Commerce / Customer Relationship Management
The open customer relationship management software is emerging as a worldwide phenomenon.
IBM customers have myriad choices for deploying Sugar customer relationship management (CRM) software on Power Systems, and the latest preview release of Sugar V6.5, announced at SugarCRM's user and developer conference last month, appears to reaffirm the company slogan that "SugarCRM makes CRM simple."
For a product that some people confuse with a song by the Rolling Stones ("Brown Sugar," lead track on the group's 1971 album, Sticky Fingers), Sugar also gets tangled up in people's minds with the corporate name of the business from which it emanates—SugarCRM. Think salesforce.com as a wizard-like shape shifter, and you have Sugar, which can be deployed on-premise or in the cloud—public, private, hybrid, or SaaS. Sugar offers a free open-source community edition and four commercial editions. If you like your apps running on-premise, as IBM i users tend to, you can run it natively on IBM i as a PHP application through Zend Server, or on Linux, AIX, or even zOS. Sugar runs on Power, and Power Systems users will be hearing more about Sugar and SugarCRM in the months and years ahead. SugarCRM was a supporting ISV on the recent PureSystems and IBM PowerLinux launches.
Founded in 2004, SugarCRM was the brainchild of CEO John Roberts who, with Clint Oram and Jacob Taylor, first created an open-source CRM project and later founded what today is a profitable company originally launched with venture-capital funding.
Its multi-platform, open-architecture design, which allows developers to integrate numerous templates, extensions, and full-blown applications into its core product, eventually attracted the management at IBM, which chose the company in 2011 as an IBM Global Alliance Partner for Cloud Services and released an integrated IBM i Solution Edition for SugarCRM the same year. Meanwhile in the same year, SugarCRM acquired iExtensions CRM—the market-leading CRM for Lotus Notes—from 2010 Beacon Award-winner iEnterprises, Inc., furthering its ties with IBM.
As the CRM application became increasingly popular, the company started getting more requests to provide integration with an ever-widening selection of databases beyond the original MySQL. It decided that Microsoft SQL Server integration would satisfy many user requests and potentially expand the market, so it came out with a version for that, and if Microsoft, then why not Oracle? So it came out with a version for Oracle database.
Meanwhile, IBM, which by now had become a strategic partner with the company, wanted to see tighter integration between Sugar and IBM DB2. So in V6.4, Sugar developers, in conjunction with the IBM DB2 team, fitted Sugar with an abstraction layer that allowed it to integrate with any database without major change to the core Sugar application code. Granted, you have to write the equivalent of an API between your chosen database and the abstraction layer, but plans call for SugarCRM to issue a software development kit (SDK) for that purpose once the abstraction layer has a little more time in the field, according to SugarCRM officials.
Meanwhile, through the abstraction layer, Sugar is now fully integrated with IBM DB2 running on Linux, AIX, and Windows. Whether SugarCRM moves forward and develops the integration between Sugar and DB2 for i will depend on market demand, according to Chuck Coulson, SugarCRM vice president of Business Development and Strategic Alliances. In the meantime, IBM i customers are content to run Sugar as a native PHP application on IBM i running on Zend Server and accessing DB2 through MySQL for IBM i, or, as the Zend-supported version of MySQL for i is now called, Zend DBi. Virtually any open-source PHP application designed to work with MySQL can access DB2 data using the IBM DB2 Storage Engine as long as MySQL or Zend DBi is installed.
Last year, PHP users were concerned about the announcement by Oracle that it would no longer support MySQL for IBM i, one of the products bundled with Zend Server. The problem was addressed when Zend announced last fall it would fork the open-source MySQL project and develop Zend DBi in its stead. Running MySQL or Zend DBi is needed for the IBM DB2 Storage Engine to pass data over to DB2. Longtime IBM i shops likely will want to run Sugar on IBM i with Zend Server, but users new to the IBM Power Systems platform may prefer to run Sugar on Linux or AIX.
Users who are running Sugar on IBM i, Linux, or AIX have several editions of Sugar from which to choose. The Sugar Community Edition perhaps is the most popular, largely because it's free. It has been downloaded from Sugarforge, the Sugar open-source project Web site, nine million times! There are also, however, commercial editions that offer enhanced technology and increasing levels of support, including Sugar Professional, Sugar Corporate, Sugar Enterprise, and Sugar Ultimate. Prices on the commercial editions range from $30 to $100 per user per month. Features of each can be compared on the above linked Web pages.
While Sugar essentially is a way to track customers and hunt for sales opportunities, it is far more than that. Yes, it provides a way to manage leads and accounts, but it also facilitates communications at all levels. There are features to run marketing and email campaigns. It can be accessed from a mobile device and either synced offline or accessed live through an Android or iPhone app. Management generally likes it because it offers easily generated detailed reports and sales forecasts. Other integrated modules allow the user to generate quotes and even actual signed contracts.
One of the strengths of Sugar is its integrations with social networking applications, and V6.5 tightens integration with Facebook, Hoovers, Jigsaw, LinkedIn, Twitter, Zoominfo, and Lotus Connections. It is integrated with Cisco WebEx and Citrix GoToMeeting and has links to Gmail, Google Docs, and LotusLive. There are Sugar plug-ins for Microsoft Outlook, Word, and Excel.
Admin console Sugar Studio offers configuration and security features to control access by user, role, and teams. There are controls for data quality, and you can even customize Sugar with Sugar Logic and Module Builder tools.
If you want to do something outside of the box, it's likely someone else already has thought of it and posted an app in the SugarExchange marketplace, similar to Apple's App Store. Some of the applications are free to download, and others are paid, but there are a lot of very useful business applications from which to choose and more being posted daily. Each app must be certified by SugarCRM to meet certain standards before it can be posted on SugarExchange. One example of an app on the exchange is Adobe EchoSign for SugarCRM that manages electronic signatures and allows a user to send a contract to a client using a legally binding e-signature. It then saves the signed contract in SugarCRM.
It's not hard to see why IBM has given its corporate nod to Sugar or why SugarCRM is the world's fastest-growing customer relationship management company, currently boasting more than 7,000 customers and 800,000 users worldwide. SugarCRM is more than a company; it's a high-tech phenomenon. To download a free copy of Sugar Community Edition, click here or try it on the Web for seven days for free.