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Choosing an open source CRM vendor

Get help choosing an open source vendor and finding the best open source CRM system for your needs. Read about open source applications from SugarCRM.

The open source marketplace is relatively small and, according to industry expert Paul Greenberg, many of the open...

source CRM software vendors have very little market impact. In this section, Greenberg outlines the vendors that make up the open source CRM market and discusses each vendor's customer base, the number of downloads their products have, and whether or not their open source CRM software is free of charge.

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


  Choosing an open source CRM vendor  


Paul Greenberg
Paul Greenberg

 Open source CRM vendors are not all that prolific and, beyond a very few, have little impact on the market. That doesn't mean, however, that the smallest of the operators are without merit -- they should, like any other CRM vendor, be considered as a competitive possibility. In general, open source should not be a determining criterion -- just a consideration that needs to be accounted for in your vendor choice. Ultimately, vendor choice should be based on the requirements of your company, and if an open source vendor – large or small – fulfills those requirements, by all means use an open source vendor. But recognize that because they are open source doesn't make them any better or worse as applications – their production model is different and may be more suitable for some, but certainly not determinate for most.

What you see here is not an exhaustive survey and analysis but a brief look at the current open source CRM market. Outside of SugarCRM, I haven't seen any of these applications in a production environment, nor have I seen a demo from their senior staff, which is what I require in order to make a final judgment on the release of a product. I'm not endorsing any of these vendors, nor am I a detractor of any -- at least not in this guide.

Editor's note: Please consider the following information as a place to start your research of the open source market. Contact the vendors directly for more information, or talk to your consulting partner if you are considering open source CRM.

Carousel CRM
This is a really peculiar open source CRM application because it's actually built directly on the SugarCRM platform. It has strong SFA functionality and stakes its claim on its ability to synchronize with Microsoft Outlook and work offline. It has some basic analytics capabilities and a dashboard that provides some useful sales information that can be customized.

There have been more than 30,000 downloads of Carousel CRM through December 2008. What is also interesting is that it's offered on SugarForge, the developer network for SugarCRM.

Nothing stands out in particular about CentraView, in my opinion. It is an open source CRM application that provides basic application functionality in sales, marketing and customer support. It does have some back-office functionality – a human resources module. There are both on-premise and hosted versions. You can freely download it, and it is a J2EE-based application suite. Its target market, like most open source CRM applications, is the small business.

CentraView has only a small market footprint. If you look at the download numbers for CentraView since its inception in May 2005, they total 33,744 through the latter part of December 2008, with a year-over-year decline. In fact, the peak in the number of downloads was during the first seven months of CentraView's existence -- from May 2005 through December 2005, there were 11,518 downloads, just over one-third of its overall total.

Compiere is a little different from "the others" because it offers not only open source CRM but open source ERP and supply chain management as part of an overall suite. Compiere provides back- and front-office applications as a single offering. Because of this unusual arrangement, it has somewhat eclectic industry-specific versions that you don't usually find in standard open source CRM software, including retail, distribution, manufacturing and professional services. Compiere is available on-premise, multi-tenant or hosted (the on-premise, licensed version hosted elsewhere). Compiere comes in three versions -- a Community edition, which is free, and Standard and Professional versions that require at least 10 users for a minimum subscription term of one year. Compiere, much like NetSuite, has a core that is driven by order management, because of its ERP offering in particular. The company sees itself as providing a "model-driven platform" to develop all varieties of back- and front-office applications. Compiere's CRM functionality is basic and has strong sales force automation (SFA) components.

Compiere has been strongly backed by venture capitalists -- so strongly that in 2006 a part of the Compiere developer community felt that Compiere was being held hostage by its backers, and they broke away to form the Adempiere open source project. Compiere is licensed under the Gnu General Public License version 2.

You may know Concursive by its former name, Centric CRM. Making changes midstream and taking risks in marketing, branding and business development approaches seems to be something the company is willing to do. For example, the company is currently offering free Concursive usage for a full year for businesses of up to 100 seats. That's a pretty big risk, but smart too. Concursive is well capitalized and has an aggressive and experienced management team.

Concursive offers a wide range of choices that can be delivered either on demand or on premise. It has a free User-Group edition (up to five users), a Community edition for which the company provides source code, and the more generally pitched Enterprise edition for slightly larger SMBs and enterprise-level departments. What really makes it slick is Team Elements -- Concursive's integrated Enterprise 2.0 package, which includes RSS feeds, wikis and other collaboration elements. As part of its more traditional offering, Concursive 5.0 incorporates nontraditional CRM functions such as website design and collaboration capabilities. Concursive is highly customizable and has easy administrative control. All in all, this is a serious offering.

Cream CRM
This is one of the few open source CRM applications that was developed strictly for a vertical market. Created as part of the Campware initiative of the Media Development Loan Fund Center in Czechoslovakia, and focused on media in particular, Cream CRM has strong, media-focused functionality, including sales order tracking, payments, shipments and services and online and print subscriptions. It also monitors marketing effectiveness with an analytical engine. Cream CRM even has a module with strong HTML-based Web development. It is part of a total suite of applications that include products for newspaper/magazine Web publishing, radio broadcast automation and distribution management for print media.

While there hasn't been a new version since the release of version 3.0 in August 2007, this is an interesting, free, open source CRM package that seems to have a following that continues beyond its last release.

This is one of the more surprising open source CRM vendors. Created by a Spanish company, Knowgate, the offering, which is entirely free, has a somewhat unusual version of CRM functionality, a vast partner network that supports it, and a developer community that seems enthused by it. What they don't have is marketing, but because they're free, they don't really need it, do they?

Hipergate functionality is interesting, but it only borders on traditional CRM -- if that's what you're looking for. It is an on-premise offering that invested more heavily in collaboration tools (e.g., groupware) and project management than in sales, marketing and customer service. It does provide some basic sales and customer service functionality but not what you'd expect in a full-blown CRM application suite. The user interface is functional, though not terribly attractive. What is completely amazing is its partner community, which extends globally into an incredible array of countries, ranging from the U.S. to Iran and Saudi Arabia. Hipergate has more than 40 partners in Latin America alone, and its network extends possibly into hundreds.

They are licensed under the GNU Affero General Public License 3.

This might win the award as the most comprehensive, feature-rich open source CRM application outside of SugarCRM. It has all the necessary functionality to meet most of the needs of an enterprise-level department or a midsized firm when it comes to sales and customer service. Among its enterprise-level functionality is complex contract management and case management for customer service, territory management, and pricing for sales. Marketing is not available for OpenCRX. It adds ancillary functions too -- such as incident management and bug tracking, product management, and more germane, groupware/collaboration features.

OpenCRX's scalability is one of its claims to distinction. The company says that it can scale as well at the enterprise level, what they call a "globally distributed cluster," down to the single install on a laptop without changing a line of code. This is an under-the-radar, very popular open source CRM application with just short of 226,000 downloads by mid-December 2008 since its launch in late 2004.

SplendidCRM is distinguishable by its very Microsoft-centric vision and architecture. It is built on the .NET framework and uses SQLServer as its database. SplendidCRM was written in Microsoft C# and it resides on Windows Server 2008's 64-bit network. It has a normal CRM feature set and covers all three silos -- sales, marketing and customer support -- but SplendidCRM doesn't particularly stand out for its functionality. The company recently announced a Software as a Service (SaaS) offering of its most recent release, SplendidCRM 3.0 Live -- all built on and using the Microsoft 64-bit technology stack. The company is part of Microsoft's BizSpark program, which is an accelerator program for small businesses in the startup or early stages.

SplendidCRM has had 100,000 downloads and 5,000 installs -- a decent number, but it has a long way to go. The company seems to have its own open source license, and it uses SugarCRM's license too.

SugarCRM is the "ne plus ultra" of open source CRM. In my opinion, it stands head and shoulders above all the other open source CRM vendors. SugarCRM's features and functions are comprehensive -- it covers sales, marketing and customer service. It has a platform that allows its developer community and business partners to create applications that can both enhance the current offering and fix problems directly. However, SugarCRM's model is to use paid employees to develop the core applications and use the 100,000-strong SugarForge/SugarNetwork to develop ancillary features, add-ins and new applications built on top of the platform. This means that the most important capabilities are quality controlled and consistent with the standards that SugarCRM uses internally and are not dependent on the external community. Yet the variety that the external community can provide is exceptionally broad. With the recent SugarCRM 5.2 release, the company has added long-awaited social functionality such as "SugarFeeds," which serve as connectors to Facebook-like external social networks.

SugarCRM has 4,500 customers, 500,000 users and a dominant market position. There is, honestly, no vendor even close to SugarCRM when it comes to open source CRM. The company has the above-mentioned developer network and the Sugar Exchange -- a marketplace where developers and business partners who have done something on the Sugar platform can sell their wares.

SugarCRM is offered both on premise and on demand in three commercial editions: Professional, Enterprise and Community. There is also a free version with limited functionality. All in all, the functionality in the traditional sense of CRM -- sales, marketing and support -- is complete and, like any other CRM system, varies in quality.

Tustena CRM
Tustena CRM is another CRM package written in Microsoft C#. It has on-premise and on-demand versions. It is not strictly open source CRM, however. Until 2008, it was a hybrid, offering both proprietary and open source, freely available versions. This was one of the more functionally rich and ambitious packages, in both the proprietary and open source versions, but the company stopped offering its open source enterprise version as of 2008.

Vtiger is brought to you by Adventnet, the same people who brought you Zoho, a Web-based collaboration suite with a CRM product. Vtiger is aimed at the small and lower end of the midmarket and doesn't look to scale beyond that. That's why its integration with social tools like the Atlassian Confluence enterprise level wiki platform is a welcome extension. Besides Vtiger's integration with Atlassian, it has a few unique features, such as inventory management, which -- though not strictly in the realm of CRM -- are certainly critical to customer strategies. Vtiger has a reasonably intuitive interface and integrates most of the usual suspects such as PHP, Apache and MySQL directly into the offering, rather than demanding an independent installation of the pieces whether in Linux or Windows -- a distinct advantage for SMBs.

Vtiger has had more than 1.5 million downloads of its product which, outside of SugarCRM, far exceeds the use of most open source CRM applications. It also has a very strong global partner network, with roughly 70 partners on all continents that host Vtiger or develop apps and extensions with Vtiger's source code.

Vtiger is free, but support can be pricey, though not outrageous. Vtiger has a vibrant community, dedicated advocates and a developer zone for those who want to go deep into Vtiger's source code.

Even though I feel obliged to mention it exists, there hasn't been a new release of this primarily SFA application since 2006, which makes me wonder about its existence, in a non-existential way, of course. However, there have been nearly 8,800 downloads of this mysterious open source CRM package since January 2008.

For more information about the vendors in the open source CRM market, browse Inside CRM's list of the top 10 open source CRM solutions.

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

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