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CRM, ERP head up mobile applications offered by SaaS providers

More providers of SaaS are serving up customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning and other enterprise-specific mobile apps.

When it comes to the cloud services market, Software as a Service (SaaS) leads the pack. Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research reports that SaaS revenue will far exceed that of Infrastructure as a Service and Platform as a Service (PaaS) in coming years. The firm predicts that SaaS will rake in $92.8 billion by 2016, up from just $21.2 billion in 2011. Driving the trend is increasing demand for mobile SaaS -- SaaS applications that companies access via smartphones and other wireless devices.

Not surprisingly, SaaS vendors are looking for ways to differentiate themselves in the increasingly crowded SaaS applications market. Experts say that more SaaS providers are entering the mobile fray, serving up customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other enterprise-specific mobile apps for a widening customer base.

A lot of SaaS vendors are branching out into esoteric niches.

Sinclair Schuller,
CEO, Apprenda

"A lot of SaaS vendors are branching out into esoteric niches," said Sinclair Schuller, CEO of Clifton, N.Y.-based Apprenda, an enterprise private PaaS for .NET and Java. "Scenarios where field-worker access is extremely important drive a lot of development in the SaaS space," he said. "We're seeing more and more of that. There's a prevalence of new SaaS offerings that target field workers -- such as ERP systems for the oil and gas industries."

Michael Facemire, senior analyst at Forrester, notices a similar uptick in CRM mobile app offerings from SaaS vendors. He, too, attributes the trend to demand for mobile SaaS by workforces that are frequently on the move. "The folks that interact with CRM and ERP data aren't always sitting at their desks when they need to make decisions," he said. "By mobilizing these enterprise processes, now they can take action wherever they are."

The popularity of SaaS CRM is nothing new. Even last year, nearly 39% of all CRM software was delivered as a service, according to Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. The analyst group reports that number will jump to 42% by the end of 2013, then to 50% during 2016.

Today, the mobile SaaS CRM market is being pioneered by Salesforce.com, Facemire said, noting that the company shows "a major push for mobile apps and enterprise data."

Salesforce recently released Salesforce Touch, an HTML5-based, Apple iOS-centric offering that aims to roll out Salesforce cloud applications to mobile devices. A few months ago, the company addressed social needs by integrating mobile Chatter apps with its CRM software. Chatter is billed as a real-time enterprise-collaboration social-networking platform.

"A lot of [SaaS] vendors have social activity feeds in their applications today," said Robert DeSisto, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. It's all about combining mobile and social capabilities for greater overall functionality, he said.

But many SaaS providers today are differentiating themselves with simple, single-focus applications and services, according to Rob May, CEO and co-founder of Cambridge, Mass.-based Backupify, a provider of backup and recovery solutions for SaaS applications. "What you typically see are enterprise SaaS companies launching mobile apps that do simple functions -- notifications, other easy common tasks," May said. "Or they're coming out with iPad apps like dashboards, or running and reporting analytics." Mobile device management (MDM) apps delivered by SaaS providers are also gaining ground, he noted.

Backupify uses Clutch Mobile -- a SaaS tool, available through the Web, that manages all the company's mobile devices from one central location. The bring-your-own-device trend is a major force driving SaaS companies to do more in the mobile world, May said.

For example, SAP recently announced plans to partner with CA Technologies to deliver an MDM software suite to manage mobile devices, apps, content and services, all in one place. The suite is available as a SaaS or on-premises implementation.

As the mobile SaaS app market gets more crowded, deciding which apps to buy gets more complicated. Forrester's Facemire had this advice for companies currently weighing their mobile SaaS app options: Focus on your comfort level with the vendor, and the applicability of the solution to your current business challenge. "In other words, we're now back to the standard enterprise sales cycle," he said. "Show me the solution, show me the cost, show me the reference customers."

In the near future, Facemire expects to see more noncritical business services -- that is, services that aren't crucial to business growth, but are required "to keep the lights on" -- offered as mobile SaaS applications. "We've already seen the base CRM, ERP and [human resources] services start to move to the cloud," he said. "We'll now quickly see mobile interfaces to these be packaged up and sold as mobile SaaS offerings. … The acceleration will rise as more business leaders familiarize themselves with both mobile and cloud offerings."

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