Covalent tosses Salesforce for SugarCRM

Covalent had been a Salesforce.com customer since the beginning. But when license fees got out of control, the company's founder and COO looked to open source for a solution.

SugarCRM got a lot of attention at the recent Open Source Business Conference in Boston. The Cupertino, Calif.-based

commercial open source customer relationship management (CRM) vendor has to date accumulated 300 commercial customers across a variety of industries, according to company officials.

For a look at how SugarCRM has helped businesses with their CRM needs, SearchOpenSource.com went directly to one of its newest customers, San Francisco, Calif.-based Covalent Technologies. Founded in the mid 1990's as a spin off from the original open source Apache Software Foundation Web server project, Covalent today has grown into a product and services company for the Apache Tomcat Application Server, Apache HTTP and the Apache Axis Web Services Framework.

In this interview, Covalent's founder and chief operating officer (COO) Ryan Lindsay spoke with SearchOpenSource.com about his company's implementation of SugarCRM earlier this year.

When did you begin the vetting process with SugarCRM?

Ryan Lindsay: We actually went with SugarCRM earlier this year. We have been Salesforce user since the inception of Salesforce.com. Our 150 employees and large sales force had utilized salesforce to manage all their leads, accounts, opportunities, and overall it was a good solid application for me.

Covalent Technologies founder Ryan Lindsay's advice for potential open source CRM customers

The biggest thing was making sure we thoroughly tested the application before jumping in. Sugar was just that because they had an open version, which allowed us to bring it in and then test the application with a snippet of our data to fully see how it would act and behave on our system. This was very critical for me and answered several questions IT could have when bringing in a similar application. Is this thing going to perform? Is it going to behave as it should? Are end users going to be able to have it function in their own environments? Users must thoroughly try CRM applications out.

I also felt it was critical to use the SugarCRM team to make sure data integrity was kept intact. A company can definitely decide to do this kind of migration solo without help, but it depends on the number of records. If it's only going to be a few thousand records then the wizards are they to help, but any medium to large implementation needs the expertise of the service folks.

I am grateful that we made the decision to use their experts, even though I had operations people saying they knew the data. In the end it saved us headaches by forking over couple grand to have someone else do it for us.

But, over the past 10 years we have trimmed down a bit, and are always looking at ways to save money. The fees have gone up, and the one thing we could do was to reduce fees. There were also some integration problems with our internal legacy systems. Some of these in-house tools are 10 years old, and we didn't want to change them. What excited me about SugarCRM was that it was an environment I was very familiar with – PHP and MySQL – and I could quickly bring it in and plug it in and it would work fairly seamlessly. It was on par with the level of functionality that we were looking for, and it was on par with what salesforce was providing.

You've mentioned three of the four components of the LAMP stack; do you also use Linux?

Lindsay:We have always used some version of Linux and FreeBSD. The type we use depends on the year, because in developing and upgrading our own products we are developing on all various flavors of Unix. When the operations team rolls out a version of our product to the customer they then roll it out to our own systems as well.

What were you using for CRM before going with SugarCRM? Could you describe the challenges of that experience?

Lindsay: Our previous experience with Salesforce.com wasn't negative. What I was finding, however, was that it was obviously more expensive. Salesforce has done great work with APIs and having legacy applications communicate, but a lot of time and effort had to be put into it. We actually had a successful migration of one of our many legacy applications over to salesforce, but that cost us a fortune in labor, money and time spent with third party consultants just to get one piece working. We couldn't go through that that again.

With SugarCRM, the ability to have such seamless integration with legacy applications was big factor. The employees already knew PHP and MySQL, so we didn't have to bring in consultants. It was also well supported, and we were able to port over a quarter of a million records from salesforce into Sugar in less than three days. We were fully operational by the end of four days.

Was that three day implementation a surprising amount of time?

Lindsay: It was very surprising, because we had expected a lot more work and effort to get the data moved across. We had a lot data, a lot of customer fields and we didn't expect it to come over as smoothly; we expected more hiccups.

You've been involved with open source before it was fashionable to be in open source. What have the past 10 years been like?

Lindsay: For more than ten years I've been doing open source, and it is incredible to see what has happened. Open source has always been there, of course, and developers have always know about it, and even some companies have had it in-house and hadn't realized it until recently. It has recently become acceptable to move open source into the product areas, and now even into the applications space. It's an exciting to see these valid pieces of technology now being accepted by the masses.

Describe the landscape of the CRM market from a customer standpoint? Is open source well represented?

Lindsay: Honestly I haven't seen any other open source offerings. It became very clearly that of all the CRM products, this one was the easiest one for me, because SugarCRM has become a fairly solid vend. They've modeled their user interface after salesforce.com, so it was easier for my sales reps and support staff to get accustomed to because they were already familiar with GUI so it was fairly easy to train them and get everything up and running.

For more open source CRM news:

SugarCRM CEO: Thank you, Larry Ellison

SugarCRM CEO John Roberts: Why CRM fails, part 1

John Roberts: Web services and CRM, a marriage made by spin, part 2

Do you have any thoughts on Oracle's purchase of Siebel last month?

Lindsay: That really hasn't affected us as far as CRM goes, because to me that is still a large enterprise play and is not really affecting the SMB space. To me, this shows this consolidation in all our spaces. It's really starting to boil down to a few major players.

What do you estimate are the savings of going with SuagrCRM this year?

Lindsay: Our conservative estimate is that Sugar will increase our bottom line by $20,000 a year compared to salesforce.com. Basically savings is in annual fees. Sugar came in quoting a much smaller fee with their annual plan. There was that and a small portion was for some consulting on salesforce.com account migration. Ninety percent or more is simply annual fees.

What does the future hold for Covalent and SugarCRM?

Lindsay: We hope to utilize more of the SugarCRM prod, especially on the case management side. There was also been some interest from our marketing department in regards to the campaign management tools. It would be nice to simply roll those things out as they become more robust within SugarCRM. I do realize that Sugar has its limit, can't do everything yet, but as the future comes I would like to expand out and put more tasks under this open application and have fewer systems to monitor.

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