The Top 10 Open Source CRM Systems
Open source Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems have a lot going for them: they're often less expensive, are more easily modified if you have an open-source-savvy IT staff, and if you lack that staff you can find developers readily and often at a less costly rate than for commercial or proprietary CRM applications. Open source CRM isn't for everyone, but if your business, or not for profit, has a pressing need to test-drive software before it buys, or to make some particular modifications to suit unique business requirements, open source business software systems should be a consideration.
It's also quite possible that open source systems may be a good bet for you if you're bent on harnessing social CRM, because you can add data links to social media channels as fast as they pop up – and you can mix and match them to suit your customers instead of waiting for a proprietary vendor to get around to it.
That said, open source CRM vendors come in all shapes, sizes and business models. To help you narrow the field, we took a long look at the market and selected what we believe to be today's top 10 open-source CRM vendors. By its nature, this is a fast changing market, so what's in the top 10 today may change in short order. In this CRM software review we examined utility, business models, developer communities and history, and that's led to this list of open source CRM vendors who have earned their stripes.
Founded in 2004 by the trio of John Roberts, Clint Oram and Jacob Taylor, SugarCRM has become a standard bearer for open source Customer Relationship Management solutions. Initially, the company's primary selling point was its open source underpinnings; the application is written in PHP and works with the MySQL and Microsoft SQL Server databases. However in recent years, the company's messaging has been refined to become not just as a competitor in the open source space but in the broader commercial CRM software industry as well. Recent improvements to the user interface, mobile support, knowledgebase, self service portal, upgraded analytics and dashboards, and several sales-oriented aspects of the Enterprise edition show how dramatically SugarCRM has focused on aggressively competing with proprietary applications, while leveraging open source technology as a secret weapon that could tip the scales with buyers.
The open source leaders newest thrust is around the idea of social media, or more particularly, social CRM. "Because we're open and flexible, it makes it easier to integrate social media sources and to do it quickly," said Martin Schneider, director of product marketing at SugarCRM. "Instead of having rigid, pre-defined connections, we give you the ability to bring in social data and use it as you see fit." The ability to build connections into emerging social media channels can deliver competitive advantages for those companies who recognize those channels first, he added.
This is not to say that Sugar is turning into a proprietary software company – far from it. The company nurtures a vibrant developer community, which now numbers over 22,000, and its free version has been downloaded over 7 million times. Simply put, SugarCRM is the market share leader in open source CRM systems by a wide margin at this time.
Open source finds a particularly warm welcome in developing markets, which has given vTiger an opportunity to build a significant user community in the seven years since it was founded – and its adding customers in the developed countries, like Nokia and Aegon USA, to increase its global customer base. The India-based software company boasts 1.5 million downloads of its LAMP/WAMP-based product, which comes with Sales Force Automation (SFA), marketing automation, customer service, inventory management, calendaring and email integration out of the virtual box, with add-ons available for Microsoft Outlook and Office, Thunderbird, a customer self-service portal and web forms.
"We are finding many customers can't wait for new versions of proprietary software to satisfy their particular business needs for specific features," said Sreenivas Kanumuru, vice president of product development for vTiger. "Open source allows them to get a fully functional product, then add customizations as they need them."
A new cloud-based version of the software came out in late July, which boasts the same customization capabilities as the regular vTiger solution, a feat not shared by many multi-tenant hosted products which impose customization limitations, Kanumaru said. "You have complete choice – you can use it as-is or you can make all the customizations you want and if desired, you can even move to a on-premise server later."
Not all CRM systems are Linux-based. Case in point is SplendidCRM, which is built on the Microsoft platform (SQL Server, Windows Server, IIS, .NET C# and ASP.NET) and is targeted to an indirect channel of consultants, value added resellers (VARs) and system integrators. Paul Rony, who helped found the company in 2003, says the idea is to provide a competitor to Microsoft Dynamics CRM for companies that still want to use underlying Microsoft technology.
"Most of the folks we chat with know what they're getting into," said Rony. "Most open source products tend to be Linux-style software, but our customers know what they want – the Microsoft platform, but with access to the source code."
In April, the company released version 4.4 of its product, which integrates tightly with Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 and incorporates reporting features of Visual Studio 2010. Not only does SplendidCRM target the reseller market, it also embraces the idea that it needs to educate that market in order to cultivate powerful partners, a philosophy that means its CRM software comes pre-loaded with access to developers who are prepared to handle software customizations to the application for users' unique business needs.
Rony also likes to emphasize the power of open source as a business benefit. "For example, fixes can be a problem with proprietary software sometimes," he said. "Having access to the code allows people to rebuild parts of the code in hours, not weeks." However, Rony said, that doesn't mean that the company's developer community is wide open. Partners aren't required to give code developments back to the community but can instead use them as competitive products. "We don't have the equivalent of SourceForge, but we also don't have the conflicts you can see in a more open situation," said Rony.
Another CRM open-source player that offers both a free version and an enterprise fee-based edition, Xtuple sweetens the pot by also offering back office ERP and industry versions designed for distribution, retail, professional services and manufacturing. Some might argue that this approach carves into the traditional value-added role of Xtuple's open source partners, but more sage thinkers appreciate the inclusion of these general vertical market foundations as a way of luring customers of various levels of sophistication.
Further, it results in greater participation by users who are faced with real-world business problems, meaning that software customizations have greater value, said Ned Lilly, president and CEO of Xtuple. "A meaningful percentage of our users get involved in the operating system – not that they're thinking of doing that when they first sign up, but later when they have a particular need," he said. "We've even had a couple of customers improve the operating system for their internal projects, then turn around and ask if they could hang out their shingle as Xtuple consultants."
While it bills itself as an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software provider, CRM is a key subset of the business software suite, making it an option for companies starting from scratch with their front office-back office software ecosystem, or looking to make the jump to a more integrated set of business applications. The various versions of Xtuple are all built with the PostgreSQL database and the Qt GUI client framework.
Founded in 2000 as Centric CRM, Concursive, like some others in its space, is trying to expand its reach beyond CRM into other business applications. The four major modules in ConcourseSuite are CRM, Web, Content and Team (which deals with collaboration), and they can be deployed individually or as an integrated suite in either Software as a Service (SaaS) or on-premise versions. The Centric product operated under the proprietary Centric Public License, but since the company changed its name in 2007 it's also changed its take on open source licensing and now uses both the older licenses and licenses approved by the Open Source Initiative consortium. The enterprise software is developed with Java/J2EE and Concursive's developer community now numbers more than 15,000 registered members.
Acquired by Consona in June of this year, Compiere offers a combined CRM/ERP suite in three different flavors – a community edition, which is free, and Standard, Professional and Enterprise editions, which go for $300, $750 and $995 per year, respectively. The company survived a spin-off by disgruntled users in 2006 called Adempiere, which was spurred by the belief of some users that the company had ignored the contributions of the community and product direction was driven mainly by the company's venture capital partners. The application is written primarily in Java, and over 1.8 million users have downloaded the software since the company's founding in 1999. However, the focus of the company has always been on ERP, with CRM a component of the larger system. If you're already happy with your ERP solution, it may not be worth your while to go with Compiere since much of the application's power is likely to go unused. However, if you're seeking enterprise-wide business systems and are inclined to go with open source, Compiere should go on your software selection short list.
Another CRM/ERP package, Opentaps is targeted at small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and was built on Apache Open for Business. The customer relationship management application provides basic functionality for sales, marketing and service. It also offers built-in business intelligence tools and mobility integration, including synchronization with Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar, and mobile phones. In July, version 1.5M1 was released, offering easier ways to import data, such as a new data import user interface. Again, if you're looking for a CRM point solution, Opentaps may not be for you, but if you're a small to medium-sized business looking to automate CRM and ERP business processes, this may be a good option.
Targeted at smaller organizations, CentraView is built on Apache Tomcat, JBoss, MySQL, Windows, Linux (Fedora, RedHat and others) and developed in Java (J2EE) and JSP. The CRM application is strongest in core CRM functionality such as contact management and activity management. Other functionality, such as Human Resources (HR), project management and customer support, are simplified and may not provide the depth needed for many organizations. The application made its debut in 2004, and is available in both hosted and locally installed versions.
A suite available via SourceForge.com, XRMS includes CRM, HR management and SFA functionality under one roof, with some additional aspects of business intelligence and computer telephony integration (CTI). Targeted at small to medium-sized organizations, the application is developed in PHP and is compatible with an assortment of databases, including ADOdg, Microsoft SQL Server and MySQL. Perhaps the application on this list with the business model most closely resembling the original open-source ideal, XRMS is primarily supported by its user community, making it a fit for companies that already have technical resources and an understanding of open source or who are willing to invest in attaining that knowledge quickly.
Targeted at public sector, non-profits, advocacy groups and political campaigns – all organizations with budget constraints and frequent needs for unique software functionality – CiviCRM exploits the benefits of public sector CRM particularly well. The application is licensed under GNU, and integrates with the Drupal and Joomla! content management systems. The web-based application is free and development is coordinated by the non-profit Social Source Foundation in conjunction with the application's Community Advisory Board.
"The open source route just made sense for what we were trying to do," said Dave Greenberg, one of the application's developers. "We're covering a pretty small sector, but it has a really wide variety of use cases to cover."
The lower cost of open source is also a factor in the application's widespread adoption, but "there are always some costs to enhancing a project," Greenberg said. "You'll have to have a system administrator, or pay someone external to do that for you." That hasn't hurt the popularity of the product; the software was downloaded 210,000 times in 2009, and the community forum has 11,500 members. "We're growing like gang busters," said Greenberg.
By Chris Bucholtz
A Buyer's Review of the Open Source CRM Software Market
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