Sugar Suite 4.0.1

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Introduction
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Features
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How we tested
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Verdict

Customer relationship management, or CRM, is a tricky business. Most people think that it's mostly being cheerful on the phone and making sure your clients' complaints are dealt with promptly. Of course, that is an essential part of it, but that's nowhere near the scope of business customer relations.

A customer, in its broadest possible definition, is someone with whom you or your company have any sort of relationship, which can be anything from someone who rings out of the blue to enquire about your products, or a long-standing client who has bought lots from your catalogue in the past, and may well buy some more. Each of these customers, whether in potentia or very real and on the other end of the phone, have particular requirements which must be met to establish or maintain a successful relationship.

SugarCRM 4.0.1
[Click to enlarge] The homepage provides
a comprehensive summary of tasks,
appointments and communications.

To further complicate matters, from the perspective of the home business there are many people who must work cohesively to meet these needs -- sales teams, customer service staff, technicians, account managers, helpdesk operators and so on. To genuinely make a customer feel that their needs are not simply being met, but are being taken seriously, each of these disparate groups must have access to all the relevant information about that customer. How many times have you called a company and had to explain the same problem to five different people? Off-putting, isn't it?

Needless to say, we're talking about an awful lot of information here, and making it readily accessible, meaningful and dynamic is no easy feat. This is the realm of CRM solutions. In this review we take a look at SugarCRM's Sugar Suite 4.0.1, which aims to provide comprehensive and cost-effective CRM solutions to businesses of all shapes and sizes.

Sugar Suite 4.0.1 comes in three flavours: open source, professional and enterprise.

Specifications
For businesses keen to implement Sugar Suite, the minimum recommendations are ridiculously low. The application can run on pretty dated hardware, so the only requirements are the practical ones -- more users will require better performing machines.

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Sugar Suite installs on either Windows or Linux, and only requires Apache, MySQL and PHP to be pre-installed. The open-source download is a mere 6.14MB, or 30.23MB for the install package plus all necessary AMP (Apache, MySQL, PHP) software.

This super-low footprint makes testing the application incredibly easy -- just fire up an old desktop and you're away.

Commercial open source
While Sugar Suite is open source in the sense that its code is open and freely distributable, and it leverages off open-source backend services (Apache, MySQL and PHP), it is not distributed under the General Public License (GPL).

Instead, Sugar Suite is distributed under the SugarCRM Public License (SPL), which is a slightly modified version of the Mozilla Public License. This in turn is largely based on the GPL, but was re-written to cover only Mozilla's source code. The only changes SugarCRM has made are replacing "Mozilla" with "SugarCRM" throughout the licence, and adding a section which deals with how the SugarCRM name and logos are to be used.

The SPL is still very open and flexible. You can download the open-source product freely and apply your own bug fixes, build new applications which leverage SugarCRM technologies, distribute the source code and contribution, and sell any non-derived modules or applications. You can even host SugarCRM products on your servers and charge a hosting fee.

Introduction
|
Features
|
How we tested
|
Verdict
Introduction
|
Features
|
How we tested
|
Verdict

Features
Sugar Suite is a Web browser-driven portal ... you log on, and away you go. There is a vast array of areas within the CRM portal, but you always start at the homepage.

This presents you with a summary of appointments, unread e-mails, open business opportunities, cases, leads, tasks, team notices, a calendar of events and a sales pipeline, as well as the last few resources you accessed when you were last logged on. Of course, this content is completely customisable depending on who's accessing it (salespeople wouldn't have bug fixes assigned to them, and likewise for support technicians and sales pipelines). There's also a list of shortcuts to quick tasks such as creating a contact, account or quote, entering a business card or scheduling a meeting, call or task.

As with any true portal, all of these pockets of information and quick tasks are linked to other areas, which are accessed by a menu system that runs across the top of the Web page and offers tabbed browsing through the pages available to the user. The portal itself is completely customisable to the individual, so users can remove tabs which don't interest them, move more pertinent tabs further up the list and so on.

SugarCRM 4.0.1
[Click to enlarge] Tabbed menus keep
all the pages at your fingertips.

A quick scan across the menu reveals the following resources -- Calendar, Activities, Contacts, Accounts, Leads, Opportunities, Cases, Bug Tracker, Documents, Emails, Campaigns, Projects, RSS and Dashboard. In the Professional version, Quotes, Products, Reports and Forecasts are also available, as well as an access control function allowing particular users like franchisees, regional companies or contractors to only access a part of the system, and an underlying workflow engine, allowing for WHEN and IF situational management. Phew -- comprehensive or what?

Concept and ideology
Before we get into the technical features of Sugar Suite, it's worth looking at the ideology behind the product, and what it has been designed to achieve.

Sugar Suite has been designed primarily as a business' repository of customer information. This information is then served to and manipulated by various teams throughout the company, who act as the company's representatives (in differing capacities) to the customer.

It serves salespeople by providing information on customer contact details -- who is in which position, who's the best person to talk to about a particular product and so on. E-mails and details of phone conversations can be stored in the application, allowing salespeople to keep track of what has been discussed with whom, and more importantly, what has been promised and by when. It keeps the sales teams constantly aware of their current and future obligations.

For marketing teams, Sugar Suite offers detailed customer information which allows marketing to target its campaigns accordingly. User data can be filtered based on any known attribute -- industry type, location, company size and so on. Draft communications can then be created using templates within Sugar Suite, and exported via a mail merge, customised for the individual recipients and sent in either electronic or hard copy.

Then there's that essential component of customer relations -- post-sales support. This isn't simply helpdesk operators troubleshooting product faults, although this facility is strongly supported. Sugar Suite features call logging procedures, allowing support staff to document problems as they arise. All problems reported by the customer are available so support personnel have the client's full history. It also links back to sales, so that support teams know precisely what products a customer has purchased, and when and what the support/maintenance agreements are. The sales teams will also be aware of which products the customer has requested post-sales support for.

SugarCRM 4.0.1
[Click to enlarge] Tabbed menus keep
all pages at your fingertips.

Finally, there's customer self-service. Enabling customers to interact directly with the company and either view or modify their accounts is a great tool (think of ISPs letting you view your usage and change your account type online). Sugar Suite integrates with all the popular Web servers to allow customers to do just that. They can log on and get an up-to-date indication of their business activities.

In spite of its capacity for large amounts of [input] data, Sugar Suite isn't designed for companies which have high volume data activity -- environments where lots of information is entered very quickly, such as a call centre. Its main focus is to enable disparate groups to constantly update relevant information, provide a framework within which that information is meaningful, and streamline workflow for tasks requiring the data.

Introduction
|
Features
|
How we tested
|
Verdict
Introduction
|
Features
|
How we tested
|
Verdict

How we tested
Rather than get stuck into the open-source package and set it up from scratch, we were fortunate to have the assistance of Insightful Solutions, a SugarCRM partner and Australia's main provider of hosted and on-site CRM systems using SugarCRM.

Insightful Solutions helped us get going by setting up a pre-configured test system. We got started by romping through the pages, trying to make sense of it all. At first glance, the interface is a bit of an information overload. There's so much at your fingertips that it's difficult to know where to start. However, once we got used to navigating the pages (which is extremely straightforward, fortunately), it all started to fall into place.

The interconnected nature of Sugar Suite became more apparent once we dived deeper -- creating employees, a new company, some contacts within that company and a couple of meetings with some associated tasks. When you go to schedule a meeting, you can choose invitees from the list of internal users as well as contacts entered into the system.

Sugar Suite can "communicate" directly with mail servers, so invitations can be sent directly from the system. Create a project and you can assign it to a particular team, and then schedule group meetings which appear on everyone's calendar, group tasks, assign customer contacts for this project (for example, a customer's PR manager if your project is a marketing seminar), and view the history of completed tasks. Once a project or two has been completed, you can go back to a specific contact (or company) and view all the tasks, meetings and projects that person has been involved with.

A very nice touch is that the portal is quite customisable. The My Portal tab allows you to link to external Web sites. These are rendered within an iframe and are given their own pages within the tab menu. This lets users access external information they need without having to exit the portal. You can also subscribe to RSS feeds -- either external or internal. Internal feeds are a great way of keeping users up to date.

Another great (and very cool) feature is the plugin for Microsoft Outlook. This allows the Calendar tab within Sugar Suite to synchronise directly with a user's Outlook client -- not via the Exchange server, but directly with the local client application. It can also be used to push e-mails from Outlook straight into Sugar Suite -- very useful for documenting correspondence with clients.

Introduction
|
Features
|
How we tested
|
Verdict
Introduction
|
Features
|
How we tested
|
Verdict

The verdict
The concept of customer service is a strange one in this age of faceless, often unaccountable business dealings. A customer does not want to spend ages on the phone trying to buy a product or report a problem. The ease with which your interactions with a company are performed has a massive influence on whether you will go back to them.

From the company's perspective, sometimes their inability to deal with you effectively is not always their fault. The poor sales representative may not have been told that you're a major customer, his predecessor having left under dubious circumstances without briefing him properly. And now he's putting his foot in it with an important client, all for the want of a readily accessibly past history. It sounds silly, but it does happen. Business dealings are, ultimately, carried out by people, and people are fallible.

Sugar Suite puts information at users' fingertips. It's a comprehensive, streamlined tool which offers indispensable services to both a company's employees and its customers. In today's atmosphere of abundant choice, where the twentieth impression is just as important as the first, a business does itself and its clients a disservice not to have a product like Sugar Suite.

Product Sugar Suite 4.0.1
Price Free to US$449 per user per year
Vendor SugarCRM [Local distributor: Insightful Solutions]
Contact + 1 (408) 454-6940 [or 1300 307 147]
Web demonstration Click here
Interoperability
5 out of 5
Short learning curve, highly modular.
Futureproofing
4.5 out of 5
Based on popular open-source solutions, very scalable.
ROI
3.5 out of 5
If opting for the Professional version, the on-demand option is more affordable starting at US$40 per user, per month.
Service
4.5 out of 5
E-mail and forum support.
Rating
4.5 out of 5

Introduction
|
Features
|
How we tested
|
Verdict

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