Whether you are automating for the first time or replacing your existing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software system, be sure to scope out every possibility. That includes taking a hard look at whether an open source CRM system can fill your company's business needs while possibly saving you money and delivering more software flexibility.
If you are thinking about an open source solution, here's a short list of four important questions, where the answers will guide your decision on whether to consider this alternative technology.
First, why open source?
For most it begins with either cost savings or increased software flexibility. If you can't find exactly what you need among packaged customer relationship management software solutions, you can tweak or heavily customize an open source system to add features or create exactly what you need.
Open source also provides a trial option. You can download these systems and use them for as long as you'd like, without any reduced feature sets or limited trial periods.
You can also involve your own IT staff in the development process to work on the features you would like to see added or expanded. And just because these systems are open source solutions doesn't mean you necessarily have to switch operating systems from Windows over to Linux or make other infrastructure changes. Many open-source CRM solutions are built to run on Windows and multiple platforms.
Second, what are the possible risks or drawbacks of open source?
Well, there is no one-throat-to-choke like you may have with a proprietary or commercial vendor who directly sells software licenses and support for their products. If you desire that level of assurance, assuming you are able to get it, then open source may not be a fit for your company.
But what you do often find are suppliers, service providers and entire communities that offer credible fee and free support programs for their open source applications, which give you various levels of response and assurance.
Third, who will be accountable when issues or problems arise?
You will be accountable. But it doesn't necessarily mean you are alone. You may find paid support partners, and your own IT staff will learn how they can use open source communities to get knowledgeable help and support as needed.
You will also likely find that many other businesses have incurred some of the same issues as you are experiencing and that answers to those challenges have already been posted for others to learn from. In fact, the support process may make your IT staff even better in their roles by reinforcing how to leverage others and find the right answers to the problems you are having with your IT systems.
Fourth, where do you get started?
Do your research, a lot of research. Read open-source CRM software reviews. Talk to peers. Talk to IT and business users who are already using these applications. Go to an open source IT conference and meet other adopters. Listen to their experiences and gain from their insights. Become an educated and smart buyer, whether for open source or proprietary applications.
Then when you are ready to make an informed decision go ahead and dive in, at least on some test-bed machines or in a pilot. See how the applications work for you and if there are gains to be achieved. Talk to your IT staffers and ask what they think. Try the free versions of the products or explore the fee-based 'enterprise' versions that are often offered, which include full support and additional features.
Open Source CRM Solutions
Below is a sampling of some market share leading open source systems that you can explore and compare to your company's business and IT requirements.
- SugarCRM is the category leader. In the last two years, it has been downloaded more than a million times. Plenty of companies are using it and it offers a strong support community.
- OpenCRX is a CRM solution that includes enterprise-wide coordination of sales generation, sales fulfillment as well as marketing and service activities to customers, partners and suppliers.
- OpenTaps is an enterprise resource planning (ERP) and CRM suite which includes several open source projects, including Apache Geronimo, Tomcat, and OFBiz for its data model and transaction framework; Pentaho and JasperReports for business intelligence and Funambol for mobile device and Outlook integration.
- CiviCRM is perfect for not-for-profit and governmental entities who need a feature rich constituent relationship management application.
- VtigerCRM includes modules for sales force automation, marketing automation, customer support and service, calendaring, inventory management and more.
- ConcourseSuite is an application from Concursive Corporation.
- SplendidCRM offers a product that runs on Windows servers. The company charges $10 per month per user for its community-based version, and higher fees for its professional, enterprise and other versions.