Bending the back office: Open source CRM and ERP

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Clouds and cloud connections A deeper decision is whether to use the company's hosting or install the software on your own machines. The word "cloud" is used differently by these three companies. SugarCRM, for instance, offers "cloud connectors" that integrate your version of SugarCRM with vendors that sell data about companies like Hoover's and Jigsaw. If you sign up a customer in the Hoover's or Jigsaw database, the cloud connector will pull in the general data, saving you the time. This is a pretty neat idea, but it doesn't have anything to do with hosting per se.

SugarCRM also offers hosting for its major versions. Small installations might choose Sugar Express, a hosted version of the community edition that's limited to 10 users, or the so-called Professional edition. SugarCRM also works with a large collection of partners that offer both customization work and hosting.

Compiere uses the word "cloud" to describe a version of its Professional edition that's been tuned for Amazon's EC2 cloud. It offers a disk image that can be started quickly without much installation work. You'll still have to do all of the customization, but the version includes some extra help. The bills from Amazon, though, are yours to pay. Openbravo doesn't offer this directly, but some partners have built their own Amazon Machine Images.

These aren't the only options either. The software is open source, after all, and the companies have found partnerships with groups of consultants. There are dozens if not hundreds of groups that will install these tools and customize them for you. Some bundle this with hosting and some specialize in coming into your office. Some of the consultants contribute actively to the project. Working with these insiders can be a good path to getting the features you need, and the extra code they write for your installation could find its way into the next generation.

The SugarCRM, Openbravo, and Compiere open source toolkits -- and many others like them -- are evolving quickly and efficiently to supply what the market really needs. The community editions are all quite useful and usually relatively easy to handle, but the companies are ready to customize and support the work. It's a convenient model delivering a robust community of suppliers that compete to create a very fertile ecology for the users, whether they're writing checks to the vendors or not.

This story, "Bending the back office: Open source CRM and ERP" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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