10 enterprise software companies to watch

From business intelligence to CRM, from scheduling and e-procurement to database management and data governance, there is no shortage of enterprise applications available to help businesses make their processes more efficient. Choosing can be difficult, however: Do you go open source? Software-as-a-service, or in-house deployment? Every vendor has a sales pitch. Here are 10 worth watching.

1. Alfresco Software

Founded: 2005

Location: San Francisco and Maidenhead, England.

What does the company offer? An open-source enterprise content management (ECM) system. The products include Alfresco Community Network, a free download; Alfresco Enterprise Network, which starts at $10,000 (USD) per CPU, per year; and Alfresco Small Business Network, which, because of a planned price increase, soon will cost $5,000 (USD) per year for as many as 25 users.

Why is it worth watching? The experienced team running Alfresco includes CTO and Chairman John Newton, who co-founded Documentum, a content management vendor now owned by EMC . The World Economic Forum named Alfresco a technology pioneer for 2007, saying the company “dramatically lowers total cost of ownership through open source distribution, working in the user’s native environment, minimizing training and using low-cost, loosely coupled hardware.”

How did the company get its start? The founders wanted to make an ECM system that would be easy to use and implement, as well as based on open source, letting users contribute and review code. How did the company get its name? The term “al fresco” refers to activities, such as dining, done in the open air. The founders chose the name because they make open source products — and because it starts with “A,” so it would be at the top of an alphabetical list.

CEO and background: John Powell, the president and CEO, oversaw worldwide operations of business-intelligence vendor Business Objects before joining Alfresco.

Funding: $10 million (USD) in venture capital from the Mayfield Fund and Accel .

Who’s using the product? More than 200 customers, including E*Trade Financial; the European Commission ; H&R Block; Harvard University; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and Sears, Roebuck. The free version of the product has been downloaded more than 500,000 times, the company says.

2. Coupa Software

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Founded: February 2006

Location: Foster City, Calif.

What does the company offer? Coupa eProcurement Express, which came out in March and is an open source e-procurement system for midsize businesses. Coupa also plans a software-as-a-service version, and offers an enterprise version in beta that is expected to become available generally in the next couple of months. The enterprise version will cost less than $50,000 to $60,000 (USD) for companies with 300 to 500 employees, Coupa says.

Why is it worth watching? Coupa’s founders are Oracle veterans Dave Stephens and Noah Eisner, who played key roles in developing Oracle’s procurement applications. Stephens, Coupa’s CEO, spent nearly 10 years building enterprise applications at Oracle but found they were too complex for midsize businesses. With eProcurement Express, Coupa aims to simplify the purchasing process with Amazon.com -like features that make the product “easier to use than avoid,” in Stephens’ words. As an open source tool, Coupa’s software may appeal to businesses looking for a less-expensive alternative to established products. “What I saw [working at Oracle] was that purchasing systems were working for Fortune 100 companies and maybe to some extent for Fortune 500 companies,” Stephens says. “There never was a solution that had the right ingredients to go mainstream. . . . These software packages came out and cost millions of dollars. You’d better be spending billions of dollars to get any return on investment.”

How did the company get its start? The founders saw that many enterprise employees do not use e-procurement applications because of their complexity, and decided to build a simple-to-use version that would appeal to “average Joe’s.”

How did the company get its name? Coupa is the name of a coffee shop where Stephens and Eisner did some of the work developing the application. In addition, Coupa sounds like “couper,” the French word for “cut” — as in cutting expenses through more efficient procurement.

CEO and background: Stephens became a vice president at Oracle in 2002, leading the procurement applications group, where he stayed until founding Coupa.

Funding: Less than $2 million (USD) from private investors and the venture capital firm BlueRun Ventures .

Who’s using the product? The open source product has been downloaded more than 4,000 times since becoming available in beta last July, Coupa says. The beta release of the enterprise version has three or four customers in service industries.

3. InvisibleCRM

Founded: Early 2005

Location: Moscow and San Mateo, Calif.

What does the company offer? Add-on products for Salesforce.com , Amdocs and Documentum (now part of EMC ). Examples include SalesFolder, which maps Salesforce document repositories to local desktop folders to provide offline access, and automates sharing and delivery of documents. Another product, Outlook Integration for Amdocs CRM, synchronizes Outlook and Amdocs data and streamlines scheduling and communications with customers.

Why is it worth watching? The biggest challenge in deploying a CRM application is getting employees to use it, says Nucleus Research in a report on InvisibleCRM. “InvisibleCRM synchronizes Salesforce.com with Windows desktop applications to automatically update, store, and transfer customer information between the desktop and the CRM system,” the firm writes.” The result is increased user adoption of CRM, better ROI, and a happier sales force.” Nucleus analyst Rebecca Wettemann says the company eliminates the question of user adoption because users never have to touch the CRM system.

How did the company get its start? The founders, who were managing software development companies, decided to make an easy-to-use CRM application after being faced with resistance from sales reps who hated the CRM software provided to them.

How did the company get its name? InvisibleCRM refers to the company’s goal of making users forget they are working with a CRM application. “Our idea was to meld CRM functionality as deep in Windows and Outlook as

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