Four Cloud and SaaS Application Firms Worth Watching

by Paul Shread

Salesforce.com, RightNow, Informatica and Vocus are leading the way to cloud services and social media monitoring, according to an analyst.

Cloud computing and SaaS applications are rapidly moving into enterprises, and four companies are emerging as leaders, according to a Stifel Nicolaus analyst.

Tom Roderick, managing director of applications and communications software research at Stifel, said in an interview with eCRM Guide that Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM), RightNow Technologies (NASDAQ: RNOW), Vocus (NASDAQ: VOCS) and Informatica (NASDAQ: INFA) are well positioned to lead the next phase of cloud and SaaS evolution.

In the first phase, small and mid-sized businesses embraced SaaS, while large enterprises approached software as a service cautiously, limiting it to departmental and siloed applications.

In the second phase, SaaS applications are meeting with greater acceptance by enterprises. "It's no longer just siloes," Roderick told eCRM Guide. "You're seeing enterprise-wide deals."

In the third phase, social media and social networking gets added to the mix; what surprises Roderick is how quickly that's happening. Usually it takes a few years to move from hype to adoption, he said, but "customers are already spending real money."

With social networks and media, "you can monitor what customers say about your brand and take the information and make sense of it," Roderick said.

Salesforce.com led the move to SaaS with the rapid growth of its cloud CRM service, and now the company is adding social CRM and the Chatter enterprise collaboration tool. Chatter has caught on quickly, with 20,000 customers in its first few months.

Roderick calls RightNow "CRM services instead of sales force automation." The company's multi-channel customer support technology is making inroads now that call center outsourcing has "largely played itself out, so technology has become more important," he said. As evidence of that growth, Roderick notes that RightNow shares have doubled just since mid-year.

RightNow has also added social networking integration with the acquisition last year of LiveHive.

PR software firm Vocus has added social media monitoring to its bag of tricks, promising users that it can monitor sites like Twitter and Facebook, identify influential commenters, and track sentiment and brand reputation.

Informatica doesn't operate in the cloud as Salesforce, RightNow and Vocus do, but the company's data integration technology makes it easier to integrate cloud and on-premise data, an essential element of enterprise cloud deployments. Roderick cites Dell's (NASDAQ: DELL) acquisition of Boomi last week as evidence of the potential of data integration. He called Dell's acquisition "very strategic, if not huge."

Roderick said greater reliability and security have helped speed SaaS adoption. All data centers are subject to outages and breaches, he said, but cloud services vendors need to be on the top of their game to survive. Salesforce.com, for example, posts its reliability and security status publicly at trust.salesforce.com.

"They spend all their time thinking about security," he said. "You've got some of the best engineers in the world thinking about these issues."

Disclosure: Stifel offers investment banking services to and makes a market in securities of Salesforce, Informatica and RightNow.


  This article was originally published on Saturday Nov 13th 2010
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