(This post originally appeared on Forbes)
A shout-out to Ankush Das, a tech blogger who put together a really nice list of 11 “open-source” CRM applications for the Linux-focused website It’s FOSS.
Das recommended products like SuiteCRM, Vtiger, EspoCRM, YetiForce and others – both well-known and more obscure – and they all represent a good variety of choices for companies that have a developer mindset.
Open source products like the ones included in Das’ list mostly come with the ability to be hosted internally or by a hosting provider, offer free and paid versions based on either the number of servers or users and include documentation and support provided by the application’s developer communities.
But with so many out of the box, mainstream CRMs available on the market today, why would you consider an open source product for your business? For most that take this road it’s about one thing: freedom. They hate to be a slave to a software company’s annual fees, support contracts, forced upgrades and customization constraints, let alone expose their data to the security policies of a third party. People want more control and open source gives you the ultimate control.
There are other strong arguments in favor of open source CRM. Instead of starting from scratch, you can begin with an application that already has built in features and then create your own system that specifically does what you need it to do. You’re not confined by the vendor’s limitations. You can build something that matches your company’s processes rather than having to conform to the vendor’s. You can create a solution that would not only be used internally but can then be packaged up and sold to others in your industry, should you have an interest in getting into the software business.
Open source CRM has advantages, for sure. But for those companies that ask me whether this type of solution is right for them I always make sure that they’re aware of one big problem: freedom.
Advocates say that these types of solutions give you the ultimate freedom to do what you want. To me though, it’s the opposite. Your freedom to build your solution, create new features, integrate it with your website, ecommerce platform, accounting system and other applications and then ensure the needed support, scalability and security rests with your development team. The open source vendors mentioned by Das are all good but they’re not going to help you once your developers start making changes to their code. Your developers are going to become the masters of your system and if your system becomes core to your business – a likely scenario – then you will be completely reliant on them. Is that freedom?
So what about the future? What happens if your developers leave? What happens if you have a falling out? What happens if your developers decide to go rogue, believing that they know what’s best? Most importantly, what happens if you decide to sell your business and a buyer – who will be very interested in your CRM data – is put off by the propriety of your CRM application? I’ve seen this happen. With a traditional CRM system, you can turn to the vendor’s partner community and they can undo what’s been done. With an open-source CRM you’re going not going to have as many options, if any.
I don’t want to dissuade from going open-source because the risks I mention may be outweighed by the benefits of having such a flexible, customized system. But if you do want the freedom that these types of applications can provide for your business, just be aware of the freedom you may be risking if you choose to go down that road.