The Anvil Podcast: SugarCRM

Rich: I’m speaking with John Mertic about the SugarCRM project. This recording is from PHPTek, in Chicago, a month or so ago. It’s taken me a while to get to this, so a big thanks to John for his patience.

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Rich: I’ve been familiar with SugarCRM for many years. It’s not a new project. I’ve used it at a couple different companies. Tell me about your involvement with the project. What do you do with the project?

John: Currently I serve as community manager of the project, and really what my main role is, is to help evangelize to the overall developer community that we have around it. Which is really vast, because it covers not only people in the Open Source world that are contributing to the project, but it’s also covering a lot of developers that build add-ons and extensions for it, it’s covering or VAR partner network, our customers, our ISV network, just a really big group, globally, of people that are using Sugar in all sorts of different ways to solve the problems they’re seeing.

Rich: SugarCRM has been around … what … ten years?

John: It was founded in 2004, by a set of three men that came from the CRM industry. John Roberts, Jacob Taylor, and Clint Oram. And we’re fortunate enough to have Clint Oram still with the company. He’s the last co-founder to be a part of it. It’s been a very vibrant project. We were originally a SourceForge project of the month way back in 2004 or 2005. And since them we’ve really grown quite a bit. Our project has matured really nicely and grown. We still have not only our Open Source edition – our CE edition – and we’ve moved our primary downloads back to SourceForge to drive home our commitment to Open Source and our commitment to being part of the Open Source community. We also have a number of commercial products that build on top of the core that CE provides, to deliver that value-add to business.

Rich: What kind of a company needs a CRM? Does everyone need one of these?

John: Really, yeah. That’s one of the fascinating things, is, if you look at the market share numbers that you see from IDG and places like that, the way that we look at it is, there’s a very small market of what we currently analyze in the CRM market is actually tapped and using CRM. There’s a huge percentage – probably 90% of the market out there that’s still open and up for grabs. Really any organization that’s looking to help manage themselves, if they have customers – which, any company out there has customers – and they’re trying to help manage that. Back in the old days, people used Rolodex on their desks to kind of flip through and figure out all my customers. They wrote notes on it. To the grown-up version of that is somebody living out of an Excel spreadsheet. Which, surprisingly – you laugh, but you’d be surprised how many companies still do that. It’s taking those philosophies and building it into a structured system so that the data, you can actually do something with. It’s not dead data sitting there, but it’s data you can interact with, you can report on, you can have analysis on, you can really gain some true intelligence with.

Rich: One of the biggest difficulties that I have is not in technology, but in behavior. I have trouble keeping up with it. I contact a customer, and I talk with them, and then two days later I think, I should have made a note about that. Technology can’t solve that problem.

John: No, but here’s what’s nice with the CRM. You can help build processes, so that those things are tracked. If you think of how much intelligence you’re capturing about a customer you’re dealing with, and, where does it all go? It sticks in the back of your head, it’s written on a post-it note, it’s stuck on a form somewhere, or whatever. Here, you can actually capture it, right in there on the record, so that somebody can jump in and see exactly what’s going on. They can see a lot of the history, they can see, oh, they bought this from us, we tried to work with them on this, this is their history with us as a company. It’s really nice that way.

Rich: What do you have coming up in the future for Sugar?

John: Right now we’re in the final release phases of Sugar 6.5. That’s our big major release for this Spring. We have a lot of really neat stuff coming in it. We’re continuing to speed up and all a lot of performance improvements to the app. We’re continuing a push on our AJAX interface. The other big thing we’ve started doing the last couple of release is that we’ve looked out to our Open Source community and we pulled some projects in from there. One that we did in the 6.4 release is, we replaced our entire calendaring system with one that was developed as an Open Source project, by somebody who uses Sugar. They contributed it back to us and now we’ve integrated that into the product. In 6.5 we did the same thing with an extension that adds iCal support. They’ve contributed it back to us. We’ve pulled it into the product, and now we release that. We’ve been trying to work with that. Our community comes up with such amazing and great ideas. It really implores us to take advantage of that and really find ways we can pull them back into the product. It’s not even with big stuff like that. A lot of times it’s smaller stuff. One of the interesting things I’ve seen over the last year, we’ve got so much more community participation in the project. About 10% of all of the bugs that are fixed in the project actually come from code contributions from our community. Which, if you think about regular Open Source projects, it’s no big deal, but for commercial one like ours, and, quite frankly, CRM is not the most interesting software to deal with on the face of the planet. It really is a kind of cool statistic. It’s one that we’re really proud of. So, we’re seeing a lot more community involvement. A lot of AJAX and UI improvements. A lot of performance improvements under the hood. Some projects that we’re pulling in from the external side. We’re continuing to build stuff on the commercial editions as well quite a bit. Working on improving the UX with that. Adding some new functionality there. Down the road, we’re in the first stages of redoing a lot of the components under the hood in our platform. So, in 6.5, for one example, we’re switching over to using jQuery from YUI for our Javascript library. We’re still having YUI there for a while – there’s going to be a transition period, but moving forward we’re going to start using jQuery. In our 6.6 release, which is going to be later this year, we’re going to be replacing our web services interface to be more RESTful, so that’s a really exciting add-on. And a lot of other improvements like that. Our big focus from the product side – it’s not necessarily new flashy functionality, but its finish – it’s helping improve the user experience in the product, because there’s so many pieces of CRM software out there – business software in general – but really in the CRM world we see this – it’s designed for the sales executive in mind. It’s designed to be a piece of software that sells to them. What we’re trying to do is flip that. We’re trying to make a piece of software that the end-user, the lead-scrubber, the office worker, or whatever, that they can be excited and passionate about and enjoy using, and really help solve their needs. We see so many people with CRM deployments – the number one reason a CRM deployment fails is user adoption. The users just don’t use it.

Rich: Yeah. That’s kind of what I was alluding to earlier.

John: It’s true. If you look at all of the big names, especially some historical ones, like Sebol, that’s the classic one out there, it’s something that was designed for the executive staff in mind, it was not designed for any human being actually to use it. And that’s really the focus we’re trying to do. We’re trying to do. We’re trying to put the user first. We’re focusing on the user experience and making sure everything we’re doing helps solve the user’s problems, so that they can be successful and productive.

Rich: Tell me something about SugarForge.

John: SugarForge is our online community around add-ons and extensions around the product. Currently we have over 1000 projects there, with over 32,000 developers that work on these. It’s a nice combination of Open Source developers that maybe just hacked on something for their instance, they threw it up there for the community to enjoy. We have a number of third-party developers who are using SugarForge as a way to bootstrap, and say, I’ve built these interesting modules, I’ll put them up here for people to use, or maybe for sale, or whatever. And then we have a number of ISV partners, that also will leverage the platform as well. The counterpart to SugarForge is SugarExchange, and that is our app directory where we have a number of apps for sale. ISV partners out their offerings up there. It’s really the place to go for any Sugar user to look for add-ons and extensions for their Sugar instance.

The project itself is growing really well. A CRM comes with the commutation that it’s just a piece of software that you deploy for sales people or marketing people to use. But I think really the interesting thing about it is, at its core, it’s a developer platform for any sort of business application. We see a lot of cases where they will take the app, they will strip out all of the main modules, and instead they’ll deploy something entire different on top. We have a lot of partners that just do this for customers. We have some interesting one-off cases I’ve heard. There’s a scientific library somewhere that uses Sugar CE for recording test results, because it’s just a really easy way if you need a CRUD interface to a database, relatively easily, you can do it. You can go in to module builder in studio, you can build all the fields out, you can add logic hooks, it’s very easy to deal with. I imagine you’ve built apps in your time. You spend so much of the time building up the toolset to get to the point where you can actually deal with business logic. So a lot of what Sugar can do for you, if you’re building something inside of your business, is it can take the place of all of that time you’re investing to build what widgets look like, or pick what framework I’m using under the hood. That framework doesn’t have authentication so I need to build authentication out, I have to build ACLs out. I’m going to have to design how the CRUD interface works. Sugar takes all of the guesswork out of that, because it already provides something for you to use. You can just concentrate entirely on your business logic. And so that’s where, to me, the really exciting part of Sugar is. It’s a great CRM, and it competes very well in that market, and it’s the market leader in an open CRM, and probably one of the market leaders in CRM in general. But I think where it sets itself apart from all the rest is it can be that application that can meld around your business process so that if maybe you’re not trying to deploy it in the purist CRM sense, you can use it to help automate any business process you have inside of your company.

Rich: It’s pretty cool when something you develop gets used in a way that you didn’t even remotely anticipate.

John: It blows us away every day when we hear these weird cases of people using it – I have a buddy of mine that uses Sugar for tracking his home inventory so that if his house ever burns down he can go to his Sugar system and see what’s in there. It’s neat stuff like that – from being a developer, and I still kind of am although not as practicing as I normally am, I remember going through those things and you spend so much time on the toolset, and instead Sugar gives you a toolset already to work with, so focus on the business logic. It can help the go-to-market time for anything you’re building, get that much faster.

Rich: Thank you John.

John: No problem.

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1 comments
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