SugarCon Speaker Spotlight: Omni CEO Aldo Zanoni

Email and CRM go together in theory like chocolate and peanut butter. Though, to many users, email and CRM seem more like oil and water. To tell you the truth, I don’t think one can do really well without the other when it comes to aiding sales people. But, a lot of stuff can get in the way when trying to marry the two.

I sat down with Aldo Zanoni, CEO of Omni Technology Solutions.  Omni has developed a very cool server-side CRM integration solution that automatically links your SugarCRM deployment with your email system (learn more about it here). Aldo made a lot of great points about why email integration can be a pain in the neck, and how concepts like cloud computing are making it easier for both end users and IT staff to manage a tightly-knit CRM and email system.

Why has email and CRM integration been so troublesome in the past?

If you look at the biggest problem, it’s complexity.  Even though it looks simple, the Outlook plug-ins that are provided by most CRMs need to be installed on every machine.  And these plug-ins are usually only available for Outlook running on Windows, not Entourage or Outlook Web Access, or my BlackBerry or iPhone. So Omni decided to completely change the game by removing the complexity caused by Outlook plug-ins and changing to a completely transparent, server-side integration solution.  When you think about it – if you bring a new person on staff, in order to get integration with SugarCRM, they need the plug-in to be installed on their laptop, desktop at work, home machine and they need an application to be installed on their iPhone or Blackberry – a minimum of four touch points. In the US – studies show any time you have to initiate a service call on a machine, that’s $50 a pop. What happens when you upgrade or do any maintenance?  You get to start all over again.

Then, the plug-in breaks or there’s an upgrade and the end user gets frustrated, and doesn’t want to use it. This complexity and frustration are major causes of the lack of CRM adoption.  System administrators aren’t bothered by this because plug-ins are a desktop support issue not a CRM or email system issue.  .  What do you think are the top three reasons for lack of CRM adoption? It’s lack of buy-in, too much complexity and forcing people to change the way they do their job – and people usually don’t like having to change the way they use their favorite applications.  A solution that encourages CRM adoption has to be transparent and work the way the end user wants it to work. .

How is Omni’s take different?

By getting rid of Outlook plug-ins and delivering server-side synchronization, Riva Integration Server delivers simplicity and transparency.  For example, when a new user shows up at work, they just go to work in their Outlook (or Entourage, or Web Access or BlackBerry, …) client– nothing changes.  There is nothing to install or upgrade, nothing to break.  Their CRM contacts, appointments, tasks, opportunities, cases, etc. just appear in their Outlook client because the information is in Exchange.  Make a change to the contact list in Outlook (or on your Mac, BlackBerry, iPhone or Outlook Web Access) and that change is automatically updated in CRM – no buttons to click.  Move an appointment on your BlackBerry and that appointment gets changed in your CRM.  The integration and synchronization are transparent.  And there’s no copying back and forth between the Outlook and your CRM. Riva literally turns your email client (all of your email clients) into a transparent CRM client. A corporate user sends or receives about 115 emails a day.  Of those emails, how many should be archived to your CRM?  Not all of them.  And when you do want to archive an email to your CRM, you just want to easily click and drag the important ones into the SmartConvert folder and have the email be automatically archived to the contact record, opportunity and/or case.

How does this help end-users, and/or the IT people managing the system?

It’s about giving back time to the end user and support staff. It’s about removing complexity and allowing the information to be consumed in all Exchange or GroupWise clients without anything having to be installed on the clients. It’s about preventing the four visits per year per person to install, manage, troubleshoot and fix problems with Outlook plug-ins.

Riva is about creating a 1+1+1=10 equation.  It’s about leveraging your existing email system, your CRM investment and your existing user knowledge base to allows sales or support staff to operate in the system of their choice and have access to their information anywhere they have access to an Exchange or GroupWise client. Now sales and service can access all that data in the email client they already know how to use. I’ve got my Blackberry – and I just keep on using it how I’ve always used it.  Nothing new to learn.  Desktop and helpdesk support staff are freed up to focus on more pressing value-added tasks that working with archaic, legacy Outlook plug-ins.

Riva literally links your email client to SugarCRM – not just synching.

From an IT administrator perspective, we make their lives easier too.  The interesting part for them is that you install Riva once, and you configure a synchronization profile. You create profiles for the different roles people have in your organization. Say you have 50 users of Sugar. Not all of them need the same information. Does support necessarily care about opportunities?  Not really, they care about Cases. So you would create a policy for each of these roles – and what’s nice as an administrator is that you manage those roles and synchronization policies from a central location, and remember, there are no plug-ins to install, support, troubleshoot or manage.  You don’t have to worry about touching every desktop when you do an upgrade. Nor do you have to train users. You can have a 50-seat deployment in place in 15 minutes, not the hours it would take if you were going to every single machine or device. And even if you use Group Policies to deploy the plug-ins, you don’t have to worry about having different versions of Outlook plug-ins running on Outlook 2003, 2007, 2010 on different desktop operating systems.  Riva is compatible with ALL versions of Outlook and Exchange – all at the same time.  With Riva, when you do an upgrade to Exchange or update your client desktop software, you don’t have to worry about anything breaking on the desktop.  Nothing changes in the users’ environment. Riva just makes administrators and end-users’ lives simpler.

Do you see CRM being embedded in email, or does CRM start enveloping more embedded email tools?

We look at it from the perspective that, to the best of our knowledge, we are the first company in the industry to turn your email client into a transparent CRM client – ALL Exchange or GroupWise email clients. Customers who see Riva’s advanced SmartConvert, ConnectBar and AssignTo functionality  say, “Why haven’t I heard of this before?”  We get contacted more often from end users than IT guys; because the end users just want something easier that what they currently use. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication and that’s what the end-user is looking for – make my life easier and let me get on with doing my job.

Understand that as much as CRM vendors would like, they simply cannot integrate a web-based email client into their CRM that has the same usability and breadth of features as the tools like Outlook already have. CRM providers are not email providers. The same can be said about email – it will never replace the full featured CRM functions available in a dedicated CRM package.

Does cloud computing help or hinder the continued integration between CRM and email?

We are really excited about our SugarCon announcement of Riva Live – CRM integration in the Cloud.  We have embraced a full cloud-based CRM integration delivery model.  Not only is Riva compatible with on-premise and hosted SugarCRM, Microsoft Exchange and Novell Group Wise,  with Riva Live, users can also consume Riva in the Cloud. In fact, Riva Live, the first cloud-based CRM integration offering, will be released and presented at SugarCon 2010 for the first time.  We expect SugarCRM and Exchange hosting providers will add Riva Live to their hosted offering.  Riva Live is great for small firms that are running Hosted Exchange or running Entourage on their Macs, or for users who aren’t tethered to a desktop and need CRM integration with their BlackBerry, iPhone or Outlook Web Access.  These customers can now live completely in the Cloud with hosted Exchange and hosted SugarCRM being synchronized by Riva Live.

The cloud allows micro businesses of 10 or fewer employees to have access to the same measure and quality of technology that otherwise requires expensive  IT staff and costly and dedicated servers to maintain. The cost savings tied to having all of these apps in the cloud is huge.  SugarCRM is a cloud leader with partners delivering SugarCRM hosted solutions in the Cloud.  Riva Integration Server, for on-premise installations, and Riva Live for hosted implementations will allow more companies to benefit from better user adoption, enhanced business processes and increased ROI for their investment.

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