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Open source CRM tutorial

Get an overview of open source CRM software and learn about the advantages and disadvantages of open source software and the open source business model.

In this open source CRM tutorial, you'll find resources to help you better understand and leverage open source...

CRM as it applies to your own CRM strategy. Start with an introduction to open source CRM, including information on the open source CRM software market by CRM software expert Paul Greenberg. Find out the pros and cons of open source CRM and learn the top open source terms to know. Once you have a basic understanding of open source CRM, read on to get tips for evaluating open source CRM software and deploying open source CRM in your organization. Also inside is a complete overview of open source software vendors and expert advice for using open source CRM. This guide is your best resource for getting up to speed quickly on the open source trend.

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


  Overview of open source CRM  

In this section you'll find an overview of open source CRM, including an introduction to the open source CRM software market by Industry expert Paul Greenberg. Learn the pros and cons of the open source model and discover the top open source terms and definitions you need to know.

What is open source CRM?

An overview of open source CRM by CRM expert Paul Greenberg

 Before we get into what open source CRM is, I have to remind you of one thing. It's CRM -- regardless of how it's constructed. The applications are classically CRM, with sales, customer service and sometimes marketing -- the so-called "customer-facing" applications. Open source CRM can be delivered exactly the same way any other CRM is delivered -- as on-premise or on-demand, or even as a hybrid. It takes developers to develop it and implementation teams to install, configure and customize it. It takes skilled professionals to administer it, and it is used the same way that any CRM application or service is used -- by users. When doing a deep technical dive, it has a similar architecture and needs source code to develop the applications related to it. And, to bust a recurring myth, the open source model doesn't guarantee free software.

But where it differs is in the way the source code is distributed and in the culture that surrounds it. Those differences affect how it's priced and how it's used -- but not always. This is by no means a blanket condition. @REG

What is the open source model?

When you hear that something is "open source," you are actually hearing about a culture and a license. The source code for an open source application is freely provided under any one of a number of licenses approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI). For example, the license that SugarCRM uses is an unmodified version of the GPL version 3 license, but it is just one of 70 possible licenses. What these licenses provide is a somewhat constrained allowance for use of the software code under certain conditions. The conditions vary from license to license.

As much as open source represents a license, it is also the manifestation of a culture. It stands for "openness," meaning that proprietary, non-standards-based source code is not aimed for. It represents a culture that doesn't treat source as a trade secret but often retains it as owned intellectual property. It means that others are permitted to alter the code for their own purposes, though, again, within reason. The culture is also collaborative. Many of the open source vendors in any area have dedicated individual developers who spend time developing applications and add-ins, improving load times and making myriad other changes or additions to the source code. These developers do not work for the software companies. All of this is done with encouragement from the vendor providing the code. Often, vendors throw in other resources such as software tools or marketplaces to make the developers' lives easier or to enable those developers to sell the fruits of their labor.

Why choose an open source CRM application?

When it comes to evaluating open source CRM, it should be considered for the same reasons you'd consider any CRM software. Open source CRM doesn't provide more or fewer features or functions than any other CRM application. It doesn't have a different delivery mechanism. It can be implemented on-premise or on-demand. The one area where you might find a bit of an advantage is in the pricing of open source CRM. It is slightly less expensive than other CRM packages, often because the developer community working on it is working pro bono, for the love of developing that particular source code. If the open source CRM company is smart, it will pass on some of the cost savings to its customers.

What are the benefits and risks associated with the open source model?

The benefits of a good open source CRM application are the ones mentioned above -- pricing can be favorable for the customer, and there can be a wide array of applications, add-ins, or even fully customized versions of the open source provider's applications. This may not be available in more standard forms of CRM because the developer community is not as large or as open. Instead, many of the more traditional CRM companies have their own developers working on their tightly held proprietary source code. Innovation and creativity are stifled by this type of approach, so instead of a wide variety of additional capabilities or specific versions, they give you -- to their credit -- an improved version from a tightly controlled roadmap with specific features being developed.

There are risks, however -- the biggest being quality control over a community of unpaid developers, and the second being uncertain feature release dates and availability because the developers control their own destiny and are on their own time. The developers can't be held to any standard if they are involved in the core feature release. Some open source CRM companies have employed developers or paid contractors to work on features for core releases and have then had the developer community work on the ancillary capabilities. That's one way of avoiding the release date problems.

The other risk is that open source CRM is often built on open source platforms with open source tools. Typically, you'll need the right infrastructure (e.g., MySQL databases and Linux operating systems). If you are to use an open source CRM application, you can't ignore this. At a minimum, you'll need Linux to run the applications. This problem is, of course, mitigated by a hosted solution.

Also, because there are such robust external developer communities, there are always some concerns about the security of open source CRM. Because of the easy availability of the source code, writing malware to breach security is a bit easier to do, and there is no way to monitor the quality and/or qualifications of the individual developer without a strong quality-assurance program in place.

How much has the open source market grown in recent years?

There has been modest growth in open source CRM licenses over the past year, but nothing explosive. The open source market isn't really a market per se. It is part of the broader CRM market, and if you had to distinguish it in any way, you'd simply include it with the same distinctions raised between the on-demand market and the on-premise/traditional license market. There is no real reason to separate it out. Again, we're looking at a culture and a license, not a fundamentally new way of delivering or architecting CRM.

What is the up-front investment in open source CRM?

The classic consultant answer is: "It depends." For example, if you have a strong need for customization -- if you choose an open source CRM application with a robust developer community -- there is a chance that either what you need has already been developed or you can find a developer through the community to help you at less expense than through traditional means. Implementation costs are dependent on whether or not you're using a hosted or an on-premise version -- not unlike their proprietary cousins. It will always depend on what you need.

Open source CRM means that the code is licensed in a way that makes it more freely available, and the culture of the companies involved is more open. There are free versions, but even they will cost something to maintain and install. Providing support for those free versions is often how the companies that produce them make their money.

In conclusion, open source CRM is certainly a small but stand-out niche in the world of CRM, but it shouldn't be treated differently from a proprietary CRM package. Check out the features, functions, code, pricing, corollary applications, total cost of ownership and the professional services offered when you are making your decision. If open source CRM meets your requirements, use it.

About Paul
In addition to being the author of the best-selling CRM at the Speed of Light: Essential Customer Strategies for the 21st Century, Paul Greenberg is President of The 56 Group, LLC, a customer strategy consulting firm focused on cutting edge CRM strategic services, and a founding partner of the CRM training company, BPT Partners, LLC, a training and consulting venture composed of a number of CRM luminaries that has quickly become the certification authority for the CRM industry.

Open source terms to know

There are many common terms associated with open source software and open source CRM. In order to fully understand the open source model, you need to have a basic understanding of open source terms and definitions.

Open source: The term "open source" usually refers to any program whose source code has been made available and can be used or modified by users and developers. Usually, open source software is developed collaboratively and freely shared, and can be improved and redistributed by others.

Open source software (OSS): This term refers to software that has been developed, tested and/or improved through public collaboration and is freely shared with others.

Unix was one of the first open operating systems that could be improved or enhanced by anyone. It originated in Bell Labs in 1969 as an interactive time-sharing system, and over time it has evolved into a large freeware product, with many extensions and new ideas provided in a variety of versions by different companies and individuals.

Linux is a Unix-like operating system that was created to provide personal computer users with a free or low-cost operating system that is an alternative to traditional and more expensive Unix systems.

The Free Software Foundation was founded in 1983 by a group of people who set out to demonstrate that an entire operating system could be developed and shared freely, resulting in the Unix-like GNU. The Free Software Foundation charges an initial distribution price for the GNU, and any person who acquires the software has the freedom to modify and redistribute it, and even sell improved versions, as long as he also keeps his software free of restrictions.

For more open source CRM-related terms, browse the top five open source CRM software buzzwords.

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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