Freedom & Affordability: Customizing an Open Source Solution
Pictured left: Bryan & Barbara Hogan
Most SMBs and nearly all large enterprises need a CRM system. The problem is that not all of these companies are aware of the best and most cost-effective options out there. Open-source software is community-based, collaborative software. Users have the ability to modify the source code of the software to fit their requirements and functions, and to distribute as many copies as they need. A lot of the commercial off-the-shelf software used today, including cloud based software, has been derived from open-source.
“We’re trying to empower companies to control their own software,” says Bryan Hogan, president, CEO and owner of Afidence. “It’s not about running open source; it’s about
customizing open source to give you what you need.”
While it may be the simpler option to purchase and use a solution from a well-known and reputable cloud-based software company, there are definitely drawbacks, Hogan notes.
A business can spend a lot of money each year subscribing to software like Salesforce.com, plus thousands in customization, training, and data migration. This can add up fast. Odds are you can implement, customize, and manage your own CRM system using open source software for significantly less.
While a business would still have to spend time and effort customizing and migrating data, it would be sure to save money in the long run, he adds, “There are open source platforms that provide a lot of functionality and much, if not most, of the functionality Salesforce offers, and since these platforms are open source, they are free.” Hogan points out that one of the best attributes of using open source software is the fact that a business can control it. “If you want to expand the functionality of your CRM system and that option doesn’t easily exist in Salesforce, you can choose to expand it in your own system if it’s based in open source.
“Just don’t assume you have to spend time and money to migrate and subscribe to someone else’s service as your only option,” he emphasizes.
Andy Hickey, senior lead consultant and senior project manager at Afidence, says it’s all about cost and freedom. “Companies are using this for their own internal operations. They’re using it to get things done. It makes a lot of sense now [to use open source software]. Also, the prices for licensing cloud software have gone up, and there’s such a
lock-in once they have you and it’s really hard to get out.”
Understand the Challenges
Using open source software is not without its disadvantages. “You have the benefit of owning it,” Hogan says, “so just like owning a house, you have to maintain it. So, if you subscribe to a cloud-based software company, they’re doing security patching and continually expanding the functionality, whether it benefits you or not.” You might not need all of the functionality, but you’re paying for it.
“The quality of the different projects is very uneven,” Hickey says, highlighting another cost. “Some of them are absolutely ironclad, and some of the others are projects that have just been started. A company starting on this journey needs to find a project that best suits where they’re at. Otherwise they’ll have to do a lot of work to catch that software up to where they need it to be.”
Add Value, Gain Freedom
“Companies large and small need CRM,” Hogan says. “We’re just finishing a project with a healthcare provider where they are building their own electronic medical records system since the ones that are available in the market really don’t address their needs. They want freedom and control because this is the software that runs their business.”
With this client, Hickey points out, “Everything they do runs through the software, from treating patients and scheduling patients to billing, receiving insurance payments and evaluations. They did the math and they found there would be a return on investment after three years.”
The value is not only monetary, as Hogan explains. “They’re getting a system that absolutely fits the need and functionality of their business. And they own it. They have complete control over the environment moving forward.”
“They are only building parts of the software that they actually want to use,” Hickey says. “In the future they are only making changes that they value. The best way the IT department can add value to the business is by controlling the software the business uses and by developing that software like the business wants.”
Companies Have More Options
Hogan offers his advice for those looking to run their business with an open source solution. “Before you decide you have to go for commercial, off-the-shelf software, look at your other options, especially if it’s a software that runs your business.”
He explains that five to ten years ago the alternatives weren’t great. You could subscribe to commercial software at a specific cost, or you could start from scratch, but that’s a very time-consuming activity. “And it’s expensive,” he adds.
Fortunately, there’s a big open source community out there. “When we started helping the healthcare organization build their medical records solution from open source, we found lots of people in the technology community who have done open source development work on the open source platform we used. Suddenly there are lots of forums we can go to and ask, ‘Has anyone run into this problem before?’ There’s this highly collaborative community out there.”
Hickey offers one last bit of advice: “Don’t be afraid to challenge your assumptions of what your choices are. Just because you think you’ve thought of everything, make sure to take the time to see if there is an option B or C.
“It’s a journey that we’re willing to help walk people along with,” he concludes.
Afidence is located at 5412 Courseview Drive, Suite 122, Mason, OH 45040. For more information, call 513.234.5822 or visit www.afidence.com.