I think most of us are more happy than sad that 2009 is drawing to a close. In the global sense, 2009 sucked. Plain and simple. But if you’re a silver-lining type of guy (which I am not) you can say that at least we all learned about the value of hard work, the importance of delivering value in a rough economy blah blah blahhh…let’s just get it over with and all look forward to a fresh start in 2010, right?

I will be taking a short break from Outsiders, but before I go I wanted to throw my two cents into the already overcrowded “predictions” market that observers and analysts so love to do in this industry. Truth be told, I always hated doing these as an analyst. They seemed so canned and vague. In retrospect I think I was too far from the buying market to understand the difference between high-level tech trends and how the IT decision makers would behave in the coming 12 months.

So, let’s see if nearly three years on the front lines has changed anything. I am limiting myself to four major items. I figure this gives me either enough smart predictions to look like a genius, or just enough rope to hang myself this time next year.

Here we go…

SFA Will Take on a Whole New Meaning, and Redefine CRM Once Again.

OK, this sounds very vague, I know. But bear with me; I swear this might make sense. What I mean is that the convergence of the consumer web with business apps, the ever-expanding web-savvy sales workforce, and the growing trend towards simple data integration into apps (social media, sites like Jigsaw and tools like InsideView, etc.) is redefining SFA.

We have moved on from the old model of SFA as a container of static information. The original beauty of SFA was that managers and sales people could share some parts of what were once proprietary (at the user level) contact lists. Soon, activity management, workflow etc. was slapped on top. But now, new ideas about data aggregation and usage, as well as merging online and offline sales activities – has forced the hand of CRM providers.

What will result: far more agile applications that are easier to use and own by sales reps; leveraging all sorts of unstructured data and networks – but yet managed inside the confines of what will look somewhat like traditional CRM. This will allow for better data stewardship and insure compliance inside organizations.

In a larger sense – I see this breaking CRM fully away from the suite approach that was in vogue for a while. As “enterprise CRM” and “SMB CRM” become nonsense words, and tools are built around actual business needs and not how much money the company makes or how many users it has in a system (ridiculous, arbitrary holdovers from the last generation of software development) , we will see more “sales” focused tools gaining market share, as well as “marketing” and “support” tools. Social CRM will play a big part in driving a lot of this, which brings me to my next point…

Social CRM is (Pretty Much) Ready for Prime Time.

What 2010 prediction piece would be complete without something about “social” anything? This has been beaten to death, but I find I have a more middle of the road feeling about social in 2010. Others seem to say “it’s here, man, deal with it or eat dust” or the more impractical “it’s just a fad at this point” (which reminds me of the SaaS naysayers in 2003).

I think in regards to social CRM that 2010 will be an important year – but that we will not see the “killer” social CRM app emerge until later in the year.  Salesforce did a paste up job with Chatter.  And I think the more data-focused applications like InsideView are still figuring out social. They have the unstructured media stuff I mentioned above down pat, and are growing their businesses, but there’s still a little left to do in terms of nailing social.  Another company to watch is Gist, they are doing some cool stuff.

When it comes to traditional CRM players making the move to social, I don’t think the older enterprise players have agile enough architectures to handle the metamorphosis. This is beyond simply slapping a Twitter window into the UI.  I think a simple, focused UI with easy to leverage social media connectors will be the winner here. The tool has to have the ultimate user-configurability, as well as a simple method for importing and leveraging unstructured and social data for traditional CRM workflows and reporting. It will be interesting to see who gets there first.

Open Source is Still Important in 2010, and Still Not a Business Model.

Some have argued that open source is becoming a moot point in terms of CRM. I agree and disagree. Paul Greenberg says that SugarCRM has dominated the open source side of CRM so much that it has left the model off the table for anyone else.

But what I think Paul does not do a great job of explaining is that in order for a CRM product to be successful these days (and a CRM company to do so) there has to be elements of open source in the mix. The software from all providers is looking more and more open (a good thing). And the move towards social and all of the agile and open development needed on top of those platforms will undoubtedly come from open source. So, open source is alive and well in the CRM and apps sector in general.

However, I do agree that just being an open source company will lead to the kind of meteoric growth vendors like SugarCRM experienced. That ship has sailed, sorry guys. What will win the CRM game – and frankly it is sad that this hasn’t always been the case – is smart, agile product supported by a company that understands and engages well with its customer base.

Older SaaS Players Will Begin to See Pressure from True Cloud Applications

Look, I am not claiming Salesforce.com will be seeing huge drops in revenue. However, I do predict that some of the haze will clear around cloud computing, and companies will wise up to the marketing BS that older SaaS guys are spouting.

As more and more true cloud platforms come to the fore, from Microsoft with Azure and of course Amazon and even VM Ware with V Cloud Express, end-user organizations are going to have much more choice in how they deploy applications. Before, it was “SaaS or in your own datacenter.” This is so not the case anymore. Companies can gain the kind of control they need to create differentiated applications, without having to run infrastructure. And companies like webappVM are making this easier than ever to do. What’s more, companies can use these tools to port their apps to and from any environment. Try doing that with a traditional SaaS product.

…Ok, those are just a few of the things I think we’ll see happen in and around the CRM world in 2010. I will of course check back a year from now and see how I did. But feel free to comment now and tell me how insane I am for thinking up these predictions.

I wish all the Outsiders readers, and the greater CRM and Sugar universe, a happy and healthy holiday season, and a prosperous 2010!