What tool does my team need that's part project management, part DB etc?
April 19, 2016 10:12 AM   Subscribe

I'm drowning in Google results because I'm not even sure what to call what we're looking for - I feel like I should know but I'm drawing a blank. We need a tool to capture information about customers and vendors and also manage things we need to do for those customers. Details of what features we're looking for and what specific things we'd be doing with it inside - can you recommend tools, or tell me what search terms I need to use to get to the right kind of tools to check out?

My team needs a better way to organize the information we need than the half-assed wiki we use right now tied to our dev team's workflow tracking tools. We'd have three primary areas in which we'd need to have multiple entries and the ability for entries to overlap - I don't think I'm explaining it right so example: we have customers (who would each need their own record) and vendors (ditto), but we have customer-specific credentials for each vendor, and we'd want to be able to get to the record of those credentials from either the vendor record or the customer record without having to keep 2 separate credential entries updated.

Other features we want/need:

- searchable (naturally) so if, say, we need to find out something about a vendor, but all we know is the name of their popular product, if we'd listed the product's name on the vendor's record page, we could find it that way.

- ability to create pages/records by reading from a website/DB on an ongoing, not one-time, basis - we are a web app, and we are constantly adding vendors and customers to our app's DB, so we want to be able to keep the 'knowledgebase' or whatever this is in sync with those DB lists without having to remember to add a new record every time we add a new vendor. (This is one of the major problems with our current half-assed wiki.)

- able to attach files to records

- basic project management, like to-do checklists, ideally recurring - so, example, if we know that we need to receive 5 specific files from a customer each month, we could create a checklist for that customer once, and every month we'd get a new copy we could check off as we received each of those files for the month. We don't need time or cost tracking, just the ability to see, ok we need these things to complete this customer request, which ones are done and which still need doing.

- (bonus) ability to send links directly to a specific record - so if I'm researching a new vendor, and I find the portal on their site that I'd put my customer credentials in to access, I could just click something like a FF add-in and tell it to send that link to the vendor's record page rather than copy then go to the page then paste into the page.

It would be nice if it was in the cloud and had mobile access, but we can do a server installation if needed. We're not limited to free/open source products - if it'll do what we need, we're willing to spend money on it. But we'd be looking at costs in scale with the size of our team - there'd be less than 10 people ever even touching it for the foreseeable future.

It's driving me crazy that I can't think of what this sort of tool would be called! Please help my team clean up our information mess, either with specific recommendations or with what to search for.
posted by dust.wind.dude to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is what CRMs are for. Salesforce is pretty much the gold standard I think but there are all kinds of (cheaper, less robust) options out there.
posted by phunniemee at 10:19 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

A CRM with PMO capabilities would work.

Note, I'm a Salesforce Consultant with a large consultancy firm. I may be biased.

Salesforce is THE CRM. Lots of people use it, it is the bees knees. The referencing ability for your credentials is a relatively simple bit of code that can be executed on the Force.com platform.

The Project Management can be done with an App that adds onto Salesforce. You can accept tickets, prioritize them, and assign them within Salesforce.

Another option is Microsoft Dynamics with MS Project. I'm not a huge fan, because I love the Cloud and who wants to manually update and deploy patches?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:19 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

This sounds like a CRM - a Customer Relationship Management tool. There are as many CRM products as there are days in the year, ranging in price from "free and open source" to "oh my god I've paid less than that for a 3 bedroom house."

Most of them will fit the majority of your needs, but the option to create pages/records from your internal DB might be tricky to find outside of a big vendor supported product.

Off the top of my head I can think of products like Vtiger, SugarCRM (of which Vtiger is a fork), and SuiteCRM. A quick Google will find many more.

I see that others have recommended Salesforce, which is the major player in the market. Just make sure that you need all that horsepower before heading down that road. I know a few people who went with Salesforce because it was the main player in the market, only to realize later that they weren't really using it to its full potential.
posted by ralan at 10:26 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Agree with everyone that this is a CRM.

Agree with Ralan that Salesforce and Sugar are possibilities.

SugarCRM is an effective low-cost option.

At my last company we moved away from Sugar to Salesforce.

At my current company we moved away from Salesforce to Sugar.

So I've used both and Sugar will meet what you need.


Pricing is visible on the website under the Products link
posted by lockedroomguy at 10:31 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

IMHO Salesforce is awful (I use it almost every day), and also really expensive, but it is indeed the standard. My preference would be to avoid it until I'm convinced it's the only thing that would do the job. I've just recently started testing out Highrise as an alternative for some side projects I'm doing. It's probably not quite right for what you're looking for, but there's a free trial if you want to check it out.
posted by primethyme at 10:52 AM on April 19, 2016

Huh. When I started searching using CRM as the term, I turned up things like Salesforce, but they sounded like the total opposite of what we need - we don't need any marketing or customer contact or opportunity tracking whatsoever (we're Operations, the marketing team has their own tools). We basically need a cross between a wiki and some kind of relational database(?) with some task tracking on the side. But if the consensus is that you get that in a CRM, I'll keep down that path. The boss has a Salesforce demo set up already, so I'll check out some of the others. Thanks everyone, and keep 'em coming!
posted by dust.wind.dude at 11:01 AM on April 19, 2016

If you're on mac try Daylite.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 11:09 AM on April 19, 2016

Wiki + task tracking == Redmine or Trac. They're both open source so if you have the coding ability you may be able to add your DB requirement also.

Looking at some of the products similar to those two may also lead you to others that might fit your needs a bit better. I used Redmine for a few years and really liked it. I've also played around some with OpenAtrium and thought it was an interesting product.
posted by ralan at 11:11 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could adapt Fieldbook to your needs?
posted by Dansaman at 11:57 AM on April 19, 2016

Salesforce has a service component that might work for you. It seems all wrong, but really, you put your different customers, partners and vendors into the Customer Relationship Data base portion. Then you can do tickets, using the service portion. They have a service console for taking inbound calls, or you can to web to Case. But make sure your Demo focuses on Service Cloud, not Sales Cloud, otherwise, its a waste of time.

And anyone who doesn't like Salesforce, I suggest that it's been hopelessly mired in old customization, or that the tool isn't supporting your current processes. I professionally fix those problems, so I'm intimately familiar with them. I cringe whenever I hear anyone criticize the tool because it's not Salesforce itself, its the customizations that were added, usually years ago, that haven't been updated that cause problems.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:03 PM on April 19, 2016

Salesforce is customizable to almost any company's needs. That's why it's so popular. But full customization costs money. However, even with the basic package, it can do a lot. Ignore the labels and focus on what the components and options actually *do* and I think you'll see what I mean.

Free CRMs like Podio or Pipedrive will offer 60-80% of what you listed. It's really a matter of priorities - everything you want vs price point.
posted by ananci at 2:23 PM on April 19, 2016

Ugh, CRMs.

Airtable! Google sheets on steroids, with a relational database, API, etc. might not be exactly what you need but gorgeous and light and better stitched together with Trello via Zapier than swallow the CRM pill.
posted by suedehead at 11:21 PM on April 19, 2016

Thanks everyone. I tried out a bunch of your options, then I was out of the office for the better part of two weeks thanks to travel and illness, and when I returned my boss had signed on with SalesForce. I'll let y'all know how it goes...
posted by dust.wind.dude at 10:35 AM on May 23, 2016

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