The major benefits of a hosted CRM solution such as Glasscubes include low initial and support cost—Web-based CRM eliminates the need for deploying clients and backend software—along with the elimination of complicated initial setup, configuration, data migration and integration. A hosted CRM solution can also shorten the implementation from months or years to a few weeks.

As far as end-users as concerned, users can access a hosted CRM solution from anywhere as long as they have Internet access and a Web browser. The business benefit of this is instant information sharing—information and documents entered remotely on the Web are instantly available for colleagues and clients to share. The major drawback is limited customisation and risk of exposing sensitive information to third parties.

What is Glasscubes and who is it for?

Glasscubes was created by London-based Office Fabric in November 2008 and received private funding in early 2009. Glasscubes went into public beta testing in July 2009 and was officially launched just last month (October 2009) as an online service for small businesses. Glasscubes is a hosted service which includes Web-based project management tools and collaborative features to allow medium-sized companies to connect with colleagues and clients anywhere in the world with an Internet connection.

Does it do it well?

Simplicity is the key to Glasscubes. The software is meticulously presented, sporting a modern and uncluttered interface. The biggest benefit of Glasscubes, especially compared to the likes of Basecamp, is that it brings together a whole host of features designed specifically for small and medium sized organisations to help manage key elements of their operations securely online—no add-ons required here!

Glasscubes’ features list is impressive—task lists, document management, shared calendars, discussions, notifications, announcements, and of course customer relationship management. It uses 128-bit encryption to provide security to all users.

The moment you log in you can see what’s happening. Each Cube (workspace) has a dashboard which provides a complete overview of activity within the Cube and gives quick links to what has happened. Every Cube also has its own calendar, allowing team members to manage meetings, deadlines, tasks and milestones in their own area. Glasscubes allows you to overlay your other Cube calendars to ensure double bookings are avoided and key deadlines do not conflict with each other.

Each Cube also has its own secure area for documents (up to 1GB each in size), which only members have access to. You can assign tasks to other members of your team or simply keep track of your general workload or within your individual Cubes, and you can start a debate and discussion with other members of your team to increase collaboration without the need for e-mail chains. Editing documents can result in a blocked server and numerous copies, but Glasscubes’ document versioning tool always shows the latest edit—a real boon for Microsoft Office users. The ability to preview a document without the need for downloading is also a time saver.

Glasscubes has other neat features to help increase productivity. Reminder alerts can be sent via e-mail or SMS when somebody on your team wishes to draw your attention to something, and you can make an announcement on the dashboard if you have something that you want to shout about to the whole organisation. You can manage your personal, central and cube calendars either in separate calendars or merge to get a full overview, and you can even create a poll and find out what your colleagues think of ideas, opinions or suggestions.

Document sharing is great, but a CRM program has to have solid contact management. Glasscubes does a good job of grouping contacts into companies or kept alone. You can update, edit and change details, as well as import contacts from a CSV file. Contacts can be found by entering a few characters and the search will automatically suggest the people you are looking for. Alternatively, you can browse by letter to locate the person or restrict your search to companies or contacts themselves. A really powerful feature is the ability to manage sales leads using what Glasscubes calls ‘Opportunities’, in addition to highlighting and discussing issues.

Where does Glasscubes disappoint?

Glasscubes is an intuitive software solution that takes minimal time to customise (corporate branding etc) and understand. All of its features are clearly presented and navigating between features is quick and easy. Our biggest gripes are that it doesn’t look very corporate—it looks like a consumer application. In addition, the lack of colour coding on the home page makes it difficult to distinguish between days or highlight the current day’s activities. And, unlike Salesforce, there is no e-mail support.

There is no milestone support, so you can’t give a due date to projects (limited to tasks), and a task is either ‘done’ or ‘not done.’ You can add notes or comments to a task, for tracking purposes, but this gets cumbersome—we’d like to see more advanced settings for tasks, such as ‘percentage complete’.

Glasscubes, like Basecamp, has limitations when you are working with large clients who often have a multi-tiered, often-changing and large team, and it’s not practical to have all client team members see everything at the same time, but rather you need to stage multi-level reviews—first by the project owner, then by key team leaders, then the wider team. You could set them up as separate ‘companies’, but it’s just not practical with three or four big projects like this going simultaneously and teams constantly changing. The granularity of regular e-mail becomes important.

The lack of an ‘executive summary’ view is frustrating when you want an at-a-glance view where you really are with a project (percent complete, next actions etc). Reporting and analytics aren’t even supported via add-ons. We encountered some errors too, such as when starting a discussion—‘Problem: Application Error when starting a discussion’.

Would we recommend Glasscubes?

Providing your projects or clients with secure workspaces allows you to ensure complete transparency on activity. Glasscubes allow you to manage all kinds of files and documents including briefs, preview designs and contracts. The software is easy to use considering its range of features and it provides some cool time-saving features. The biggest benefit, of course, is that users can access Glasscubes from anywhere as long as they have Internet access and a Web browser.

For all its merits, Glasscubes still feels like it’s in Beta—especially considering the error messages we received. It also tries to be everything to everyone, yet isn’t as good as dedicated applications. For instance, Basecamp offers a more structured and robust approach to document management and sharing, and Salesforce offers a lot more functionality and expandability for customer relationship management.

Glasscubes combines elements of the two, but ultimately falls short. For very small teams not looking for extensive expandability with other hosted solutions, Glasscubes is a reasonable effort with competitive pricing (based on a subscription model). For large organisations wanting a rock-solid corporate solution, Salesforce is a better choice.