Bending the back office: Open source CRM and ERP

By Peter Wayner, InfoWorld |  Enterprise Software, ERP

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.

Open source CRM and ERP in a nutshell

  SugarCRM Openbravo Compiere
Current version 5.2 2.5 3.1
Editions and costs Community (free), Express ($7 per user per month), Professional ($30 per user per month), Enterprise ($50 per user per month) Community (free), SMB ($2,100 plus $700 to $560 per user per year), Enterprise ($1,050 to $560 per user per year) Community (free), Standard ($25 per user per month), Professional ($50 per user per month), Cloud ($66 per user per month)
Coding PHP XML and Java Java
Platforms Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, Solaris (Sparc or Intel); MySQL, SQL Server, or Oracle database Windows or Linux; Postgres or Oracle database; Tomcat application server Windows or Linux; Postgres or Oracle database
Pros and cons + Beginning integration with social networks + Broad support for community edition + Customer portal + Module builder allows everyone to change fields and tables + Many choices for commercial support - Many of the best features are only available in the professional edition + Same extensive functionality in the community and professional editions + Documentation wiki is wide open + Web GUI is a nice, updated version of the old green screens - Development means writing XML + Extensive CRM and ERP integration + Large collection of partners available for customization and integration help + Pre-built images for cloud installations + Makes adding form fields as easy as filling out another form - Documentation isn’t freely available - Community edition doesn't include Web-based interface
Bottom line A big table for storing information about customers, managing campaigns, and producing reports, backed by a fertile ecosystem of open source and commercial add-ons. Smooths every stage of order fulfillment from the warehouse to delivery, with basic customer management and a flexible open source framework for developing new modules. A sophisticated application that links the sales force, the warehouses, and the customers and allows easy customization without programming.
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