Sugar CRM Technology Review
SugarCRM originated on the LAMP stack of Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP, but also runs on other operating systems and platforms that can deliver PHP (such as Windows, Solaris and Mac OS X). SugarCRM can also use Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS) as a web server, and Microsoft SQL or Oracle as alternative databases.
Because of its open source heritage, Sugar is not under the same pressure to deliver platform-as-a-service (PaaS) or other cloud de jour frameworks for customers and partners. In fact, as CTO Clint Oram points out, "PHP delivers these business application frameworks that run on top of the cloud providers that are available today."
This approach has its benefits and risks that need to be weighed carefully. On the plus side, rather than create a PaaS framework in a proprietary development language so customers can modify or append their CRM system, SugarCRM leverages its PHP foundation to facilitate software customization in a suite of native language tools or with the industry standard programming language. This decreases new development learning curves, delivers maximum flexibility, opens up a large population of service professionals and keeps the system within open and industry standard technologies.
On the flip side, using an underlying development language may also give novice programmers enough rope to hang themselves. There are fewer layers of abstraction between the application code and the data model, which in turn allows programmers to inadvertently modify the data model, application logic or otherwise risk system integrity and system fault tolerance. There are controls in place but code at your own risk is clearly the mantra.
The Sugar Enterprise edition gives organizations the choice to use MySQL, MS SQL Server or Oracle 9i and 10g as the back-end databases.
System Integration Considerations
SugarCRM offers a number of packaged extensions and connections including integration with leading applications from IBM, Google, Cisco WebEx, Citrix Online, HubSpot and InsideView, as well as social networking Activity Streams and Cloud Connectors inside Sugar 6.
For custom integration, users can apply a SOAP or REST API, SugarLogic and native PHP integration. Customers normally first look to the platform built-in data exchange capabilities, then revert to the tools for code level access if necessary. Having access to source code is a particular advantage when compared to packaged frameworks which inherit operating constraints that can become barriers to integrating or customizing software.
Another integration option is available from the Sugar and IBM Cast Iron partnership. The Cast Iron software or appliance delivers pre-built integration routines which permit customers to configure, not code, a wide variety of common data exchange scenarios—such as integration with ERP systems, other SaaS applications, all major databases, many middleware tools, XML web services and simple flat files (i.e. Excel or HTML).
A more popular and less expensive integration approach is the Talend Open Studio. This open source data integration tool supports data conversions, synchronization, replication and ETL (Extract Transform Load) for analytics, among other use cases. Visit the SugarExchange to review this tool and others.
Software Customization Options
For software customization, the Sugar Platform helps administrators and developers modify their CRM application or create new business processes using a number of integrated and purpose built tools.
Dashlets are configurable containers which display Sugar module data, along with external feeds from RSS subscriptions or web services like Google Maps. Dashlets are helpful tools to incorporate mash-ups within a tailorable AJAX-based user interface framework.
The Layout Editor is a drag and drop visual tool that allows administrators to tailor the page layout for the screens and forms as well as edit and rename tabs, modify dropdown values, or choose to hide unused modules or pages.
The Module Builder enables users to create custom modules from scratch or merge existing and/or custom objects into new functions. Developers can repurpose common objects such as Accounts, Contacts, Opportunities, Documents, Cases and Campaigns in creating a new module or create custom root or hierarchical objects. Custom modules interoperate seamlessly with reporting, workflow and Studio tools and are designed to support future upgrades.
Sugar Workflow management uses templates to create custom business processes based on objects. With a simple interface, non-technical users can define triggering events with conditional statements that then designate alert notifications and/or actions. This is a powerful tool for achieving process consistency, quickly notifying resources of deviations and automating activities that are otherwise performed manually.
Open source software has a reputation for poor quality user and technical documentation—particularly when compared to established commercial vendors. This is not the case with Sugar. Its documentation, product release notes, training materials as well as more social tools such as blogs, wiki, online forums and voluminous user generated content are very helpful for customers and community members. Though, one piece of missing content that would be helpful is a multi-phased product roadmap.
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