Nsite 6.0 serves up small-scale CRM add-ons

Offering customizable sales management extensions, Nsite suits CRM for SMBs

Effective sales management can be an overwhelming challenge to small businesses. Lacking IT savvy and budget to automate, many SMBs are still mired in an error-prone mix of manual e-mail, spreadsheets, and word processing applications. Add advanced partner and channel requirements to the equation and the dismal degree of control and visibility simply stymies efforts to compete.

Nsite 6.0 from Nsite lights the way to competitive advantage by improving communications, visibility, and workflow among partnered sales channels. This SaaS (software as a service) package delivers on-demand, browser-based quote and proposal generation, as well as channel management -- fully customizable to meet the specificity of even the most oddball pipelines.

Nsite’s strengths include one-click PDF-proposal generation, solid workflow and approval routing, and an SOAP interface to Salesforce.com and Siebel CRM OnDemand applications.

Nsite also includes an application development module that allowed me to actually build my own applications without ever touching a line of code.

Nsite, however, is not without its shortcomings. Reporting and analytics remain unsophisticated, there is no offline client or Outlook plug-in, and, without a published API, data access beyond the application is difficult.

In addition, competitors abound. Firepond and BlueRoads offer complex pricing and good partner tools. And NetSuite has just unleashed Version 11 of its CRM/ERP hybrid sporting an AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) interface, enhanced customization opportunity, and templates for several verticals, leaving Nsite room to grow.

All told, though, Nsite offers small businesses -- say, companies with a handful of sales reps -- an inexpensive means of closing gaps in CRM functionality without committing a large up-front investment, and without blowing profit margins on IT to get there.

Everything for getting started with Nsite is right in your JavaScript-enabled browser -- no additional plug-ins or add-ons are necessary. Nsite currently supports only Internet Explorer 6 and higher, and the company has no plans to extend browser support until 2007.

Logging in to my Nsite account, I found the home page to provide good graphical presentation of real-time data: deal stats, quotes and partner activity status, and workflow routing conditions, for example. The tabbed layout offered quick paging between components.

Each application’s home page can be populated with its own customized dashboards -- a nice touch.

Nsite’s rules-based workflow proved to be another strength, enabling assignments and approvals to be routed for delegation and sign-off via browser or e-mail. This automated feature will certainly help companies with outside contacts and road warriors ensure that deals don’t slip through the cracks.

I was easily able to surmise routing status from the well-defined graphical cues. Furthermore, alerts can be set on predefined criteria (such as the number of days past due) to fire off e-mails and on-screen pop-ups.

Although I was able to reassign workflow items -- say, diverting approvals to a colleague in the event I ever actually got a vacation -- changes don’t apply to items already in the pipeline and didn’t revert back to me upon my return. Nsite needs to address this shortcoming to allow more intuitive delegation without loss of ownership.

Building my own application in Nsite was a fairly codeless process. The drag-and-drop, AJAX-powered Application Builder provided an easy means of constructing data-driven pages from a pallet of well-developed widgets and wizard-driven definition of actions and filters. Using the Builder component, I was able to stitch together basic add-on applications and objects aimed to meet specific business requirements -- without needing to code.

For advanced customization, however, options are limited to JavaScript, there is no easy means of viewing object dependencies, and there is no support for outside modeling tools. Further, the lack of a Web services API pretty much relegates your data to the confines of Nsite hosting.

Nsite beefs up security in this release with role-based access rights. I found it easy to set up definitions on objects and applications, down to specific page areas, which allowed me to lock down views, edit access, and import and export permissions, for example.

I would like to see access rights definable at the application level as well as role, rather than having to return to update each of the previously defined roles. Small organizations, though, will likely not find it too tedious to make updates across a small set of roles.

Otherwise most settings -- including complex password management, global definitions, partner management setup, and workflow rules -- were no trouble to define from within the browser-based admin.

I found generating analytics straightforward, if lackluster. Users can easily craft report queries and displays through a wizard-driven interface, and basic pie and bar charts can populate home page dashboards.

The addition of a menu-driven Analytical Query Builder made developing and previewing reports a snap with good granularity over data points. But, the application would benefit from onboard business intelligence and forecasting so users don’t feel compelled to rely on third-party applications.

The help facility, inconsistent and not always accurate, could use a brush up, and although Nsite offers “tutorials,” they amount to little more than PR vehicles. That said, Nsite reports that technical support is part and parcel of your subscription fee.

So, while it might be off the mark to suggest these are enterprise-grade applications, Nsite does deliver good point solutions for SMBs to extend sales capabilities with quote, proposal, and channel management functionality. The advantage of a service-model delivery with an affordable entry point would be enough to give even Willy Loman, from “Death of a Salesman,” hope with modern sales-cycle demands.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Performance (15.0%)
Ease of use (15.0%)
Administration (15.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Features (30.0%)
Integration (15.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Nsite 6.0 7.0 8.0 8.0 7.0 7.0 5.0 7.0