Open-source is a software development philosophy in which source code is made freely and openly available to the general public. Any interested party can download the code, modify it to their heart’s content, use it how they see fit and, if they wish, distribute their modified version for others to use.
Large amounts of openly available code can make it easier to start developing complex applications. A lot of the heavy lifting has already been done, and development teams just need to tweak the code for their purposes. Most software, even privately developed programs, are built on at least some code from open-source libraries.
Like other developers, CRM vendors also take advantage of the open-source libraries. Some CRM is developed completely as open-source, while some is a hybrid of open-source and privately developed code. While there are some compelling reasons to choose open-source CRM, there are also some considerable limitations. Understanding both is crucial when deciding between open-source and proprietary CRM.
Advantages of Open Source
Open-source CRM offers several benefits that you may be able to take advantage of. Of course, these are only advantages if you have the resources to exploit them.
Free or Low-Cost
Most open-source applications are available to you at no cost. Some developers offer higher levels of support with a paid fee, but the basic code is yours for nothing. If you have the time and the talent to modify the code for your needs, you can save a lot on licensing fees.
Open-source code is meant to be torn apart, tinkered with, and rebuilt. Your team can take the source code and turn it into whatever you need it to be. If you know exactly what you’re looking for, and don’t want a lot of extraneous parts, then open-source CRM may be for you.
Commercial CRM vendors typically require a licensing commitment of at least a few months. This could leave you paying for a system that you don’t like or don’t use. With open-source CRM, there are not time commitments. You can use it for as long as you like, and quit using it without any fear of penalties.
Disadvantages of Open Source
Every CRM system is going to have its limitations. Open-source CRM has limitations that are particular to its underlying design philosophy.
Open-source CRM vendors don’t offer much support for their free versions. While there are some options for paid support, you might as well buy the CRM if you’re going to go that route. With open-source, most of your support is going to come from developer forums that might not respond quickly or accurately.
If you’re looking for all of the bells and whistles, open-source CRM may not be your best bet. A lot of the development is conducted by people during their spare time, so the focus is more on critical functions than slick GUIs and robust integrations.
Assuming that you have onsite devs who can tweak your open-source CRM, there’s a chance that they’ll always be tweaking it. At some point, you need a system that works, and fills the majority of your needs. If your dev team is constantly “fixing” things, the system is never really complete, and your employees may be constantly adapting to the latest “fixes.” Worse yet, your employees may start bugging the dev team for new functions and features that weren’t on your list, further delaying completion.
Examples of Open-Source CRM
There are more than a few open-source CRM vendors on the market today; here are some of the better-known ones.
- SugarCRM – SugarCRM is one of the, if not the, most popular open-source CRM solutions available. Their community edition is free, has a wide variety of features, and is supported by a large community of professional and amatuer developers.
- Vtiger – Built on a variety of open-source software and licenses, Vtiger has been downloaded more than three million times. Priced at just twelve dollars per month per user, Vtiger includes direct support, as well as developer forums.
- Zurmo – Zurmo is an open-source CRM system that uses aspects of gamification to promote end user engagement. In short, they try to make it fun- or at least interesting- to use CRM. They offer free and paid versions with improved support and features for paying subscribers.
- SuiteCRM – SuiteCRM is a free, open-source alternative aimed at enterprise-level subscribers. A software fork of SugarCRM, SuiteCRM is meant to compete directly with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Salesforce, and paid editions of SugarCRM.
Who Benefits From Open-Source?
Open-source CRM can benefit any company, but there are some situations that would probably enhance its utility. Small companies and startups may not need all the bells and whistles as much as they need to save capital. For those businesses, free or low-cost open-source CRM may be a good way to get critical functionality without paying for all of the trimmings.
On the other hand, businesses that have a robust development team on site could benefit from the ability to fully customize an open-source CRM solution. However, you should keep in mind that not all development experience is the same. Experience developing apps for your customers may not translate into an ability to develop CRM for your company. Also, an in-house team does run the risk of facing perfection paralysis.
Time Sink Or Saver?
Like any CRM system, you should have well-defined criteria for what you expect from the software. You should have clear reasons for why you want CRM, what you expect the benefits to be, and how success will be measured. Treat open-source CRM with the same care you would give any large software implementation and it will offer real solutions for your business.
Open-source CRM is only a pet project if you treat it as one. Even if it’s free, open-source CRM will likely require a large commitment of time and energy. If that time and energy isn’t properly focused, then it will be as wasted as if it had been spent on a pet project.