This is a proposal for a new module in vtiger including a description of its aims and specifications. I suggest to call this new module „Relations“. It is designated to document and analyse relations among accounts and/or contacts. The module
shall is an optional extension of vtiger and could is available at the „Marketing“-tab. (Update 2011-10-07: My module „Relations“ has been released! Click here for Download.)
The idea about the new module is inspired by concepts and software related to social network analysis (SNA). Furthermore, it is encouraged by similar features already available at other CRM software suites like e.g. Siebel Oracle. The new module will be highly useful to understand the behaviour of whole markets as well as single customers. Until now, we try to understand all the relationships out there mostly intutively based on personal experience and due to a lack of properly structured data without any software. Keeping in mind that vtiger is a „relationship management“ software, it is remarkable that relations are not handled yet. Introducing a structure that handles „relations“ as self-contained entities, the new module will take advantage of information already gathered by using vtiger. It will extent the usage of vtiger to learn about market structure and to design more efficient campaigns and communication strategies. It will also be useful to learn more about the behaviour of competitors or rivals.
Vtiger provides us with a structure to manage data related to entities called leads, accounts and contacts. I suggest to call all of those „stakeholders“. Spoken in terms of SNA, all of them are just „actors“, „nodes“ or „vertices“ in a network. Between them, there are „relationships“ or „ties“. To keep the development of the new module simple, I suggest to focus on accounts and contacts. Here, vtiger has already implemented some assumptions about ties. Contacts mostly belong to one account. And accounts may be part of one of the other accounts. In the case of contacts, the „title“ of a contact often describes a relationship between the contact and the account he or she is assigned to.
The new module suggested in here exceeds those assumptions without replacing them. It makes it possible to manage data related to „relations“ between various stakeholders including relations between contacts as well as between accounts as well as between various contacts and various accounts. Thereby, every „relation“ is handled as an entity of its own. It is not just an annex of one of the other entities.
The basic structure and functionality of the new module resembles other modules. It shall be a 100% compatible to the module manager of vtiger. Its usage shall be restricted by the rules defined throughout roles and profiles. It’s picklists shall be adiministrated by the Picklist-Editor. On startup, there will be a list of all „relations“ that can be ordered, filtered, searched, imported and exported for further analysis with e.g. SNA-software. The application of filters will offer the first basic opportunity to analyse „relations“ documented in vtiger. As usual, the view of every single „relation“ shows the two classical tabs: „Relation Information“ and „More Information“.
A „relation“ itself represents a data entity with an own primary key. The number of those „relations“ is potentially unlimited due to the unlimited number of various „kinds of relations“ or „ties“. Their number can be calculated as follows:
„number of relations“ = („number of stakeholders“)2 * „kind of relation“
Social Network Analysis distinguishes between symmetric and directed relationships. I suggest a structure ready to collect data about directed relations, because this structure can easily be used to document symmetric and undirected relationships as well. A „relationship“ consists at least of three to six data items to provide the opportunity to document both a directional and a bidirectional „relation“:
- ID of „relation“ (Primary Key)
- Account or Contact No. 1 as „source“
- Account or Contact No. 2 as „destination“
- type of relation or „tie“
- Good transacted
- Value transacted
We also may add (7.) data about the date when a „relation“ was initiated, (8.) when it will expire or has expired and (9.) information about the status of a relationship like e.g. „active“, „inactive“ etc. as well as (10.) a space for a general description of a „relation“. The administrator may add additional custom fields.
As already known from other modules like e.g. leads, accounts, contacts, potentials etc., any „Relation Information“ can be associated with „More Information“ like e.g. „Activities“, „Activity History“ or „Documents“by reffering to a relation’s ID.
The usage of „Relations“ is pretty similar to other modules like e.g. Accounts or Contacts. Information about a „relation“ has to be documented manually. The user is free to add a new relation or to edit or delete an existing one. If he adds a new „relation“, he first has to capture the first stakeholder or „source“ of the relationship from the account or the contact module by a dialogue menu. Than, the user has to capture the second stakeholder or „destination“ of the relationship from the account or the contact module by calling the dialogue menu a second time. (We already know such dialogue menus where we have to select accounts and contacts, e.g. from editing „Events“ or „Potentials“) By doing this, the user is able to document relationships between accounts, contacts as well as between various contacts and various accounts. Furthermore, the user has to choose the type of relationship. I suggest to offer a dropdownmenu which has to be administrated by the Picklist Editor available at the administration or „settings“-panel of vtiger. This prevents a crowding out of relation types. Maybe, there should be a picklist for transacted goods, too. Joe Bordes from TSolucio suggested in our ongoing email conversation to capture goods from the product module. By this, it might be possible to get the value of the transaction as a product of a product’s list price and its quantity which may also be documented as a relationship information.
As soon as we have a list of relations, we will be able to define filters. For example, it will be possible to look for all „relations“ related to a certain stakeholder on which we are focusing. We than may be able to identify certain parts of his network and therein strategically interesting patterns which may give us hints for further campaigns and strategies. If we documented transacted goods and their value, we will be able to sum up the turnover in certain parts of the network. We might learn about strengthes and weaknesses which we didn’t see yet. And if we also document some information about the date of initiation and expiration of relations, we also may be able to look how the market structure we were focusing on is changing over time.
Presumably, the new module „Relations“ will not get over a stage where mathematical and graphical network analysis has to be done on the base of data exported as comma-separated values (csv) due to the fact that the needed software is a universe of his own. Maybe, there might be SNA-software written in Java and published under GPL which could once be integrated in vtiger. But I do not hope for something like this in the first place. I think the most important step is to extent vtiger to be able to collect, filter and export structured data about relations. As soon as such data is available, the opportunities for further analysis are nearly unlimited.
A first draft of this idea can be found at http://forums.vtiger.com/viewtopic.php?p=71148, posted on Sep.28th, 2008. More academic explanations and further links can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_network. There is also a list with some SNA-software at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_network_analysis_software
An interesting example how to analyse network data using MS Excel can be found at http://nodexl.codeplex.com/
„NodeXL is a template for Excel 2007 and 2010 that lets you enter a network edge list, click a button, and see the network graph, all in the Excel window.“
A draft of a tutorial about analyzing networks using e.g. data about relationships within social media with NodeXL can be found at http://casci.umd.edu/images/4/46/NodeXL_tutorial_draft.pdf
The aim of this proposal is twofold: First, it shall be the base for further discussion to clarify how such a module could look a like. Second, it shall serve as a specification sheet to get into the discussion what the development of this module will cost and how it may be realized.
I think that the new module should be a collective good published under the Vtiger Public Licence or GPL at the marketplace for vtiger CRM extensions available at http://www.vtiger.com, developed by people who are just enthusiastic and/or subsidized by a community who is keen on this feature. But I’ll stay open minded for other suggestions.
Unfortunately, I can’t develop this module on my own for different reasons. So it’s my job to raise contributors and funds to get the job done. I’m looking for people who are able to develop it.
If you are interested in this module, if you have any idea how to contribute to this project and if you want to apply as a potential developer, please do not hesitate to get in contact with me by email – either in English, German or even in French. My email-adress is email@example.com