I hesitate to start this series on SugarCRM, because for the last year and a half I’ve done nothing but write code in SugarCRM, and I might be a little too far into it to have the eyes of a beginner. With that admission up front, I like to introduce you to SugarCRM.
SugarCRM is a open source Customer Relationship Management software application. SugarCRM is the world’s leading provider of CRM software. They’ve won numerous awards. I say open source, with a grain of salt, because it is made by a company, SugarCRM, who offers a stripped down, open source, CE version for free, and makes a profit from the sale of its open source pro and enterprise licenses. Needless to say, the CE version has limited functionality compared to the paid for versions. I think SugarCRM acknowledges this by using the tag line of “Commercial Open Source” under their tag line.
Before I go further, you should know that there was a fork of the CE version, called SuiteCRM, that has been expanded to contain a lot of the licensed SugarCRM functionality that is free. I’ve looked at the code for SuiteCRM and it is very similar to SugarCRM, so although I have been coding the SugarCRM Enterprise version, you’ll find a lot of my tips also apply to the SuiteCRM free version. Since I’m use to just calling this “Sugar” with other developers, you should know going forward that when I say Sugar, I mean SugarCRM, and my comments also probably apply to SuiteCRM.
A lot of companies use SugarCRM for their customer relations, as opposed to something like Act! Or SalesForce CRM which are not as easily modified, or come at a hefty premium.
So what does Sugar do, or for that matter what does CRM software do. CRM software keeps track of a companies customers, vendors, and contacts. It allows you to track all your interactions with a particular customer by date, and by transactions. It tracks sales to that customer, but it goes beyond that, it helps you track upcoming events, and track the entire sales process from start to getting the order, with the ability to schedule meetings and calls and be notified of them in the future. It keeps track of individual and group calendars. It combines everyone at your companies interactions with the people at other companies, and rolls all these interactions into a unity. This allows you to forecast sales, and track your opportunity pipeline, and the various stages of sales across the entire company. It allows you to track advertising, marketing campaigns, and whether a show was worth going to, or not. It helps you with social interactions on the web. It allows you to keep track of problems your customers have with your products. It tracks your emails, and your company and customer’s documents. It will do limited accounting of your sales and forecasting amounts, but is not accounting software. It runs from a server in the cloud to your browser so everyone can use it at once.
Well that was a mouthful, but it should give you a good idea of what Sugar is all about. What separates Sugar from proprietary competitors is it is open source, which means it can be modified and customized by developers. Proprietary CRMs usually are customized by changing the forms on the screen, but when you want to change how that information is processed, you can not easily modify the process.
CRM software, if it going to get big, should work around the world and be modifiable easily for different languages. You should be able to change the label on any field in the forms, and add forms, and fields, or entire functionality easily. It should have built in security so some users cannot have access to some areas of the application. Sugar does all of this.
SugarCRM allows for third party plug-in modules to be added to SugarCRM, and companies make a living selling some pretty complex plug-ins for SugarCRM. The plug-ins are collected on the SugarForge website. SugarCRM also has an extensive API and software documentation for developers, although I cannot rave about the quality of the documentation. It is too general and spotty at best, you’re best off in the forums for detailed information.
Before getting into it, I'll give you a nibble under the hood at the technical specs. Sugar is currently at version 7.1.x. It is written in PHP, and supports up to version 5.3.25. It uses a MySQL database running 5.5.31, and runs off an Apache server running 2.2.3. It uses Smarty as a template engine. It supports elasticsearch 0.90.6, and all four browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Explorer, and Safari. It will run off your WampServer locally on your computer, or from any hosting site. You download and load the software on your server. You then pull up the URL in your favorite web browser and your off and running. As I said, the CE version of Sugar is free, and you can download it and try it out on your computer.
That’s Sugar from the 50,000 foot level. As you can imagine, there is much complexity underneath the outer skin, and some of that complexity takes a lot of time to get to know. Like peeling back the onion, I hope to give you more insight into the inner workings of SugarCRM and SuiteCRM in future articles.