CRM on the Fly

A difficult to implement but easy to use CRM tool for Windows Web applications.

October 21, 2002

3 Min Read
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Clientele offers more than just a log of support calls tied to an organizations' customers and products: It provides a rich forum for managing customer and group relationships while tying RMAs (return-merchandise authorizations) and service agreements to other managed entities. The robust interface lets you manage both your external and enterprise customer base, includes access to supporting documentation and allows on-the-fly administration.

Clientele comprises client, Web services, licensing and database components. The server-side components (license server and Web services) can reside on the same machine as the required SQL 2000 database, provided you have Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS) Web server installed.

The client can run on any Microsoft Windows XP or 2000 workstation, and all components require prior installation of the Microsoft .Net framework with SP2. If you install the server portion of Clientele 8.0 on a machine other than the one on which the database resides, you'll also need to install Microsoft Data Access Components (MDAC) 2.6 or higher.

Installing the server-side components was time-consuming--downloading the necessary .Net redistributables and configuring the product took several hours. Clientele's installation guide was invaluable in this process.

I wasn't enamored with the way Epicor deigned to handle users, especially because I couldn't use LDAP to create the user database. Clientele uses Windows authentication to identify users and secure the system. The databases are then automatically created via DTS (data-transformation services) but require additional configuration to grant Clientele users permission to access and modify the tables. You'll also need to start the license-server service manually after changing its properties so you can log on as an account that has access to Clientele databases.

Once server-side installation was complete, I went to the Web site where the Clientele Web services components were installed and began the client installation. After I fired up the Clientele client and logged in, the system automatically detected code changes made to the client and downloaded and installed new code. At this point, I was able to log in again and begin supporting my customers.

Migration Migraine

My testing went well except I had no customers in my newly created databases--no products either. Given the richness of features and amount of data managed by the product, it's no surprise that you cannot simply insert data into the Clientele tables. The interconnectedness of the product means there are myriad constraints and complicated relationships between each table in the database. Epicor needs to address the migration of existing data to Clientele's system. Professional services are available to assist. According to Epicor, small-to-midsize organizations with data-integration experience, primarily through DTS, will need less than a week to complete the migration.

I spent time in the client creating customers, organizations and groups. The user interface is fresh and provides entry points to related concepts at every turn. You can easily jump from a customer to his or her organization or group, view or create support calls and manage return authorizations and service agreements--complete customer and product information is a click away at all times.

From an end-user perspective, Clientele kicks ass: It is easy to use, pleasant to navigate and quick to respond. From an administrative viewpoint, though, things are hairier. Although not impossible to overcome, some data and configuration problems make implementation difficult. Still, the fullness of the product and potential benefits to end users make it worthwhile to trudge through the process.

Lori MacVittie is a technology editor for Network Computing. Write to her at [email protected].

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