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Open-Source CRM Delivers More Control, Less Cost

Open-Source CRM Delivers More Control, Less Cost

Open source enterprise applications are beginning to show up on IT's radar screen.

A Big Trust Question

No CIO minds saving money, but some worry that open source software is, well, too cheap. That was part of the problem faced by IMA Financial's Hallam when she tried to get the OK to deploy Concursive. "We view our software vendors as long-term partners. There was concern that they might disappear at some point," Hallam says. Ultimately, though, management was won over by the understanding that even if Concursive should fail, the open source code would still be IMA's and the open source community would continue to offer a measure of support.

Despite its roots, open source has moved well beyond the stage where it represented a cultural revolt against the software establishment. Today, many open source companies keep a sharp eye on the bottom line by selling services as well as enhanced versions of their free-for-the-downloading community editions.

Still, there's no getting around it. The economics of open source are different. "Any CIO who considers open source to solve a critical business need will look at its commercial viability," says Ron Bongo, CEO of Corra Technology, a systems integrator specializing in open source. That's not always easy since the providers of open source CRM are privately held.

But even the larger open source CRM companies are hungry for paying business, which means that a CIO considering a major deployment has a good deal of leverage.

"SugarCRM had a passion to land us as a customer," says Evans Wroten, CIO of InterAct Public Safety Systems. Wroten had led deployment of Salesforce.com and Siebel CRM on other jobs, but having seen the success of open source infrastructure projects, Wroten was ready to listen to Sugar's pitch when the new management took the helm at InterAct following the acquisition in 2005.

From an IT perspective, the company had been flying by the seat of its pants. InterAct lacked a central repository for customer information. Each sales rep had a separate stash of contact files and a spreadsheet of likely sales. "All of that information was stuck in silos," says Wroten.

Disorganized sales contacts are bad enough. But the new managers found that making an accurate financial forecast was very tough. "They (the salespeople) would walk into meetings with estimates on a yellow legal pad," he says.

A few items on Wroten's check list stood out as InterAct picked a new CRM vendor. First, of course, the application had to have the requisite features and had to fit into the existing infrastructure. "Since we had systems in place, we liked Sugar's open platform and its ability to write to other systems," says Wroten.

In particular, the CIO needed to integrate the new CRM system with an existing customer support intranet written in ColdFusion. Wroten could do it with SugarCRM, without resorting to expensive systems consultants often needed for commercial CRM deployments.

InterAct's execs decided they liked the flexibility and openness of open source applications; other companies might not. "Think about the cost of building and maintaining your own features," suggests Sheryl Kingstone, director of enterprise research with the Yankee Group. "You have to understand what you are getting into."

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