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2/12/2009
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How SugarCRM Is Helping One Firm Manage Through Recession

Instead of hiring someone to write specs for a new assembly line, ThyssenKrupp's system engineering sales force uses SugarCRM to do the work.

Is adopting open source in today's economic climate a money-saver? ThyssenKrupp, the big German producer of steel and capital goods with 200,000 employees, thinks so. It recently adopted SugarCRM for its system engineering unit.

The unit designs specialized assembly lines for vehicle manufacturers, such as a transmission assembly line for a car manufacturer or a motor assembly line for construction equipment supplier. It has designed assembly lines for Cummins Engine, Caterpillar, Ford, and General Motors. Despite the downturn in the automotive and construction industries, those companies can't wait for the next uptick to start their next generation of production lines, said Richard Trahey, an account manager with the unit.

Before joining the sales side of the business, Trahey was an engineering project manager, with the usual problems of trying to track dozens of interrelated changes to design specifications, workflows, and quality issues related to getting hundreds of moving parts to work together. His main tools for managing a project were Microsoft Word and Excel for spreadsheets.

"SAP ERP performs very well for purchase orders, inventory control, item tracking," and other fixed, well-defined tasks, said Trahey, pausing to talk for a few minutes during SugarCon, the recent SugarCRM user group meeting in San Francisco. But he was trying to design new assembly-line systems, with all sorts of conflicts and quality issues that had nothing to do with fixed procedures.

Each project generated thousands of documents and reports. Early on, Trahey understood he would be ahead of the game if he could build a system that would manage them in some cohesive order. He struggled to do so, working evenings and weekends at a task that was not his primary job.

"Issue management or specification management -- there's no database tool that's flexible enough" to contain the information he wanted to capture, said Trahey. Word and Excel performed as expected for him, but he had no way of making the documents for a particular project available for easy sharing on a company-wide basis. He also found he couldn't search them three years later to pull up a discrete group of documents related to a particular problem, when he needed to review the lessons learned.

He needed a system that could report on the activities of different parties, both inside and outside his engineering group, and keep them arranged in a workflow. Commercial CRM would do it for him, but his unit had no budget to purchase a CRM system.

He went to SourceForge and starting combing through open source projects.

"I looked at a lot of projects," he recalls. It was the summer of 2007, when he found SugarCRM, the open source customer relationship management system, and in light of what he wanted to do, decided it was "totally awesome." With SugarCRM, he could identify issues and track quality concerns and store-related information in an underlying database. "It had 100 modules, more lines of code than I could write in a lifetime," he said.

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