Open Source Software Meets Small Business CRM(Updated on November 4, 2010) SugarCRM is a Web-based small business CRM tool that provides pretty much all the functionality any small business will need. It's licensed under the GNU General Public License version 3 (GPLv3), meaning that the core of SugarCRM is entirely free software.
Employees only need a recent Web browser to access and work with SugarCRM. This makes life a lot easier, as SugarCRM management is centralized, and you don't need to worry about upgrading or maintaining each employee's computer. Note that SugarCRM comes in both a community edition and paid editions that have per-seat support fees.
Most small businesses can do just fine with Sugar Community Edition, which has most of the features you'll need. For advanced features like sales forecasts, advanced reporting and mobile device access, you may need to look at the professional or enterprise editions.
So what does SugarCRM actually do? It provides tools to not only save your customer's contact information, but also to manage leads and contacts and to track campaigns. It lets you manage email campaigns, send out newsletters to customers, schedule meetings, manage tasks, save documents, track ROI for campaigns, and much more.
You can even integrate SugarCRM to email so that SugarCRM is the primary mailer for your sales and marketing folks. Generally, it's designed to handle all the basic tasks of CRM in one easy interface.
Small Business CRM Installation Made Easy
SugarCRM isn't too difficult to set up, and it's multi-platform so you don't have to switch OSes to take advantage of the tool. You'll find several options to test and install SugarCRM. The most basic is the Community Edition, which provides just the source and requires you to have a server running MySQL, PHP and Apache (or another suitable Web server).
You can start with even less hassle by trying the stack installers that include the full open source "stack" required to run SugarCRM: Apache, MySQL, PHP and Sugar's software pre-configured. Stacks are available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux -- no matter what your favorite platform, you should be all good to go. The stacks are ideal for small businesses without dedicated IT staff.
Another alternative to get started with Sugar painlessly is the BitNami SugarCRM stacks, virtual machines, and cloud images. The BitNami stacks are the same thing you get from Sugar's stack installers. The virtual images are Linux-based and require VMware or VirtualBox to run.
The least painful, and easiest to manage, are the cloud images. These require a GoGrid or Amazon EC2 account, and then the SugarCRM instance runs "in the cloud" and you'll be billed by usage. This might be more expensive than running your own VM on the local LAN, but might be a good option if you have a distributed team.
Expand Small Business CRM with SugarForge
SugarCRM does a lot out of the box, but it can do a great deal more with add-on modules from SugarForge.
SugarForge is a community hub for development of SugarCRM and related software. It has hundreds of projects for extending SugarCRM, adding language support and themes, or for providing connectors from external applications to Sugar.
For instance, you'll find backup and recovery tools, add-ons to connect Thunderbird to SugarCRM, connectors to Drupal, Domino/Notes, and many others. Though SugarCRM is licensed under an open source license, the add-ons you find on SugarForge may be available only under a proprietary license.
SugarCRM 6.0 is on its way soon, and should be released by mid-July. This release will include a redesigned interface and better support for mobile devices like the iPad. If you haven't started working with SugarCRM yet, you might want to wait just a short while before deploying it.
However, being an open source project, you can already grab the release candidates via SugarForge if you're feeling adventurous. They're probably solid enough for everyday use, but you might want wait for the official release to deploy for production.
For more on SugarCRM, check out the documentation to get started. If you have any experience at all with CRMs, you'll be able to get the hang of SugarCRM in no time at all.
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years covering IT. Formerly the openSUSE Community Manager for Novell, Brockmeier has written for Linux Magazine, Sys Admin, Linux Pro Magazine, IBM developerWorks, Linux.com, CIO.com, Linux Weekly News, ZDNet, and many other publications. Brockmeier is also a FLOSS advocate and participates in several projects, including GNOME as the PR team lead. You can reach Zonker at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter.
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