Successful Open Source CRM Solutions
Because open source CRM software projects don't normally have the financial backing, operational infrastructure or corporate governance as their commercial software counterparts, thorough due diligence is a must to prevent making significant investments into a product that is about to become extinct. Several criteria can be assessed to determine the relative health and viability of an open source CRM software or other business software solution.
Strong open source communities are critical in making software solutions stable, reliability, secure and around for a long haul. Communities should be evaluated by activity, transparency and size measured in both volunteer and compensated participants. Communities often democratize the planning and evolution process, which of course has both positive and negative consequences. When evaluating communities, look for vision and clarity with the most strategic decisions made, review discussion forum threads to determine the level of salient and substantive content, and analyze the airing of both positive and negative comments.
Every successful open source project is driven by a benevolent leader who exercises control of the product direction while at the same time shows humility in seeing the value of other peoples work. Successful projects incur long gestation periods and delayed rewards. It's the leader's role to organize the team, keep the team together through its long incubation, delegate work tasks, impose discipline, reward participants and possesses the market knowledge and skill to steer which contributions make into the product and which do not.
Unique ideas and solid purpose
Open source projects which seek to mimic or commoditize commercial software products are generally doomed to failure. The most successful open source solutions use innovative ideas to solve business problems in a way that they haven't been solved before. Compare either MySQL or Linux to OpenOffice. MySQL was released as a lightweight database, without many capabilities offered by Oracle, SQL Server or DB2, however, with the unique capability to act as a high speed, read only database that could server HTML web pages lighting fast. While Linux was born a Unix derivative, its innovation was its ability fully leverage commodity hardware without dumbing down the operating system. This was a big change from the prior Unix vendors who reduced their operating systems functionality to a crippling level in order to accommodate cheap hardware. Compare these prior successes with poor performance of OpenOffice - a solution which lacks an innovative idea and is little more than a cheap imitation of Microsoft Office and continues to disappoint.
Open source solutions advance when goals are clearly stated, decisions are made openly, discussion threads are clear and analyze all relevant alternatives and mailing lists are active and frequent.
A healthy community imposes civil procedures and self discipline. Forum discussions and mailing lists maintain focus on the priorities and don't obsess on the small stuff. They also don't invite or tolerate personal barbs or participants intent on hijacking topics.
Technical and user documentation are the bane of developers and technical staff. Even successful open source projects often have dated, incomplete or missing documentation. The absence of reasonable documentation is a deal killer for mission critical business systems such as CRM and ERP applications. Open source projects that cannot be easily implemented by those outside its development pose real problems.
Technical staff turnover is a big problem in the open source community and the IT industry overall. An open source project should employ its key developers so that their interests and devotion stay committed to the project.
Open source licenses have branched and sprawled in numerous unpredictable directions. Some licenses are clear and some are extraordinarily difficult to understand. Some licenses may bring unintended intellectual property (IP) rights liability, some may not and nobody knows for sure which ones accompany such risk or even how real the risk it. Good legal advice and IP indemnification are essential before assuming an open source solution.
Companies need far more than email support from part-time volunteers. Before accepting commercial grade open source business applications, make sure that more than one recognized and credible support company is available.
While there are several open source economic models, the most famous is 'The Cathedral and the Bazaar' metaphor whereby highly centralized commericial projects are assembled near complimentary, decentralized open source projects.