Google, partner on business apps has integrated Google’s online productivity applications with its on-demand CRM (customer relationship management) offerings, the companies announced Monday.

The deal, which was the subject of rumors recently, heightens an existing partnership between the companies, marked in part by their pact to plug Google’s AdWords service into Salesforce.

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The good, the bad and Google Apps

The companies have “always had similar models and philosophies,” Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in a statement.

One industry observer said the deal has clear benefits for both companies.

“The corporate standard [for productivity applications and e-mail] is, of course, Microsoft, but if you look at [Silicon] Valley and the startups, they are using Google Apps because of the collaborative aspects,” said Ray Wang, an analyst with Forrester Research. “There are a lot of startups using, especially here in the Valley.”

The move could provide a stronger foothold for Google among business users, Wang said. “Google is already quite pervasive, but they want to be more pervasive in the enterprise.”

The Google Apps integration will enable Salesforce users to work in concert with Gmail, Google Docs, Google Talk and Google Calendar. A demo provided by a Salesforce spokesman showed how users could perform various tasks, such as pushing Gmail messages sent regarding a particular customer into the appropriate place in Salesforce.

Salesforce customers hailed the integration, terming it an ideal fit for their business needs.

Douglas Menefee is chief information officer of The Schumacher Group, a Lafayette, Louisiana, company that provides medical staffing for emergency departments. TSG works with 2,000 to 2,500 independent contractors and uses Salesforce to manage its relationships with them, according to Menefee.

TSG is now starting to build out a “Google framework” involving Google Apps, he said: “It just creates a brilliant environment to deal with 2,500 individuals that aren’t employees of ours, but whom we need to collaborate with.”

Another key factor is that TSG’s contractors in most cases are granted access to the Web when on a given job, but aren’t able to install software on a machine, he said. Google Apps, accessible by default through a browser, neatly circumvents this problem, he said.

Mike Epner heads the services team at CollabNet, maker of a Web-based platform for distributed software development teams.

“My team works closely with sales so the chat, e-mail and calendaring are all intriguing. If you were to manage the consulting team calendars via Salesforce, for example, we could set up a synchronization with their personal Google calendars (which many of them use),” he wrote in an e-mail message. “That could be quite interesting and also give visibility to the sales team on when customers are scheduled.”

In addition, CollabNet’s technical support team uses Salesforce to manage its caseload. “The collaboration and e-mail/chat/phone log with sales, support, consultants, engineering, and customers in a single case record has interesting potential,” he wrote. “We can take a lot of hassle out of the system and let sales and tech support use Salesforce as their main ‘portal’ for day-to-day activities.”

Benefits like those are just the beginning, according to Salesforce. The combination of its hosted development platform and Google’s open APIs (application programming interfaces) present a powerful new entry in cloud programming, the company said.

“It’s an application story, of Salesforce becoming intertwined with Google Apps,” said Kraig Swensrud, vice president of applications at Salesforce. The situation presents “a huge opportunity” for third-party developers and independent software vendors, he added.

An eager user base awaits such hybrid programs, according to Swensrud. “We think there will be significant, significant appeal,” Swensrud said. “Users want a model with less cost and complexity.”

However, the debut product is not entirely seamless. For example, it does not include single sign-on to both Google Apps and Salesforce out of the box, Swensrud said. That task has been completed by a partner, Vancouver’s Sxip, which is announcing an application Monday. Another partner, Appirio, created the calendaring integration, according to Salesforce.

Salesforce for Google Apps is now available as a free option for Salesforce customers. The company will roll out a version in a few months that bundles features such as telephone support, unified billing and provisioning, and enhanced platform APIs for US$10 per user per month.

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