Category Archives: Products

Products

SugarCRM’s future?

Having done some recent work on SugarCRM, I couldn’t help but draw a comparison with other systems I work with: Magento and Salesforce. Because that’s what I think SugarCRM should be: Salesforce functionality with a Magento architecture. SugarCRM’s popularity is obviously mostly because it is open source and free to use however it does not use a high level web development framework such as PHP Zend like Magento does, which is also open-source.

There is a good reason why Salesforce is so actively pursuing developers to build on their Force.com platform. They want to build an ecosystem that users can’t and don’t want to leave. It’s a model that Apple has proven to be extremely valuable and for good reason. Anyone can compete with a product, but an ecosystem is extremely hard to copy. Even though Salesforce comes at a premium, the AppExchange is a good reason to use Salesforce. If you want to store your customers in a database, you can use any old address book or CRM but if you need specific analytics, workflow, integrations, online portals, etc then Salesforce is one of the easiest to extend. I’ll mention NetSuite here as well but it’s no secret I’m not a big fan, because even though they do provide a powerful development framework, they don’t foster a developer community like Salesforce does.

So why the comparison of SugarCRM and Magento? Magento is an e-commerce platform, not a CRM. But it’s the architecture of Magento that sets it apart from its competitors (like osCommerce). SugarCRM and Magento both use PHP. Magento however uses the PHP Zend framework. SugarCRM is not based on any framework, it uses ‘straight’ PHP. Sugar does use an MVC-like model and does provide documentation for it, but it is custom built so it takes longer to get familiar with than if they used a standard framework.

I’m a big fan of MVC frameworks such as PHP Zend and Ruby on Rails. Those frameworks make coding more high level. Less detail to worry about means more of your time gets spent building an application. All the common website issues like SQL injections, cross site request forgery, are generally taken care of. But also simpler things like providing helpers for building HTML views. Since SugarCRM’s inception, many awesome frameworks have been introduced. In the battle to win the hearts and minds of developers, picking one of these to build on would help greatly.

Magento has overtaken osCommerce in backend architecture. Right now, I think SugarCRM is in osCommerce’s position before Magento existed. I would love to see SugarCRM adopt a framework such as Zend. It would be a setback in terms of the existing modules but in the long term will likely see more and better modules being written. Already we are seeing the emergence of other open source CRM systems such as Fat Free CRM (written in Ruby on Rails).

SugarCRM has a great advantage over Salesforce in that it’s open source and therefore a much larger potential reach of small businesses. But applications are now more often judged on their ability to integrate and develop for. And SugarCRM is falling behind. Here’s hoping that will change.

 

Products

Salesforce acquires Heroku

At DreamForce, the Salesforce CEO announced the acquisition of Heroku, a popular Ruby on Rails hosting platform and framework.

It is extremely exciting to see Salesforce, who have been at the forefront of “platform as a service”, which most CRMs have become, to get behind Ruby as what they see as the cloud language.

Salesforce’s application framework consists of technologies such as Java (or Apex), VisualForce and SOAP. Although even with those technologies integration with Ruby on Rails is very feasible, as a recent project CRMe completed has shown, but with this move and the introduction of REST APIs imminent, this level of integration is surely going to improve. We may soon see a new Salesforce Ruby Gem or plugin, and of course Heroku module, which will benefit businesses with better and faster ways to develop apps.

Products

Building a NetSuite developer community

None of Us is as Dumb as All of Us — Jeff Atwood, developer of StackExchange

Update: the proposal has been removed since it was not growing fast enough. Also, it’s probably best just to use StackOverflow.com at least for NetSuite programming related issues.

I have recently started a search for NetSuite Developers and Power Users to help setup a community forum. I’m quite a fan of StackOverflow.com and in general of community support when it comes to solving programming problems. NetSuite doesn’t have this today. Who ever has Googled a NetSuite issue can understand where I’m coming from.

StackOverflow.com uses the StackExchange platform which can be used to setup other Q&A sites, which is done through their staging site called Area 51. This is where I propose to start a NetSuite Community Support forum, both for developers of SuiteScript and power users of NetSuite. You can follow it here.

I know you’ll have some questions…

Doesn’t NetSuite have a User Group forum?

Yes, but it has more questions than answers. Why? Because it has less than 2000 members. Less than 20% of those users have ever posted something. Only 3 users in the whole forum have ever posted 100 posts or more and those 3 users together have posted less than 25 posts this year.

What are the benefits of community support?

  • Grows the credibility of NetSuite and its users
  • Allows experienced users to help out others
  • Helps new users get up and running with their implementation or integration

Shouldn’t NetSuite be providing assistance?

Sure, and this wouldn’t replace NetSuite support when you have issues with NetSuite. A community forum is for questions and problems where the entire community can benefit from knowing the answer. It’s where other people can give their opinion on how they would solve your problem, or speak from experience if they actually did.

Will this forum divert traffic away from NetSuite?

Quite the contrary. Building a good community will open up a new range of potential clients that can get on board with NetSuite.

Why will this new forum be more successful?

Because of the way StackExchange works. Knowledgeable NetSuite users improve their reputation by answering questions. It doesn’t rely on a few people to moderate it, it’s community moderated: those with who get involved earn reputation points which give them the right to moderate the forum and improve the quality, increasing its usefulness, which will in turn draw more people to it. By having a forum with more activity, more questions will get asked, more problems will get solved and more people will enjoy success with NetSuite.

Will this be an overnight success?

No, it requires good people to get involved and commit and it will take time to build a good community. Read all about how Stack Exchange works here.

How can I get involved?

  1. Go to: http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/22863/netsuite-community-support
  2. Click “Follow”

Products

Using Zendesk with your CRM

What is Zendesk?

Zendesk offers organisations a support desk in the cloud for a low subscription fee. It is used by a large variety of customers who seem to have very little in common, except that they have recognised they need to make an effort for their customers and give them the ability to track their own tickets and be more engaging by for example providing a knowledge base, enhancement request forum or product announcements.

Why do I need it if I already have a CRM?

Almost every CRM system has customer support functionality, often called Cases, which are records which represent a customer request or issue. Combined with workflow, Cases can be a great way to track Cases from the moment they come in until they are solved. But where CRMs often focus on the internal process, Zendesk is a system which focuses on the customer experience.

Zendesk does have workflow, which will work fine for most businesses, but for example compared to Salesforce, falls short where it comes to tracking Service Level Agreement (SLA) where the Service Level is expressed in business hours, as opposed to actual hours.

So why use Zendesk as well as CRM?

Zendesk isn’t a CRM, so you still need CRM. But why would you not stick with the CRM’s support functionality? Answer the following questions:

  • Does your CRM provide a customer portal, where the customer can always see the status of their issues?
  • Do you currently offer a knowledge base?
  • Do you accept enhancement requests from your customers?
  • Do your customers have online discussions about your product or services?

If you answered no to any of these questions, it’s worth considering Zendesk. CRMs often don’t offer this out of the box. Zendesk, apart from your customers being able to see their ticket status online, offers customer forums as standard which can be used for announcements, FAQs, general discussion and gathering valuable product feedback.

How will CRM and Zendesk work together?

If you were to implement Zendesk if you already have a CRM, the integration between the two systems is very important. When a salesperson wants to get a full picture of their account, they’ll need to see the status of any open issues. So how does this work? Zendesk offers API access to tickets which allows for integrations with any system such as CRMs. Zendesk already ships with integrations for Salesforce, Highrise and Tactile CRM.

What are the alternatives?

Apart from developing your own customer portal, there are many other helpdesk software solutions that offer a customer portal:

  • Web Help Desk – offers a free version, otherwise similar but no clear advantage over Zendesk
  • Get Satisfaction – more community oriented, sometimes used in conjunction with Zendesk
  • Kayako – integrated chat ability
  • Mojo Helpdesk – offers client satisfaction ratings, more cost efficient than Zendesk for large number of helpdesk staff
Products

TotalCheck address validation

About TotalCheck

Sensis’ TotalCheck is a suite of APIs that allows developers to build address validation into any application. TotalCheck is essentially a Web Services API which provides a powerful search into the Australian Postal Address File (PAF) and the White Pages directory.

Businesses use TotalCheck to ensure address data can be entered with minimal effort and ensures it is always correct. A TotalCheck search combines the White Pages address database and the Postal Address File.

TotalCheck is AMAS certified and provides the address DPID (unique address identifier) and Australia Post barcode as part the address search, which can make a business eligible to use PreSort, and save on postage.

Search process

An application integrating with TotalCheck needs to go through three steps:

  1. Search for a name, which is either a business name or an individual’s last name. TotalCheck provides the suggestNames API which can be used to provide the 20 best matches to the user.
  2. Search for an address. TotalCheck offers a comprehensive suggestAddresses API which applications can use to auto-complete an address search field.
  3. Select an address. Once a user picks a suggestion from step #2, the address data is fetched from TotalCheck using the selectAddress API. It’s possible that another selection needs to be offered to the user, for example when the selected address is a block of units.

Integration

To integrate with TotalCheck, about the only prerequisite is that your application can connect to the Internet. If your application is a web application, it’s important to know that due to modern browsers’ cross site scripting (XSS) limitations, an integration cannot be achieved using JavaScript, or client side code only. To get around this limitation, connect to TotalCheck from the server-side, or setup a proxy.

Demonstration

Watch the demonstration by TotalCheck: