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Something for Nothing?
Freefire hopes to revolutionize the software development and distribution process by moving it to the Web
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Freefire (www.freefire.com), a fully owned subsidiary of Irvine, Calif.-based IMA, has introduced a new free-license distribution model to the CRM industry, one the company hopes will revolutionize the way software is created, distributed and acquired. "By eliminating the up-front fee and providing the software on a downloadable basis from our Web site, we're removing the multistep process of evaluating, budgeting and approving the project," says Joe LeMay, Freefire's vice president of business development. "We're putting the whole software acquisition process on the Web."

So what exactly is Freefire? First, it is a CRM enabling technology, much like Interactive Intelligence and Aspect. Its four Java-based, open standard components (channel management middleware, e-mail response management, CTI to link telephone and computer and route calls, and chat and collaboration) provide an upstream enabling solution for best-of-breed applications. With no up-front licensing fee, Freefire can eliminate some significant barriers to entry for client companies.

Which brings us to Freefire's second component, a CRM destination site. While customers can hire anyone to implement Freefire, they receive a discount rate from a certified integration partner like Computer Horizons, available directly from the Web site. Freefire will also host Web storefronts for providers of CRM products and services (including direct competitors) as well as providing content, including an industry news feed, seminars, forums and other resources. It is through these partners and services along with advertising and ongoing service fees (there are several levels of support) that they hope to become a profitable business-to-business, one-stop CRM marketplace.

Freefire is targeting midmarket companies who want to move from phone-based to fully digital interactions. It is positioning itself as an alternative to ASPs, which move part of the operation off-site. "As e-business makes demands on back-office integration," says LeMay, "many companies are seeing an advantage to keeping their operations under one roof."

Freefire's real innovation, according to industry analysts, is in its free-license business model. "The most interesting thing about Freefire is the distribution model," says GartnerGroup analyst Scott Nelson. "And its real potential is in the OEM market. Right now, there are over 50 niches of software solutions in the CRM space. Clearly, these companies have to broaden their solutions to survive. But this can become difficult the broader their solution becomes. As such, Freefire could become an OEM solution for many of the solutions.

Freefire's first beta client--www.iceguy.com--is up and running, and many new partnerships are now in the works. So the marketplace will now judge whether Freefire's new free-license business model has the heat to sustain a revolution in the CRM industry.

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