At Performance Advantage we have one clear mission for our company – to help our clients leverage technology to achieve their business goals.
One challenge we encounter frequently is that some businesses problems have no exact match to off-the-shelf products – unique requirements either complicate the solution or require that multiple components be integrated or orchestrated. One solution is to purchase a number of specialized systems and integrate. A second option is to try to find a monolithic “one size fits all” solution. Both options are costly, technically challenging and ultimately may require customization or advanced configuration to meet the specialized needs of your company. Faced with these alternatives, companies have a dilemma. They can take on the extra costs and complexity or abandon that thing that makes them different from their competitors.
Or there is another, more practical approach. If your existing systems are flexible enough in their structure to allow for upgrade-safe modifications you may be able to incorporate the new functionality into that existing system. In these cases, systems may be used in ways that their developers never imagined and this out-of-the-box thinking yields unexpected, useful benefits. It makes a lot of sense and is cost-efficient if systems you’ve already implemented and are comfortable with can be extended and repurposed.
We’ve been doing these kind of adaptations to SugarCRM for many years. Companies with unique needs have come to us from a wide range of businesses and industries.
Here’s one story that provides an excellent example of this kind innovative solution. With the help of Performance Advantage experts, an extension of SugarCRM solved a key business problem and avoided a potentially expensive implementation – in this case an expensive document management system. Perhaps this example can provide the inspiration you need to look at your own IT platforms with fresh eyes.
In this example, a customer relationship management (CRM) system would appear, on the surface, to be a relatively simple tool for managing customer leads, contacts and quotes. Viewed from a different perspective, however, it can actually an extensible and adaptable customer platform. A CRM system that allows customization, as SugarCRM does, can be adapted to a wide range of business needs.
What was the problem?
Our client is in a particular business where lots of important documents must still be stored in physical form. They are bound by regulations that require them to keep them for a significant period of time. At one point in the future, they may be able to digitize some of these documents, but for now, they are forced to keep them in paper form. Needless to say, the result is a huge storage problem with many document management challenges.
To add more complexity, the client initially had the documents stored in two office locations (the corporate office and the manufacturing facility) but added third-party storage space to meet expansion requirements. Tracking the documents quickly became a nightmare and was clearly not scalable. The processes of organizing, filing and retrieving documents took too much time and effort and was not cost-effective. There was simply too much “friction” in the manual system.
Finding an innovative solution
Performance Advantage was asked to look at the problem and recommend a solution that made sense for the client’s business while also meeting their mandatory record-keeping requirements. Another goal for the design was to ensure the documents could be linked to the SugarCRM customer records. Keeping costs in check and avoiding major service disruption were also key to success for the project.
One possible solution was to implement a full document management system and then interface it to the existing CRM, but this was both expensive and complex with many potential development and operational pitfalls.
The key to solving this business problem started with learning the client’s business better, especially their processes and the critical importance of the physical files. Brainstorming sessions were used to identify different solutions, analyze the possibilities and select the best option. The best route to go forward turned out to be a barcode system that could label the physical documents.
Performance Advantage was able to combine barcode scanners and printers with SugarCRM to solve the real business problem with an innovative, seamless solution. The client was excited that Performance Advantage was able to meet the challenge since, even with all the marketing of how companies could leverage the best out of the different CRM solutions, very few actual solutions stand out. We are proud of bringing one such solution to our client using the SugarCRM platform.
With our solution, each physical document is linked to a SugarCRM record. SugarCRM was enhanced to generate a barcode and to print it on a ready-to-use label. Moving a barcoded physical document between locations is now much simpler – just shoot the barcode gun at the label and log the move. An added convenience that came from our efforts to understand the client’s day-to-day operation was the selection and batching of multiple files for transfer. Linking the labels to the SugarCRM records also helps to ensure that the documents are not mis-named or duplicated and prevents them from being logged into multiple locations simultaneously.
When modifying what is a “software package” or “off the shelf system” you need to be certain that your functionality will be maintained through upgrades and new versions of the system. With new functionality, support issues and most important – security upgrades – you must continually update any systems. We are skilled at implementing our modifications to ensure that they are “upgrade safe” and while we still test and make minor adjustments, we’ve found ways to minimize the impact of any future versions or updates.
From a non-technical viewpoint, if, like us, you’ve asked why the company can’t use digital records, the answer from their point of view is that this will not work for them right now. While everyone should look at their business processes in light of new digital technology, we understand the realities of your business and that you know your business better than anyone. But in this case and in others we also look to try to “future proof” the design and ensure that our solution will continue to be effective. In this case, even if the company can find a way to store only digital copies, the structure can be adapted to add another electronic storage location.
Some lessons learned
Our experience with extending SugarCRM for this client reinforced three lessons that are both important to customer satisfaction and which we try to incorporate in our projects.
The first is that, if we hadn’t taken the time to learn more about how the client operates, we would not have wowed them with our solution. In fact, we would have appeared more likely to be technology evangelists: here’s the answer, now what was your problem?
The second lesson was to recognize that technology isn’t usually the full solution. We didn’t just give them a way to get barcodes into SugarCRM; we looked at the end to end business processes, right from getting their printers to print barcode labels in an expected manner to making sure the solution was user-friendly, easy-to-learn and perfectly matched to their existing operation. To go the extra mile, we spent time at their offices working with them to prototype the solution and ensure it was seamlessly connected to SugarCRM.
The third lesson is that to create the wow factor for the end users takes more than simply automating today’s approach. People are often reluctant to change their work habits unless they see a clear advantage for themselves. For this project, it was a simple process change that allowed for logging multiple files in one go that provided the extra benefit. We added this capability because we didn’t just ask what was needed, we watched them work in real time. In doing that, we realized that, in the long run, it would be a headache to log each file individually and to process it separately.
The bottom line is that our client ended up with an easy-to-use, efficient and affordable way of achieving their business objectives. When we get that right, we’ve truly done our job and fulfilled our mission – to help clients leverage technology to achieve their business goals.