CRM's Future: Open Source?

Don't expect Siebel or PeopleSoft to disclose their secret sauce any time soon, but open source technologies are starting to crop up in CRM, from the server platform to the user interface. Currently, pure open source CRM packages are small names in the marketplace. Compiere, for example, a combination front-office/back-office suite that offers sales and contact management and limited customer support capabilities, has a number of live customer sites around the globe and a Connecticut-based corporate office providing paid support. Anteil offers Web-based SFA functionality in a lightweight application suitable for installation on Linux servers. Although Compiere is a popular project among open source developers, neither Compiere nor Anteil is believed to have substantial market share. Behind the scenes of customer data management, however, open source databases such as MySQL and Postgres are gaining respect in the marketplace. There is a growing expectation that the types of applications that might have exclusively supported Microsoft SQL or Oracle in the past will begin migrating to open source variants. Even back-office giant SAP has shown support for open source data warehousing, releasing an open-source version of its own database technology. MySQL AB, the company that provides commercial licensing and support for the MySQL database, also governs, licenses, and supports MaxDB, the open source version of SAP DB. "They're also working to certify MySQL for SAP," says Paul Kirby, research director at AMR Research. And with good reason. "It is possible to scale down a commercial offering to say that for a certain small number of seats it becomes cheaper, but as soon as you scale up to any reasonable volume, open source is cheaper," Kirby says. This conundrum is currently playing out with ACCPAC CRM, which recently added a free IBM DB2 license to its standard package. The catch? The free license covers just three users. "The MySQL licensing is not as attractive to enable us to [offer free the way we do with DB2]," says Craig Downing, ACCPAC vice president of product management. (MySQL licenses range between $250 and $500 per server, before support costs.) Open source is also seeking a foothold on the desktop. While Microsoft Internet Explorer is the default browser on the vast majority of enterprise desktops, some have complained that advancing its capabilities has been a low priority for Microsoft, and there is no version of the program for Linux desktops. The most popular open-source browser, Mozilla, has roughly 11 percent of the browser market, according to Refsnes Data, and the frequent updates and feature/functionality expansion shown by the open source project has been winning converts in recent years. While still a small share of the user base, Mozilla's presence has convinced some CRM developers to support it, including ACCPAC CRM and NetSuite. "There is a big focus on Java versus ActiveX, but I am not optimistic about Mozilla replacing IE as a corporate platform," Kirby says. "At this point, it would take some very strong customer demand" to start replacing corporate investments in closed-source technology, says Denis Pombriant, managing principal at Beagle Research Group.
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