Good old-fashioned CRM

Whereas many software vendors are converting their products for the Web, Commence has surprisingly released a new version of its CRM suite that maintains its client/server architecture.

Commence Relationship Management (RM), which builds on the vendor’s previous offering of integrated applications, includes SFA (sales-force automation), contact and project management, customer service, and calendar functions. Commence has added to the mix a flexible, easy-to-customize GUI, more adaptable synchronization options, and refined integration with Microsoft Office and e-mail systems. The new version allows users to retrieve from the Web prospect information, such as stock quotes, news, and directions, directly via the GUI.

CRM applications are rich in data content and require a significant amount of human interaction, so their underlying architecture should arguably be less important than their friendliness and flexibility. This seems to be the rationale behind Commence RM, which – despite being built on a client/server architecture that many analysts consider outdated – improves on ease of use and customization over previous versions.

As a result, Commence RM is worthy of consideration. It’s a solid and flexible CRM solution that can be adjusted to many companies’ business and technical needs. The price is competitive with that of similar offerings, such as Interact and Pivotal, although the additional administration and customization can quickly inflate the overall cost.

Undeniably, a client/server-based product such as Commence RM, with databases distributed locally to each client, is more difficult to install and maintain than a Web solution. For example, it demands a customized installation on each client machine and a somewhat more complex technical and administrative approach to keep local and central databases coordinated.

By contrast, a Web-based approach requires virtually no client installations, and the central database is accessible from any computer with the proper browser and an Internet connection.

On the positive side, having a copy of the database on the local machine makes Commence RM usable even in situations when a user does not have a Web connection, such as while waiting at the airport. Moreover, Commence RM’s fat client works on a local copy of the database, so it is not hampered by connection slowdowns. The solution compensates for its more complex installation with fast responsiveness and virtually unrestricted data and GUI customization.

To set up Commence RM, we installed the server software and a central database on one machine and the clients on different computers. The next step was to identify users and their roles and to select connectivity options to synchronize users with the central database via the administrative GUI. The solution has a database-centric security scheme that allows administrators to define access rights to database fields for each user. This approach offers a high level of granularity, but rights must be implemented individually.

Users can synchronize a local database with the central database via shared network directories, FTP, or e-mail, depending on their location and preferences, but the administrator has to create individual access codes for each user. From our client machines, we provided our access code, made a local copy of the central database, and were ready to use Commence RM.

Out of the box, Commence RM offers ready-to-use applications to manage sales, marketing, and support issues for your customers. The long list of functionality includes: contacts, accounts, leads, and opportunities management; marketing-campaign creation; support-requests handling; expense management; creation of a knowledge base for recurring problems; and calendars and to-do list organization.

The GUI is one of the most flexible and cooperative UIs we’ve seen. Users with proper rights can control how the information is presented in each window, according to their preferences and roles. For example, a user can create views that present only specific fields or filter the data based on criteria such as date, city, or customer. Commence RM offers unrestricted data customization features, including the capability of adding new fields or databases without programming.

One of Commence RM’s most interesting features is its capability of automating repetitive tasks using agents, which start an activity when a preset event occurs. For example, when a support request stays unresolved for longer than the expected response time, an agent could flag the problem and send a message to a support manager.

Commence RM may be a good fit for companies that need a ready-to-deploy, user-friendly, affordable, and highly customizable CRM solution. The synchronization mechanism may require some discipline, and the product is Windows-bound. Moreover, it is not designed for Internet delivery, although Commence does offer Allure, which acts as Web front end for RM and other products. With those constraints in mind, we recommend considering Commence RM for your company.


Commence Relationship Management

Business Case: This solution should appeal to companies that want to quickly deploy their CRM applications without sacrificing integration and customization.

Technology Case: Commence RM’s powerful synchronization features and the ease with which it integrates with desktop applications come at the price of more complex set-up and administration.


+ Easy to use

+ Very customizable

+ Efficient database synchronization


– Dated technical architecture

– Limited Web interaction

Cost: US$695 per user

Platform(s): Any recent version of Microsoft Windows

Company: Commence Corp.;

Test Center Senior Analyst Mario Apicella covers enterprise applications. Send him e-mail