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The following article was written for the Melbourne based Australasian Customer Focus magazine. The target size for this piece is 1200 words.
by Bruce Badger and Justin Butterfield
In the broader realm of relationship management, any discussion around a business providing better customer service nowadays needs to include the people, the process and the enabling technology requirements. So far, the story is the same, but what if you could forget about license fees on a vendors software?
We have all been reading a great deal in the press of late about open source software, and the Linux operating system in particular. An increasing number of mainstream vendors are making their products available on Linux, including Oracle and more recently PeopleSoft.
Where these big players go in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) market,the others will surely follow. It seems, then, that organizations that use these mainstream systems will have the choice of moving to the increasingly capable, economical and popular Linux platform.
But perhaps things don't end there. A new breed of commercial grade systems is on the horizon, and these systems are open source, just like Linux. Does this mean that powerful ERP and CRM systems will be available for just the cost of a download? Unsurprisingly, there is no free lunch, but there well be much better value to be had.
Open source software is software that you are free to use without restriction. You can make as many copies of the software as you wish, and you can change the software to better support your needs (which you can do because the source code is available), all without fee and without obligation.
So, if you just use the software internally, you can do pretty much anything you like. You are also free to give the software away to others, but if you choose to do this, you incur some obligations. In particular, you must give the new recipient of the software all the same rights and priviliges that you recieved, and that includes access to the source code.
You can find out more here: www.openskills.com/live/faqs.html.
Although open source software is freely available for the cost of a download, getting business value still requires planning, and may also require expert help. In other words, open source software is much the same as any other software once you're past paying the license fee.
Open source software used to provide services critical to a business really should be professionaly supported, and open source software has a great story to tell here too. Unlike the software itself, support is not free. But because the source is open, local companies can provide levels of support only previously available from technicians an ocean away. Direct access to technical help without intervening layers of beuracracy and help desks is just not available from the large software vendors, but is becomming increasingly common in the open source software world.
The elimination of license fees does not make open source software free of cost, but it does significantly reshape the demands that software systems place on budgets, allowing for far greater flexibility.
There are a growing number of open source CRM systems, and, as with proprietary software, each system offers a unique mix of features.
Here we briefly summarize two open source CRM systems.
Compiere is described as a "Smart ERP+CRM solution for Small-Medium Enterprises in the global marketplace covering all areas from customer management, supply chain and accounting. For $2-200M revenue companies looking for "brick and click" first tier functionality.".
Compiere is very widely used, and has been downloaded over 450,000 times since the project was started in 1999. English is the native language for the user interface which has been translated into 3 other languages, with another 14 in progress.
The companies that use Compiere get a highly functional base system which they can then extend into their specific business area. By giving their changes back to the project, companies benefit from shared support and further extentions and improvements to their own work. Like many open source projects, it is like the rising tide lifing all ships.
For companies that are not interested in software development and support, Compiere offers training and support services.
Details of Compiere can be found on their web site: www.compiere.org/.
Ohioedge CRM is much more focused on CRM than Compiere. They describe their system as follows: "Ohioedge Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is an online CRM application designed for $2-500M organizations requiring multi-functional, enterprise-wide coordination of sales generation (contact management) & fulfillment (business process/workflow management) activities.".
Ohioedge CRM is part of a larger open source programme called Open for Business, or OFBiz, for short (www.ofbiz.org/). The goal of OFBiz is to produce a suite of enterprise applications built on a common architecture using common data, logic and process components. The loosely coupled nature of the applications makes these components easy to understand, extend and customize. For companies who use OFBiz systems, this suggests that a wide range of enterprise systems will be coming along, and will all interoperate smoothly with each other.
The Ohioedge CRM systems is widely used and has an extensive range of features which they compare with other products including Goldmine and Siebel (www.ohioedge.com/kb/oesales/docs/product_comparison.htm).
The greater potential of an open source product is in the way it is created, because developers and the specialist skills they have, can be brought together over the net to collaborate on a project. Naturally the danger in 'reinventing the wheel' is radically diminished where a global knowledge resource of project managers, architects and developers is on tap. The source code has, more often than not, already been written in some form, tested and implemented somewhere for that purported 'unique' business process you as a business manager needed, to improve your productivity and profitability.
The capabilities of open source systems are contiuing to grow, and more systems are becoming available all the time.
There are great benefits to be had in this space, but care must be taken to make sure that the chosen path will yield the results that the company needs...
... just as you have to take care when looking at proprietary systems.
This is really the point here. Open source systems don't change all the rules of the game, but they change enough rules to open up some very worthwhile options.
For more information please contact:
Justin Butterfield at firstname.lastname@example.org and Bruce Badger at email@example.com
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