The “Last Mile” of Commercial Open Source Evangelism

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I think most of the tech world “gets” the value of commercial open source. But right after posting my last entry regarding some misconceptions about “how open” a vendor might be, I immediately was made aware of an interesting discussion over at IT Toolbox which was looking at open source from the other direction. It seems a CRM decision maker was looking to deploy a CRM , and had some questions about open source providers.

While we do a good job, and by “we” I mean the open source community in general, of validating our model, there are a lot of decision makers out there at all levels – from the OS to apps, that have either not heard of open source alternatives or still fall victim to the proprietary FUD.

In the replies to this thread at IT Toolbox, I saw a lot of these common misconceptions about the nature of open source software bandied about, especially as it applies to SugarCRM. Here is a slightly abridged version of my reply in the thread:

First off, in the commercial open source model, the CRM software is not simply an aggregate or “supported” version of some compiled bit of code that a few people decided to try and make money around. Rather, SugarCRM, for example, has a centrally managed and developed IP that ONLY SugarCRM employees can access at the deepest level. This insures that business users of SugarCRM’s commercial offerings receive a solid, stable, secure and scalable CRM product.

Now, the large community surrounding a project like SugarCRM is providing a huge benefit. For example, this large community tests, debugs and otherwise solidifies the Sugar releases prior to GA. This not only drives significant costs out of the system, resulting in a lower cost commercial version, but also increases quality, Many closed-source vendors have a few hundred or maybe a few thousand involved in beta tests. SugarCRM, on average, has TENS of thousands.

So, that said, at the end of the day, bits are bits, and an open source solution is just as capable of handling CRM needs as a proprietary system. What’s more, under the open source model, it is far easier to test drive the system before committing any resources to a vendor – making sure a firm makes the right CRM decision.

Ultimately, it comes down to the requirements of the CRM initiative. If the CRM system has these functional components, then it will be a good fit, regardless of development or business model of the vendor.

However, it is important to ask yourself these kinds of questions: How flexible is this CRM system? Am I making my decision based on “out of the box” functionality that may be irrelevant in a few months or years? Can I quickly make changes to the core system to fit my changing business needs. Can I draw from a large third party community that may have already performed customizations that are publicly available for free?

More often than not, open source solutions allow organizations to change their IT environment in tune with changing business needs far more easily, and for less investment, than proprietary alternatives.