Evaluating open source CRM software

Get started evaluating open source CRM software and find out if the open source model is right for you. Also, learn about open source for small businesses.

In this section, you'll find tips and best practices for evaluating open source CRM software. Learn about the advantages

and disadvantages of open source software, and get expert advice on figuring out whether the open source model is right for you. Also, learn about open source CRM for small businesses.

Table of contents:
Overview of open source CRM
Evaluating open source CRM software
Choosing an open source CRM vendor
Open source CRM implementation

 

  Evaluating open source CRM software  

Organizations evaluating open source CRM software over proprietary CRM are often looking for cost savings and the elimination of high software licensing fees. Others are interested in being able to deeply customize their CRM product by accessing the source code. Whatever the reason, it's important to understand the pros and cons of open source CRM and what you need to consider during the evaluation and decision-making process.

Why deploy open source CRM?

According to experts, companies considering open source CRM software need to begin the evaluation process just as they would for any CRM software application purchase.

Experts recommend following these steps when evaluating open source software:

 

  • Define your requirements
  • Compare features and functions
  • Verify facts with current users

    Organizations also need to establish why open source CRM meets their requirements -- whether it's because of price, access to source code, unique product features and functions, or the ability to customize the application. And though open source CRM software is "free," companies still need to take into account training, documentation, enhancements, bug fixes and the infrastructure required to run the system. These elements are typically delivered along with software purchased from a proprietary CRM vendor, but open source CRM users need to provide them on their own.

    Industry expert Donald Rosenberg suggests building a decision matrix that lists the qualities or features that meet the organization's business needs and the problems the open source software must solve. He then suggests determining how much each of those features is worth and listing them in order of importance. This can help organizations better understand what they value most when making a decision.

    Many businesses begin evaluating open source CRM because of the cost savings associated with running "free" software. Industry expert Jim Berkowitz strongly cautions against this – he believes cost-cutting and avoiding software licensing fees should not be reasons to move to an open source CRM model.

    "Before considering open source software for CRM, accounting, etc., you need to ensure that your IT organization has the specialized technical skills that will be needed to support this software and its underlying technical infrastructure," Berkowitz said. "I generally don't recommend open source solutions unless you have the open source infrastructure [Linux Servers, PHP, LAMP, MySQL platforms, etc.] and the IT staff needed to support these resources."

    According to Michael J. R. Whitehead, author of "Implementing SugarCRM," organizations should also consider factors such as business size, international needs, office structure and number of locations when evaluating open source CRM software.

    For example, a company with many international offices will need a CRM system that can support more than one language. In the book, Whitehead writes, "SugarCRM has support for nearly 20 different languages (although many languages are supported only via a non-validated user-created translation) at the user interface, but print-image documentation exists only in English, and no online help system is currently available. Another aspect of international support is the format in which dates are displayed. Your CRM should store dates in its own internal format, but display them to users in whatever format each user has selected as their preference. Common formats include 12.23.2006, 23.12.2006, and 2006.12.23. SugarCRM handles all these formats just fine."

    Read more from this chapter excerpt on implementing SugarCRM.

    Open source for small businesses

    Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) considering open source CRM often do so, first and foremost, because of price. Since there are no licensing fees, upgrade costs or initial software purchases associated with the open source model, it's very attainable for cost-conscious SMBs.

    According to industry expert Paul Greenberg, open source CRM is usually aimed at small businesses at the lower end of the midmarket. Aside from SugarCRM, most open source CRM applications aren't built to scale to large enterprises.

    Flexibility is a major benefit of open source for SMBs, since open source software doesn't lock users into vendor contracts and forced upgrades. Open source CRM software can grow as the company grows and can always be customized to meet the needs of the business.

    Many SMBs find themselves torn between open source CRM software and on-demand CRM. According to industry expert Paul Gillin, both options are great for SMBs, but it all depends on which factors matter most to the company doing the evaluating. Companies looking for a long-term implementation may want to go with open source CRM, Gillin said. It can be more expensive than on-demand CRM up front, and it takes longer to get up and running, but open source can end up costing less than on-demand in the long run as the business grows.

    Table of contents:
    Overview of open source CRM
    Evaluating open source CRM software
    Choosing an open source CRM vendor
    Open source CRM implementation

This was first published in February 2009

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