The best CRM suite is...

Summary:What's the best customer relationship management suite? We put six of the top vendors to the test to find out in our no holds barred face-off.


We installed the latest stable release of SugarCRM Community Edition — 5.2.0f — using the Windows/MSSQL stack installer on Windows 2003 R2 Standard x86 SP2. There are a number of flavours of stack installers available, depending on the platform you're looking to support, and the wizard-based installation doesn't require the administrator to do much other than verify prerequisites and specify names and passwords.

We used the default bundled installation of SQL Server 2005 Express, but you can choose to use an already-available instance of SQL or MySQL on a local or remote server. The stack also installed Apache with PHP support and we were up and running within 20 minutes. All the installers are powered by Sugar's own FastStack software and are available for Windows, Linux, OS X and Sun platforms.

The functionality to import information into the SugarCRM system is quite basic. You can import users, contacts, meetings/tasks and account/sales data, but the only options are to import from a delimited file or from a CSV exported from There are a few more options when importing contacts, as you can use CSVs exported from Outlook or from ACT! or vCards. It is possible to integrate SugarCRM with an authoritative third-party user system like Active Directory or any other LDAP-compliant system. By default the web interface is somewhat cluttered, but this can be customised.

Email integration is handled using either SMTP or sendmail protocols — no native integration with specific vendor systems. Each Sugar user has a web mail interface as part of the online portal and can send mail to both Sugar users and contacts via the shared address book.

However, there is no internal email functionality and all mail is routed via the defined external email system. Users aren't obliged to use the web mail interface as there are plug-ins available for Outlook 2003/2007 as well as Thunderbird 1.5/2.x. Similarly, document management functionality can be enhanced with plug-ins for Word 2003/2007 and Excel 2007, and there is an external SourceForge project to bring the same functionality to OpenOffice. Through a variety of third parties SugarCRM can also be integrated with Lotus Notes, Windows Mobile, Palm OS and the iPhone.

In spite of SugarCRM's obvious lack of features and relative simplicity when compared with other CRM packages available on the market, we really like this product. It's surprisingly mature and covers all the basics well. There's a thriving online community dedicated to its continued success, it's both free and easy to install, and the system requirements are minimal, which makes it a very attractive and accessible solution to businesses of any size.

The downside with using open source products is that businesses are very much dependent on their own in-house technical resources or will have to pay for a contractor's services, and as reliance on the product grows, costs are more than likely to rise. Many businesses may prefer the Express, Professional or Enterprise editions which come with support models and are available as both on-premise and hosted solutions.

An Express package starts from US$499 per year, so it's a very viable option. It is also possible to install and develop a Community Edition and then migrate to a business account. There are SugarCRM partners and resellers globally, so companies looking to implement a solution will find local support.

Product:SugarCRM Community Edition
Vendor:SugarCRM (commercial)
Phone:+1 408 454 6900
Interoperability:3/5 — cross-platform, works with Microsoft Office and open source alternatives
Future-proofing:4/5 — mature product with plenty of community and commercial support
ROI:4/5 — any return on a free product is all profit
Service:1/5 — community-driven self support

(Credit: James Bannan/

(Credit: James Bannan/

(Credit: James Bannan/

Topics: SAP, Enterprise Software, Oracle

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