IT Life: All About Relationships

Clint Oram, CTO at SugarCRM, has been working with software since he was a kid

Clint Oram is the co-founder and CTO at SugarCRM, one of the largest leading Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software providers. Based in Cupertino, California, he says securing mobile devices is the greatest challenge facing IT, and thinks “modern” web application technology looks a lot like yesterday’s client-server technology.

Tell us about your company, how long have you been in IT and what are your areas of expertise?

I started my IT career back in the mid-80s as a teenager when I worked for my father’s startup, the Media Computer Network. This was a pre-Internet company that connected media outlets with public service agencies to quickly distribute emergency public safety information. It was an exciting company with a bold mission and I was doing everything from software QA to stuffing envelopes after school and on weekends.

urlFast forward 20 years later and I started SugarCRM to help connect companies of all types with their customers in order to build tighter relationships between the two. Similar missions, different audiences. Through that time, my area of expertise has always stayed the same from when I was kid working in my dad’s company to being the CTO in my own.

I connect technology with users. Thirty years ago that meant testing the software and manning the demo station at conferences. Today that means working with SugarCRM customers and guiding our technology and product strategy.

What’s the favourite IT project that you’ve ever worked on?

Most recently I helped my kid’s school with their new Student Information System. I really enjoyed helping the school go through their decision making process and formulating their strategy for effectively deploying and using new technology. Now all of the teachers, students and parents rely on the new system every day. It was a real joy helping make that happen.

What technologies were you involved with ten years ago?

Many of the technologies from 10 years ago are still a big part of my world today. PHP, Apache, MySQL, JavaScript, SOA, REST, SOAP have all been, and continue to be shaping SugarCRM.

What do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?

When it comes to delivering web-based applications for SugarCRM, I think we will continue the pendulum swing we are in right now back towards client-server technology. Browsers and smartphone apps are becoming more robust and more intelligent, basically becoming the new “smart client” technology of this era. Web servers will turn into more of process and data engines, moving all of the presentation layer out to the clients.

Twenty years ago we called this client-server and sneered at that design approach as we ushered in first generation web application technology. Today’s “modern” web application technology looks a lot like yesterday’s client-server technology.  Either way, more robust clients in the browser or the mobile device are leading the way. One of the technologies that I am watching today that will help accelerate that “ old/new” return to the client-server design principle is WebRTC.

What do you think is the greatest challenge for an IT company or department today?

Five years ago, we talked about how IT decisions were moving from the CIO to the line of business owner (e.g. VP of Sales or VP of Service).  Now we see employees coming to work everyday with new mobile devices and new mobile apps, completely bypassing security and data management policies in the company.

When was the last time you downloaded an app to your smartphone and connected your email account to that service in the hope that you would get more insight and usefulness out of your email? Your employees are happily connecting apps like LinkedIn, Selligy, Rexter, TriggerFox and many more to your corporate email server without IT having any idea that this is happening. Does that bother your CISO? Probably.

Maxx-Studio - cloudTo cloud or nor to cloud?

That’s like asking if I prefer a wrench over a screwdriver. Different tools for different jobs. The cloud is a critical component of the world’s collective application delivery capacity. Vendors like SugarCRM that deliver software-as-a-service on top of the cloud for thousands of small business around the world are delivering huge value, bringing the right tool to the job.

At the same time, there are some larger companies that have data issues.  Data residency, data integration, data transfer, data governance are all important to large companies with lots of data operating in multiple countries.

Sometimes the right answer for them is to deliver software-as-a-service themselves behind the firewall, not relying on the software vendor for that service.  SugarCRM helps customers in both scenarios achieve their customer data management goals while keeping their costs under control.

Who is your tech hero and who is your tech villain?

My tech hero is Elon Musk.  His tech career is astounding to think about.  From revolutionising banking with PayPal and the automotive industry with Tesla to leading humanity into the next frontier with SpaceX, Elon’s career is one for the history books.  Frankly, I’m quite envious of him given that he is only 4 months older than I am and he has accomplished so much technology greatness in such a short time.  As for tech villains, that’s easy.  We love the cartoon “Phineas and Ferb” in our house and so I would have to nominate Heinz Doofenshmirtz as my favorite tech villain.  Next up, “The CRM-inator”.

What’s your favourite device ever made and what do you use the most?

I still remember my first Sony Walkman with joy.  The freedom to rock out anywhere, anytime was priceless for a young kid. Today, I can’t live without my iPhone. It keeps me connected, informed, on-time and entertained all the time.

Apart from your own, which company do you admire the most and why?

I’m a big fan of start-ups.  I think the energy and passion that young companies bring to Silicon Valley is what makes this place such an awesome place to live. I’ve got several favorite new start-ups right now including EverString, Callinize and Selligy.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

Well, I always knew I was going to start my own company and that it was going to be in the software industry.  From an early age, I was caught up in the drama building around Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in the ‘80s. Back then, the word “entrepreneur” didn’t have the mystic or acceptance that it does now.  So I didn’t identify myself with that word specifically. But looking back, it is easy to see that I always wanted to be what I am today, a software entrepreneur. Viva la Geeks!

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