The sweet logic behind SugarCRM’s Tracker feature

All it took was one new feature to see that SugerCRM has a handle on the future of enterprise business applications.

The company this week launched version 5.1 of its flagship open source customer relationship management system. This includes Tracker, which allows IT managers to review who in a company is actually making use of the product, and what specific features they are using most often. This information can be compiled statistically and presented to senior management so that the strategy, or perhaps the training, surrounding the technology can be fine-tuned.

It’s possible there are many other software platforms which have this kind of capability, but no vendor I know of has really bragged about it. Instead, they invest millions in marketing fancy extras to already-functional products that get ignored. A cynic might suggest this happens on purpose, because by not paying to new features users tend to have difficulty adjusting to system upgrades, which leads to more help desk issues, which leads (in many cases) to additional revenue to the vendor through support services.

If companies really see their employees as “assets,” however, it makes sense to provide the same kind of monitoring that you would to your inventory or the performance of your corporate network. Not only would such information make it easier to evaluate the return on your IT investments, it would possibly provide a useful guide to likely adoption of future applications, whether packaged or custom-built.

Although we’re talking about CRM here, the idea of monitoring usage is really like providing business intelligence about your internal software business. We all have such businesses, whether we are in the banking or grocery sectors. What it may not offer is the necessary analytics. SugerCRM might be able tell you how many salespeople pressed a particular button, but it might be harder to figure out why they bypassed others.

This brings up the question of who should be in charge of looking at this data and acting on it. Although IT would probably be interested, this is an example of where it might make more sense for the business owner of a particular department or process powered by an application – in this case, the director of sales – to take responsibility for studying usage patterns. Of course, in the end, sales people should be spending their time selling, not redesigning software, but only actual users will have the day-to-day understanding of what influences on-the-job behaviours.

We tend to say a software deployment is successful if no one complained about it, and provided it functions as it should. Forgotten features, however, can be as debilitating to achieving business objectives as any bugs. I really hope we’ll start to see more features like SugerCRM Tracker. If you’re not actively tracking, you’re losing track.

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