additional functionality. It will still require an Internet connection to work. But the company plans to add a local data store to the next version, allowing off-line working with the possibility of synchronizing changes to data with the server later.

That development effort may also serve for other platforms, including the PC.

"This technology will also give us a native app on the desktop. The reason for a native desktop app is to be able to work in disconnected mode," an important factor for mobile workers who may not always have reliable Internet connections, Augustin said.

"We went through this wave of everything being in the browser. Now we are going to see more and more native apps," he said.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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