Extreme CRM Makeover, Open Source Edition - Episode 2, Sweet is Sugar

SugarCRM has staked its claim as more than the leading open source CRM solution, it is a CRM solution that competes with the biggest and best. In the cloud, behind the firewall, even on mobile devices

In Episode 2 of our Extreme CRM Makeover - Open Source Edition, we are going to look at SugarCRM, which is the "general contractor" supplying the CRM that will makeover American Bancard, the financial services company we wrote about in Episode 1.

SugarCRM is 6 years old and is coming out their Version 6 this summer.  The Sugar project was originally started on Sourceforge. In speaking to co-founder Clint Oram, the vision was always to build a great CRM company. The idea was always to be a commercial provider of CRM solutions.  As Clint likes to say about the original founding team at Sugar, "they are CRM people who found open source, not open source who found CRM". Of course that has changed somewhat over the years. The current Sugar CEO Larry Augustine, has an open source blue blooded pedigree,having started VA Linux which became Sourceforge and part of the group that coined the term "open source".

SugarCRM bills itself as the largest open source CRM provider in the world. It has 130 employees, offices here in the US and Europe. Just about every country in the world has at least someone who has downloaded Sugar and they have paying customers in over 70 countries. They continue to enjoy double digit quarter to quarter growth.

But being the biggest open source CRM is not enough. Sugar strives to take on the biggest CRM competitors out there. Salesforce.com certainly, Oracle and Microsoft are some others. But Oram says that still their biggest competition is companies that do nothing. Companies that are using a spreadsheet as a CRM tool.

According to Oram, at the core, CRM has not changed much. Since the dawn of time people have wanted to manage customer information. We have gone from writing on clay tablets to paper, from paper to electronic records.  Over the last 10 years the big move has been from client/server applications to web applications. But at its core CRM is about managing customer information.  

As to Salesforce, Oram says Sugar does not run into them as much. I was surprised to hear that. American Bancard for instance was all set to go with Salesforce before this Extreme CRM Makeover.  Oram attributes not running into Salesforce because he thinks Salesforce has lost its CRM focus.  Oram asks, "What is Salesforce today?" Are they a cloud services provider? A PaaS provider? Collaboration tool? Chat with Chatter?

In Oram's mind all of this defocuses Salesforce on the core mission, which for SugarCRM is clear. CRM. At the end of the day Sugar is all about CRM. Oram says the next big thing on the horizon of CRM is social CRM. Whether on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin or some other network, allowing the customer to chose the means of communication while still managing the customer's information is the Sugar way.

To meet the needs of companies like American Bancard, Sugar offers their open source product (It is not open core per say at all. If you buy the professional version you get full source code to the professional version) in a variety of ways.  They can host it for you on their own infrastructure. You can host it yourself or through a variety of partners on other cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services EC2 or you can host it yourself in your own data center, behind your own firewall.  No matter which way you choose, you still get the source code and all the same functionality. Today the split is roughly equal a third of their customers have Sugar hosting, a third host somewhere else and a third host it themselves.

Another key part of the Sugar formula and frankly something that has been very attractive to the American Bancard folks is the large number of 3rd party developers who have integrated with Sugar.  Oram says that integration with Sugar is often tighter than with others such as Salesforce.  The secret is open source.  Instead of giving 3rd party developers API's to write to, the 3rd parties actually have the source code to the product and can really stretch the envelope on what they can do.  This gives the Sugar developer community a real advantage.

Oram says that American Bancard is pretty typical of a Sugar customer.  They have meat and potatoes CRM needs. They want some web services to tie front end into back end process, they want to collect customer information and disseminate it throughout the organization.  Oram says that is exactly what Sugar is designed for. Be it via the cloud or local, hosted or not, Sugar is still about CRM.

In our next installment in this series we are going to look at the the American Bancard requirements and why they think Sugar fits the bill.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

SD-WAN buyers guide: Key questions to ask vendors (and yourself)