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More disruption predicted for CRM software market

Columnist Denis Pombriant examines this year’s CRM highlights and says tools focused on engagement, collaboration and gamification will disrupt and redefine the market going forward.

This year will either be remembered as the year everything started to change or as the beginning of a major disruption. If these sound similar, it’s because they are. The only difference is which side of the disruption you are on. If you are entrenched with much to lose by change, you will see disruption. However, if you are an emerging company trying to challenge the status quo, you might see it as the time you gained momentum.

What’s interesting to me is that we’re not talking about an isolated or single instance of change.  The ground is shifting beneath all of our feet and we can count some of those ways.

Let’s start with ERP, which is changing and is likely in the disrupted category. I’ve written about bold ERP customers becoming vocal about their displeasure, with high costs and increasingly irrelevant financial systems in the face of burgeoning cloud computing trends. Look at companies like Workday, Zuora, Aria and even Microsoft. They have delivered cloud and subscription-based ERP products. At the same time, companies like NetSuite continue to penetrate the market.

The human resources software market is another candidate for disruption. Nimble new players like Jobscience, which provides HR management software for the platform, are taking aim at first-generation Software as a Service or older HR systems. “Better, faster, cheaper” is still an important mantra, but vendors are focusing more on software that helps customers find workers with the right customer experience management skills.

This was also the debut year for CRM Idol contest , which is a disruptive element all on its own. In its first year, Idol turned up four finalists with breakthrough capabilities and some elements of social networking embedded in the core technology. Somewhat troubling to me is the idea that some of the CRM Idol vendors nailed the idea of gamification in their systems. I am both impressed by gamification and startled by it. I wonder if there will be some regulatory backlash in a few years. Another term I learned from Idol was system of engagement, which I liked and expect to hear more about in the future.

Oracle went on a spending spree in 2011 and bought RightNow and ATG, among others. It remains to be seen what the company intends to cobble together. It appears that Anthony Lye, head of Oracle’s CRM business, is aiming for some sort of e-commerce and customer engagement solution. It will be a new category and it remains unclear if Oracle will succeed at bringing it to market.’s Dreamforce and Oracle’s OpenWorld conferences were held within a month of each other. Marc Benioff lost his speaking slot and moved to a nearby hotel. Larry Ellison had trouble reading his teleprompter and introduced more hardware as well as announcing a social network, a cloud strategy and the general availability of some parts of Fusion. 

Benioff bought a lot of companies, including Radian6, which quickly became the cornerstone of’s social marketing cloud. Salesforce also began using a new term, “the social enterprise,” which it based on its Chatter social collaboration tool and won some big-name customers, including GE Capital, Burberry and Toyota.

Today the market for enterprise business software has several major factions. The traditional CRM or ERP providers like Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and Sage now have renovated product lines. And then you have, which is trying to invent new market categories.  Chatter continues to gain altitude. Another product worth watching is its for light project organization. is determined to make significant market changes. Hey, one could argue that it is trying to remake the way we do business. 

The world today is far different that it was in 1850 when we were all farmers or shopkeepers with a few getting into manufacturing. Today we are a globally linked trading enterprise sending products and capital to the far ends of the earth. We are also polluting and using up the planet’s reserves in an unsustainable way. 

This was also one of the warmest years on record. Arctic ice continues to melt; methane, another greenhouse gas is being released as the permafrost thaws; topsoil is eroding in many places; aquifers on all continents used for irrigation are being pumped faster than natural systems can replenish them; debt continues to hobble the global economy. It isn’t pretty, but it’s all one mosaic. There are solutions to all these problems and many of those solutions require technology including those that make business frictionless. Many of them got a boost in 2011. 

We don’t know what the world will look like in 2050 but we can be sure it won’t resemble 1850 or 1950. But we do know at least some of the developments of the last year will be important 40 years from now. For this it was a good year.


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