Getting a Grip on the Flow

In any organization the ebb and flow of email is a complex, fluid dynamic. The larger the organization, the more important it is to have a good handle on where those flows are going and how they are being managed. Two new Open Source products can help you get a grip on the flow. Logicalware is a sophisticated mail management program targeted at organizations with significant email traffic. The system complements your existing email structure, acting like a switchboard directing and monitoring the flow of email traffic. Logicalware integrates smoothly with common mail servers including Outlook and Exchange. Logicalware fits in the system before the desktop, between the mail server and the email client. From that strategic position, it enables an administrator to route emails to particular desks, to prioritize work, to split and designate tasks to multiple people, and to monitor turnaround time. The reporting functions allow you to assess performance and to set triggers and alarms in the event a certain task takes too long. The Logicalware system is very useful and has received very positive reviews from users. If you are a firm to whom email correspondence is key to customer service and client satisfaction, it would be hard to go wrong installing this system. The downside of the Logicalware system is the dependencies of the program. The system runs on top of Zope, a Python-based program which is not commonly part of the skill sets of most IT department staff. That said, the installation routine is actually quite simple and the setup, too (assuming your server has Python already installed!). If you are willing to do a little testing and try some new technologies, this system is well worth considering. The other system I wanted to discuss today is more widely known: Sugar CRM. Sugar has been a bit of a press darling over the last six to twelve months, garnering a lot of attention for bringing CRM to the masses in an Open Source offering. Sugar actually offers two versions of the same products, an Open Source version and a commercial license version. The commercial license version is more full-featured, but the Open Source version is still quite useful for small to medium-sized enterprises. What does Sugar CRM do? In short, it enables you to create and maintain customer databases containing contact information, tasks, documents, and other relevant historical information and to share that information with a group of people through a friendly interface. The extensive customer tracking options are merged into task assignment and reporting functions to create a very useful tool for managing interactions with a large number of clients. The Open Source version of Sugar CRM is fully customizable. At the most basic, Sugar CRM can be customized by the system administrator through the admin interface without the need for programming. You can modify the screens easily and you can modify the types of information captured and tracked. Various views can be created to allow you tailor the system to meet the needs of your firm. For those who want to do more, the Open Source nature of the product means you can get right down into the source code and make heavy modifications. Sugar CRM is written in PHP, which means it is easy to find programmers with the skills to do the work. The product is also backed by a growing community of users who contribute a variety of plug ins and components which can extend the functionality of the free version. Some of these plug ins are quite good, but as with any bit of code created outside the core I advise you to test it before implementing on a live installation. If you wish to implement multiple third party plug ins and components it is best to plan a bit and get a trial setup in place with all these various components installed to assure they work and play well together. Generally speaking, various components should work well together, but Murphy’s Law says that if you try it on a live setup it will wreck havoc. Better safe than sorry. What’s the downside of the free version? Probably the biggest limitation is the restriction on user levels, called “groups” in Sugar CRM terminology. You only get one user level with the Open Source version, which means all your users share contacts and information. Having everyone work off the same set of information can be problematic with larger groups. You can see each other’s work and more impotently, if one person deletes something, it’s gone for everybody. If your firm is small, with a limited number of users, this isn’t much of a problem, but at certain size you might begin to have some concerns. Support contracts are available for both the Open Source and the commercial license version of the product. Additionally there are limited but useful self-help resources online for those who wish to support their installations independently. A growing number of software developers are also offering Sugar CRM implementation, customization and support. Get Logicalware at: www.logicalware.com Get Sugar CRM at: www.sugarcrm.com Originally published in the Bangkok Post 28 Sept 2005

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