06.29.2012

RedHen CRM Part 1, Keeping all your eggs in one Drupal basket

Introducing RedHen CRM

The Drupal community has long aspired for native CRM functionality for many years. Unfortunately, solutions to this problem in older releases of Drupal were less than perfect - usually relying on the node system to manage contact data. Of course, the node system was designed for managing content, so these node-based CRM solutions required lots of extra code and duct tape to keep content and contacts separated.

Fortunately, the arrival of the entity framework in Drupal 7.x core has opened the door to the development of more robust CRM solutions built natively in Drupal. So, after a year of scheming and over 700 hours of very intense development, ThinkShout is proud to announce the Alpha release of RedHen CRM.

Why Does Native CRM Matter?

CiviCRM is a mature open source CRM solution that integrates with Drupal, so why not just use that? Drupal also integrates well with many 3rd-party SaaS solutions, such as Salesforce, why reinvent the wheel?

There are many benefits to integrating your Drupal site with a 3rd-party CRM solution. But there are many missed opportunities and drawbacks to these integrations as well. The most obvious benefits to native CRM in Drupal include:

Native CRM And (Not Versus) Enterprise CRM

One last point before diving into the guts of RedHen CRM:

While we think that it’s possible to build very robust, large-scale CRM solutions natively in Drupal, our goal in releasing RedHen is not to compete with the enterprise CRM market. Platforms like Salesforce will inevitably out scale what we can build with Drupal.

That said, enterprise CRM solutions are often overkill for small to mid-sized organizations. Moreover, even if your organization does need an enterprise CRM solution, we see RedHen as a natural integration point between your website and such a system.

With the right Drupal development partner, tools such as RedHen open the door to the creation of highly innovative “front end” CRM tools. We anticipate that collecting and displaying data in RedHen (and Drupal) will often be much more affordable and nimble than trying to develop comparable features upon larger, more cumbersome enterprise packages.

What Can You Do With RedHen CRM?

RedHen CRM has been largely designed around the association management (AMS) needs of membership organizations. That said, the RedHen framework is flexible and can be leveraged to develop a wide range of CRM solutions. For example, RedHen could be used as a light weight sales pipeline management tool for small to mid-size businesses.

Getting Started

RedHen CRM is similar to Drupal Commerce in its modular structure. As with Drupal Commerce, the core RedHen modules that can be downloaded on the Drupal.org project page won’t provide you with a working CRM right out of the box. They require configuration. In the future, ThinkShout is likely to release RedHen “Features” or “Apps” that provide prepackaged CRM solutions for different use cases.

In the short term, if you would like to explore RedHen CRM, we would encourage you to check out our demonstration RedHen CRM installation profile. This install profile will build out a simple example of how RedHen could be leveraged to support the CRM needs of a fictional “pet shelter” organization.

Project Structure

RedHen CRM relies heavily on custom Drupal entity types and bundles. The Entity API module is leveraged to do most of the heavy lifting for these custom entities. The Relation module is leveraged to manage connections between these custom entity bundles. The core RedHen module provides shared APIs, although the majority of RedHen features are broken out into separate sub-modules that ship with the main module. As with Drupal Commerce, we will continue to include key sub-modules with the main module code base. However, we anticipate that an ecosystem of plug-in modules will soon be available to extend the core feature set.

Basic Concepts and Features

Extending RedHen CRM with Views and Rules Integration

The RedHen CRM framework does not require Views. However, because RedHen is built upon Entity API, you can easily extend RedHen to work with Views and Rules. With Views, you can customize your instance of RedHen CRM to create personalized reports of contact, organization, membership and/or engagement scoring data. With Views plugins such as Views Bulk Operations and Views Data Export, you can further extend RedHen with bulk editing and export tools.

For More Information

Complete RedHen site administration docs will be coming soon. You can also check out the README files contained with each RedHen module. For technical issues, please use the D.O. issue queue. For community support and to learn about RedHen usage, please consider joining the RedHen Drupal group and follow us on Twitter @RedHen_CRM.

Next Up: A RedHen CRM Feature Deep-Dive

For a detailed look at RedHen CRM, check out Part 2 of this article.

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