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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.

Control Over Code a Plus

Unlike commercial software, open source code, is just that-open. Users are free to modify and distribute most of it under any of the several commonly used open source licenses. In fact, openness and the right to modify the source code is a key advantage for tech-savvy companies willing to take on development tasks. But it could be a burden for small businesses with meager IT resources.

Development languages, for example, become a key issue, says Bongo, the systems integrator. "Sugar is written in PHP, and for a lot of Java shops, that would be a non-starter," he says. Concursive, on the other hand, is Java-based, so for some organizations it would be the better choice, Bongo adds.

If you can handle it, though, the flexibility of open source CRM is very powerful. At NetroMedia, a provider of streaming media services, the in-house IT staff transformed Splendid's CRM package into "a control panel for our entire business," says Matthew Carson, the Canadian company's founder and CTO.

NetroMedia, with nearly 500 customers in 77 countries, had been using Salesforce.com for several years, but had problems integrating new features the company needed. Carson looked at SAP, Microsoft, Accpac and others as well, and found them too closed for his taste. "Control is a big issue. You want to be able to write the (CRM) system around your business model, not the other way around," he says.

Carson notes that his experience with SAP was several years ago, and it may have evolved the platform to the point that his earlier concerns no longer apply. However, he remains a SplendidCRM customer and expresses satisfaction with the deployment.

Control, in a slightly different sense, was a key issue for Axel Products, a testing lab in the US. As the business added customers, it was clearly outgrowing packages like Outlook and ACT, and was looking for a CRM application that would fit a six-person business. As he experimented with different software, company president Kurt Miller made an unsettling discovery. "I couldn't get our data, and that's hundreds of customers, out of ACT."

Eventually, he did, but the lesson stuck. Miller settled on SugarCRM largely because it's built on top of MySQL, an open source database. "No matter what happens, I control my own data. Sugar could disappear and my data remains in MySQL for to do what I want," he says.

No one would call either Sugar or Concursive a giant, but both have sizable user bases and are known to the IT analyst community. Concursive has extended its functionality into team collaboration; in fact the shift from its former name of Centric CRM was made to reflect the company's broader scope. Splendid has its partisans, but is admittedly quite small, and appeals to smaller businesses. There are scores more small open source CRM providers listed on sourceforge.net.

Is open source CRM right for you? There's no one answer. Those apps save money, are flexible, and give you lots of control over your data and infrastructure. If your company has had good experiences with Linux, or an open source database like MySQL, you'll be in a stronger position to recommend open source CRM to your management team. If you're not ready to take the plunge, a pilot deployment might well answer your questions, without much strain on the budget. Or, give it another few years. Linux grew up; so will open source enterprise applications.

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