Many of the open source telephony systems available today are somewhat immature and lack some of the functionality taken for granted in long-established call center environments. Also, maintenance and support for open source applications is left either to volunteers via message boards (the community), or to third-parties who provide support for packages that they often helped create, for a fee. Examples of this kind of relationship include the support available from Digium for the telephony infrastructure product Asterisk, and SugarCRM's support for their open source CRM software.
Most of the adoption of open source call center software to date has been in smaller environments where the IT staff is willing and able to install and maintain the product. This is because open source software is often a "do-it-yourself project," requiring the ability and resources to do your own implementation, integration, troubleshooting and ongoing maintenance and support. Additionally, most of the currently available open source products are more suitable for small call centers, which can get along with a fairly basic feature set and do not require a great deal of integration with other enterprise systems. Installing open source software in a large, multi-site call center environment, while doable and potentially a good way to save money on software and installation expenses, requires a good deal of internal IT and telephony resources on an ongoing basis.
As with any technology acquisition, it is important to do your homework before committing to a mission-critical technology. Compile a list of functionality that is needed to support the department and then determine if the open source application under consideration has what you need. One unique thing about open source products is that prospects can download their source codes and test them out before making a major investment. You can also read up on what the open source community associated with each of the various packages has to say. The more popular open source products have websites where there are active community discussions about current issues and the company's plans to address them. For an example, visit Sourceforge.net.
This was first published in January 2009