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Zoho CRM Software Technology Review

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Software Technology

Zoho CRM software is purpose built for software as a service (SaaS) and cloud delivery. The product was developed in Java using a multi-tenant architecture and resulting in a very efficient thin-client solution. Zoho CRM operates on a MySQL database with Linux operating system and runs straight from your browser without required downloads to your computer. The CRM software is compatible with Internet Explorer 7 and above and Firefox 3.0 and higher.

While the underlying software technology is sound, there is a void of enterprise tools used to create custom objects, complex custom pages and perform customization beyond cosmetics and form design changes.

System Integration

The CRM system provides straight forward imports and exports of ASCII delimited files, normally comma or tab separated text or CSV files. There is also a helpful rollback feature when the import doesn't go quite right.

Zoho doesn't permit custom scripting within the CRM system, but does offer a tool called Webhooks which comes close. Webhooks can communicate with third party applications by sending instant web notifications upon event updates, for example, every time an account or sale opportunity is created or modified. Zoho CRM webhooks allow you to configure and call HTTP URLs in workflow type scenarios in order to automate inserts to other applications or deliver alert notifications.

The Zoho Reports offer another method to push data from behind the firewall databases and act as an upload tool or database connector. With this tool, administrators can connect and push data from databases such as Microsoft Access, MySQL, Oracle and SQL Server to Zoho Reports. Data uploads can be scheduled in regular intervals to get near-real-time reports based on dynamic data.

For more extensive system integration, Zoho CRM provides an API (Application Programming Interface) for integrating CRM modules with third-party applications such as accounting, ERP, e-commerce, self-service portals and other business systems or legacy applications. With the Zoho CRM API, you can extract CRM data in XML or JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) format and develop new applications or integrate with your existing business applications. As the Zoho CRM API is independent of programming languages, you can develop applications in virtually any programming language (Java, .Net, C, C++, PHP, etc.).

Software Customization

Software customization can be performed using a variety of configuration options and visual drag and drop designer tools.

Tabs represent software modules and display pages and record types. With the Tab Settings function, tabs can be custom captioned, removed or re-sequenced. Within a page, Zoho provides field management controls. The CRM software includes three types of fields—standard fields, custom fields and special fields. Standard fields can be displayed or hidden, however, they also include the systems mandatory (primary key) fields used for process validation and system integrity purposes. Custom fields can be added to any CRM module. These fields include the standard field types (i.e. string, integer, number, date, etc.) with some additional flexibility for custom currency fields. Currency can be defined for the number of decimal digits, the precision settings and how to round up or round down based on selected currencies. This is particularly helpful for currencies such as the Japanese Yen which have more than two decimal positions. Custom fields also permit creating pick lists, including multiple-select lists. The special fields are not common to all modules but are necessary to support specific functions, such as payment terms or sale order tax calculations.

Page-level customization permits custom design of forms, list items modification, custom views of filtered records, custom search settings and configuration of the default view settings. Page level customization is also where fields on a form can be removed, repositioned or appended with additional controls such as making them read-only or required.

More extensive software customization can be performed with the Zoho Creator Tool. This visual tool can create new database applications or custom scripts with its scripting language, Deluge. While this is a helpful tool for administrators, hard core developers are more likely to revert to building custom apps in their development language of choice and using the API to integrate with Zoho.

Overall, Zoho customization lacks some of the more advanced field controls and page settings, however, excels in ease of use and custom designing your menus, forms and fields in very short order.

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