My Dashboard of the Future is Here Today: SugarCRM

I have been experimenting heavily with SugarCRM lately, both out of professional necessity and personal interest. I had noticed that I was not meeting my own personal standards for returning phone calls, responding to emails, keeping on top of to-dos and keeping my sprawling address book and contact data up-to-date. I have spent a lot of time looking for a single solution that was a) web-based b) had a good set of features and c) was integrated. Of all of these requirements, c) was the most important. There are lots of really good disparate applications for personal information management. I had just gotten to the point where I was tired of trying to context switch between my favorite address book manager, my favorite calendar du jour, my favorite list/to-do organizer, and whatever other apps I needed at the moment.

So I finally decided to “go nuclear” and take a drastic step; I downloaded XAMPP (which is a very nice packaged installer for MySQL, PHPMyAdmin, Perl, PHP, and a bunch of other nice utilities for Windows platforms) and SugarCRM version 4.0. It took me about an hour to get this installed, configured, and working. I have had it up and running for about a month now and it is fantastic. Sugar has a growing community of folks who post helpful hints and answers to questions, along with developer tools that can come in handy.

What was the result? Well, I would have to say that early indications are positive. With Sugar in place, keeping track of stuff has gotten a lot easier. Having a centralized web-based dashboard of what’s going on is super useful to me and I am not in a direct sales role. The reason SugarCRM is good for me as a personal tool (besides the fact that it is free and I like to tinker) is that it is a “good enough” integration of lots of discrete things that I do all day long. None of its individual features (account management, contact management, to-do management, etc) is particularly world class — they are all good enough and are well integrated.

After using Sugar for over a month, it has got me thinking that the “dashboard of the future” for many information workers might be something like SugarCRM — a relatively lightweight integration of core applications delivered in a browser. The component applications themselves will either be “good enough” components offered by a vendor or community or the platforms themselves will become better at allowing you to integrate your favorite app into your dashboard.

Yes, I realize that you can accomplish some/many of these same goals using Salesforce.com and AppExchange. I personally think AppExchange is a great idea, from both a business and strategic point of view. But it’s amazing what you can accomplish using free components these days.