In the past, I've been ambivalent or maybe conflicted is a better word (sounds cooler: conFLICKted) about SugarCRM. I love the open source active community based approach they take and the features and functions that the application provides are often excellent. But for complicated reasons I won't go into, I didn't like their pricing model (I don't mean their prices so much, though occasionally that too) - though I'm a bit warmer on that now - and I've always been critical of their user interface which I can charitably call a "developer's interface". I don't dislike it to mock it, I think that its a serious issue that they have to invest heavily into fixing - much like SAS did with their interface for Marketing Automation 4.0 - transforming the user experience in the process. Its not horrible, just bad.
But I have to tell you, that despite these concerns, I've had a mini-epiphany after spending some serious time with their awesome staff and customers at their CRM: Acceleration Summit in Miami that I keynoted a few weeks ago. I'm also looking forward to speaking at a similar event on December 4 at the Sofitel in Chicago, if anyone is interested.
I walked away from Miami with a fresh view by seeing SugarCRM 5.0 and some colorful varieties of what it can do - in addition to being crazy about their really buoyant and smart staff. They have been smart enough and they are growing enough to have lured industry influencers like Martin Schneider, formerly of the 451 Group and one of the best analysts in the world of CRM right into the Sugar fold. That tells you something.
SugarCRM 5.0 - There Will Be NO METAPHORS USING THE WORD "SWEET"
SugarCRM 5.0 does some smart, intriguing things. At the absolutely highest level - stratospheric - their platform (that is not a lightly used word as you will see in a minute) is flexible and creative. There are two probable consequences, both of which I'm sure SugarCRM is aware of - at least I think so. First a direct challenge to the heavyweights in the on demand world - salesforce.com, NetSuite, Right Now, Siebel CRM On Demand, etc. Second a challenge to the platform providers.
I'm going to focus more on the latter than the former since more and more of the CRM and enterprise application vendors are making moves to compete in the platform space and are looking for street cred to do that.
This isn't trivial because there is big bucks in being the platform of choice for both the vendors and the practitioners. Thus, in the last six months, we've seen salesforce.com come out with their Platform as a Service instrument - Force.com; we've seen NetSuite focus in on being a vertical platform with SuiteBundler as an addition to their SuiteFlex suite (I said nothing about "Suite"); and we've seen Microsoft, SAP, and Google move into the platform war for the hearts and minds of the web and desktop. Now SugarCRM moves into the war zone and makes a credible move into the fray.
SugarCRM 5.0 and a variety of interesting uses of the platform by their partners are what makes me think that they could be a real contender in the platform space.
First lets look at a few sexy (metaphorically sexy of course), features that will bear on their desired path.
Feature Sex Should NEVER Be Mechanical
SugarCRM 5.0 adds an interestingly timed module-builder to its arsenal - though I'm sure that SugarCRM has no idea why its interestingly timed. The idea of the module-builder is to provide a capability for the development of composite applications. For those of you who don't know what they are - imagine recombining legacy applications, processes, etc. into a new application or set of processes that can be utilized in a new way - regardless of what application they were built with (within limits). For those of you who want more on this,see this blog entry I did a couple of years ago. For those of you who don't, well, okay then.
What makes the timing of this smart addition interesting is that the leader in the standalone composite applications framework - AboveAll, not too long ago imploded due to a number of internal reasons that are best left unstated. (partly because I don't know most of them - though do know some). So by integrating the recombinant legacy system DNA into SugarCRM as a tool, well, that's a lot of potential larger customers who might be more comfortable with SugarCRM because they don't have to give up all their legacy systems. Though, the interest in composite applications is at an all time lull.
Shmatt move (as Billy Crystal might say)
Also like their integration of AJAX functionality into email and other deep dives they are making.
Adding increased capabilities for custom modules (those built with the platform tools) to interact with Reporting, Metadata and Studio tools - can't say it does a lot for my non-programming self - though I know its a developers _ _ _ dream (fill in the 3 letters - hint: first starts with a "w") and given the creative capabilities of the open source developers community they command - this is a very good thing.
And it gets even more interesting
They are pushing VERY hard with their newly written on demand architecture - one that they call multi-instance. That means that each customer has their own instance of SugarCRM, unlike the more industry-common multi-tenant - which means that each instance of the CRM application has multiple customers operating on it. Microsoft has its own version which is multi-tenant but which is written with the same code base as their on premise version. I have to presume but I don't know that SugarCRM is multi-instance but the code base for the on premise version is different than the code base for the multi-instance on demand version. Which one is better than the other, remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen if it really matters since what a customer cares about is much simpler. I don't think they are thinking about whether their "instance" is a part of a single instance or from the same code base as a version they might never use or that they have their very own instance. My guess is they are thinking "is this going to work the way I want it to work?" Regardless of the competitive value of one architecture over the other. I'll leave all that to better and more left-brained minds than me to figure out for now. But in CRM at the Speed of Light's 4th edition, I'll address the architectural tangle so that we all can understand it without doctorates in IT Miscellany.
But, in any case, its designed to make a go at salesforce, NetSuite and others in a very serious way.
Best for Last
What really got me going though, is that I've seen some very creative and elegant uses of the SugarCRM platform - which is striking and important because each of them is quite different than the next - which actually shows the versatility of the platform.
Here's a brief (and I do mean brief) look at each of the three that I was intrigued by.
OpenPHI - This is a snazzy, personal health services application that is designed with the seeker of health care in mind, rather than the provider, though it is sophisticated enough to link the providers and their patients/customers. The concept behind this SugarCRM platform created application is to on the one hand allow the patient/consumer to see and organize all the health data of their family in a single place (securely and privately); second to manage their health including appointment scheduling, health record access, data entry to update and systematize the health data and make it centrally available. The technical model is that this is a virtual appliance that uses software like VMWare to run so that this utility is available easily but not subject to the privacy/security attacks that your normal PC is subject to. More importantly, it gives the patient command over his own health and allows the provider to have (with the patients permission) easy access to the patient records that they need to start out the new patient or make the appropriate medical decisions. Here's a screen of the version that provides you with the ability to engage in clinical trials. (ignore the arrows) Note how this is a personal health application that is linked to the providers and others:
Mobile Edge - they are the creators of the mobile version (Blackberry) of SugarCRM and they did a damned fine job of it. If you look at many of the mostly WAP-enabled versions of CRM applications, you find that they are functional but ugly. IEnterprises did their Mobile Edge for SugarCRM and they did it simply but elegantly. What makes it work is that its not browser based and data is available offline so wireless connectivity is not absolutely necessary for the application to function. This company has done it for Microsoft Dynamics CRM and NetSuite too among others but I find their Mobile Edge app particularly good and built on the Blackberry and SugarCRM platforms to work. Take a look:
Q-Industries- While I have no name and no pictures, this one is really interesting. Using SugarCRM, Q-Industries announced that they had developed a SugarCRM based CRM system for corporate strategy firm Odell Simms and Associates that integrated social network analysis tools so that they could "visually map and identify webs of relationships and how they connect." This is not something you see everyday in CRM. In fact only salesforce.com and IBM has even made the attempt to integrate social media and social networking tools at any significant, though it is rumored that SAP and Microsoft aren't going to be slouches in that department as their future releases unfold. But what makes this cool is that the SugarCRM platform is flexible enough to do this.
All in all these three applications reflect a versatile and interesting platform - not just an application. So I'm throwing SugarCRM into the platform war hopper name and will be following this with interest especially because of Sugar's intent to release a lot more Web 2.0 tools into the ether with future platform releases. Maybe by 5.5 next year at this time?
I hope so. Its getting so interesting. Yes, it is......