A step closer to the integrated cloud

Internet-provisioned apps can save money but don't integrate well; ZoHo is the first to try to change that

Connecting apps in the same cloud

ZoHo's answer to this dilemma is to provide those apps in its cloud, so the integration among them is built in. "The sales force at a company often finds it easier to put CRM information into a spreadsheet. With ZoHo CRM and its productivity applications integrated, a salesperson can edit data in the spreadsheet and save it to the CRM solution," said Raju Vegesna, a ZoHo spokesman. ZoHo's pitch is that its products become a small business's preintegrated IT department.

Melissa Webster, a senior analyst at IDC, said ZoHo's combination of back-end applications with hosted and edited tools is an attractive proposition for small businesses, which don't have the resources to do custom integration, nor the complex tools and IT infrastructure in which high customization usually occurs.

Microsoft is moving in the same direction, though more slowly. Earlier this month, it announced the next version of its Live platform, which it says will give users greater flexibility in editing and saving their Office documents online. But it has not said that it plans to provide Microsoft Office as a hosted service or even that its Microsoft Dynamics CRM app will integrate with Office Live.

Google, whose Google Apps is probably the best-known SaaS-delivered productivity suite, has no ability, or even partnerships, to deliver any back-end services such as CRM or financials. Last June, Google and Salesforce.com agreed to "mutually use their product, packaging, and promotional resources," which so far has meant only that Salesforce.com is reselling Google's AdWords service. But rumors have been rife across the Web that a forthcoming deeper alliance between the two companies would allow Salesforce to incorporate Google Apps into its CRM offering. Other rumors have Google partnering with Intuit, the small-business accounting provider.

What is not a rumor, according to ZoHo's Vegesna, is the fact that Salesforce.com tried to buy ZoHo. "They wanted to participate in our platform. Then they wanted to acquire us," he said.

IDC's Webster said the industry is witnessing a "profound demographic shift" in distributed computing, with companies deploying teams that are virtual and collaborating around the globe. The best way to support this shift, she said, may well be by tapping into the cloud -- through which these users connect to each other and their companies anyhow -- and offering integrated solutions from the cloud.

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