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Tips and best practices for implementing open source CRM

When implementing open source CRM, pay attention to budget and functionality, as well as other CRM implementation best practices, says expert Richard Boardman.

My company is looking to implement open source CRM software. How does an open source CRM implementation differ from other CRM implementations? Are there things we should be aware of, or areas where we will need to invest more resources in order to ensure a successful rollout with open source?
I think a lot of the fundamentals about implementing CRM technology hold true regardless of whether you are implementing open source CRM or conventional commercial CRM software. For more information about implementing CRM, see my recent Q/A on CRM implementation pitfalls.

However, there are a few areas where I think you may need to pay more attention when implementing open source CRM...

technology. While you can get a lot of functionality for little or no money with open source CRM, I've generally found that you don't get the breadth and depth of functionality available through commercial packages, and some of the features you might take as a given in mainstream applications aren't necessarily included. This makes it even more important than usual to identify your needs, match them against the available functionality and have a good plan for filling the gaps.

Another challenge with open source CRM software is that it is often more difficult to find capable implementation partners than it is with other applications. I'd imagine this reflects the fact that open source tends to be adopted by smaller, lower-spending organizations, and that the absence of margins to be earned on the software means there aren't the commercial foundations for an extensive network of suppliers offering the full range of support services. This means that you may need to be more creative in accessing resources, perhaps working with a number of suppliers and freelancers, and you would need to be even more careful than normal in terms of due diligence, especially in terms of ongoing financial viability.

Lastly, I think that the fact that open source software is free causes many organizations to set unrealistic expectations for the overall project budget. You're going to need to do things such as gather requirements, customize software, migrate data, integrate with other systems, project manage, train staff, etc., regardless of whether the software is open source or commercial. You're likely to need outside assistance to do this, and it will cost you. I think a lot of organizations head down the open source route unaware that there may be a significant service cost element if they are to be successful.

This was last published in January 2009

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