SugarCRM appliance sweetens CRM pot
Open source-based Sugar Cube brings on-demand CRM in-house
SugarCRM's latest release, Sugar Suite 2.5, is an open source-based commercial CRM project able to manage select tenets of customer-relationship management.
The Suite is presented in several flavors, including a Professional, code-only version, and an on-demand model. For my tests, I received the Sugar Cube -- a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl/PHP/Python) stack server appliance with Sugar Suite Professional 2.5 installed.
There are several new features in Sugar Suite, which improve dashboard charting, implement an administration interface, and add a bug-tracking facility of potential benefit to customer-service agents.
Although Sugar Suite makes headway for sales- and service-related tasks, it still lacks a marketing component, so don't expect e-mail-response or campaign-management features. Other key criteria, such as workflow and forecasting, are also absent.
What the Sugar Cube/ Sugar Suite combo does offer is an on-demand solution capable of mitigating the technical expertise typically required for in-house CRM deployments. For smaller companies with narrow requirements, Sugar Cube could be a good CRM option.
The Sugar Cube appliance is a rack-mountable 1U chassis sporting dual Xeon processors, 2GB of memory, and four 36GB Maxtor SCSI drives on an Adaptec RAID controller. The unit arrived with Sugar Suite Professional 2.5 preinstalled on Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS 3 running MySQL Pro. It was a cinch to deploy.
Sugar Suite's strongest aspect is its sales-force component. The browser-based interface has a layout reminiscent of the one used by Salesforce.com: It's tab-based, well designed, and easily traversed. An agent's home page presents a nice overview of pending duties and a pipeline snapshot.
I found ample tools for account and contact management. The calendar, although lacking real-time alerts, was useful: Activities and tasks were easy to track and associate to my leads and opportunities.
Sugar Suite could use some finessing when it comes to usability. For example, inviting multiple attendees to a meeting required moving back and forth between screens to select each person individually. Also, the search tool only encompasses basics such as contact names and numbers -- not notes or meeting descriptions.
Some minor bugginess notwithstanding, the interface performed well and, despite being written in PHP (PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor), its response times proved quite respectable. Features such as one-click lead conversion made assigning new opportunities a snap, and the ability to add a product catalog and generate quotes helped to close part of the usability gap.
Although there's no inbound e-mail integration, I could cut and paste e-mail messages into the system for archiving to specific opportunities or contacts. The plug-in for Microsoft Outlook, however, offered a far more streamlined method of archiving -- even allowing me to create new cases and opportunities within Outlook.
To support customer-service efforts, Sugar Suite's case-management tools let me create and sift service issues by criteria such as priority and status. I was also able to search open cases by keyword or search on a particular agent's open case assignment to gauge workload.