A real process manager for Sugar

bpmCommercial editions users, to whom this post is dedicated, will be pleased to know that Sugar came at last with a real Business Process Management (BPM) engine, to make complex operations and rules simpler and automatic, such as:

  • quotes approval procedure;
  • new leads assignment;
  • customer service cases assignment and routing;
  • escalation criteria

and many other similar situations, so useful and ever more indispensable in a mature CRM platform.

If until version 7.5 the possibility of automatic rules creation was relegated to the Workflow administration function, with the release of version 7.6 Sugar added a powerful BPM engine called Process Author.

Previous Workflow functionality could substantially create simple rules, based on the definition of (a) a condition (for example: “when a lead is created on the CRM…”) and (b) an action, automatically executed when the condition is satisfied (to complete the previous example: “… create a related call record”, in order to plan a phone call to the new potential customer). In addition, Workflow made it possible to define an email notification, with parametric content, to be sent to parametric recipients. Definetely, Workflow implemented (just) a (simple) construct if-then, e – do not understimate – in the process defintion/implementation it is not expected no confirmation by the user (in other words, and regarding to the previous example, we cannot define a condition such as “when creating a lead, the system will ask to the user to plan a phone call..”).

Process Author covers Workflow functionalities and, much more, comes with a structured process design editor that has nothing to envy to more experienced BPM products, and can implement constructs much more mature than those seen so far. But above all I have to remark that Process Author provides an integrated environment that comes into Sugar throughout four new functions / modules / menu items Process Defintion, Process Business Rules, Process Email Templates and Process Manager, as shown in the following image:

pa_modules

Process Definition is the main module for the overall process configuration. Optionally, it is possibile to create basic rules (Process Business Rules, a sort of repository for rules) usable within the first module. Using a dedicated dashboard/console, it is possibile to monitor the execution status of all the processes and rules configurated (Running Process).

Now, let’s focus on a Process Definition creation . The steps to create a valid process is the following one:

  1. insert a “start” event;
  2. connect events (conditions, actions, notifications, etc) mutually (and eventually insert notes or comments);
  3. add “intermediate” events;
  4. add “gateway” elements;
  5. add “action” and “activity” elements;
  6. insert an “end” event.

I’ll do a brief overview of the previous elements.

A “start” event is the process starting point, it consists of the Sugar target module or a restriction of that module: for example, I can design a workflow starting from all and just the leads created in the last week.

“Intermediate” events can be of type: Wait (this event triggers when a confiugured period of time has elapsed), Send Message and Receive Message.

“Gateways” are decision connectors used to control the process flows: they can join two different flows (“converging” gateways) or can split a flow in two (“diverging” gateways).

As shown in the following image, the gateway element evaluates the new Account industry field and sends the e-mail to Sarah or Sally.

pa_gateway1

Optionally it is possibile to configure a default path.

The next example is instead showing a “classic” CRM process where, as a quote is created, two actions are activated in parallel: the approval request for the manager and a customer credit check.

pa_gateway2

One diverging and one converging gateway have been used. Gateways can also be of type Exclusive, Inclusive, Parallel and Event-Based.

And finally let’s talk about the operations we want to automate. They are of two types: Activities and Actions. Activities are always correlate to a user, that is requested to confirm, disapprove or  assign that activity to another user. Actions, instead, are fully automatic operations executed by the system (without user interaction). Actions are used to perform business rules, or to create or update a record (for example, as the phone call for the new lead, to create a related record linked to a main one).

Activity Forms configuration adds an interactive step within the process, in order for the user to take a decision: either approve, reject or route the process.

pa_activities

Actions, can be of type Business Rules (a previously defined Business Rule is associated with the action), Assign User (we can determine the user responsible for the remaining part of the process), Round Robin (the process flow is routed in round-robin way to a team’s users), Change Field (we can change the value one or more fields belonging to the target module or to a module linked to the target one), Add Related Record (we can create a record of a module linked to the target one).

pa_actions

At design time, we can connect all the mentioned elements according to the process requirements, and we can’t forget to put an End event as the closing point of the process. However, if during process design we are committing an inconsistency or omission, a useful “debugger”, located at the right of the design canvas, will report with warnings/errors helping us to fix the configuration.

Releasing Process Author, actually available only for Enterprise and Ultimate Sugar editions, our CRM fills a deep gap and comes with a real process workflow, making it possibile to configurate and automate tens of business logics.

I truly hope that the Process Author release for the commercial editions could lead to beneficial effects also for the Sugar Community edition: in other words, it’s time to equip Sugar CE with a workflow engine? to equip it with the (previous “commercial”) Workflow function? Surely this would be a big step forward, as neither Sugar CE never had such a feature, nor a thirdy part never released a suitable one.

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