Can open source sweeten the customer experience?


22 Oct 2007

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The software as a service (SaaS) movement is gaining momentum and Dublin is rapidly becoming a destination of choice for many international vendors

The idea of renting software you access via the internet is one that companies such as Salesforce.com have been promoting for a number of years. The latest generation are hoping to integrate the SaaS model with Web 2.0 technologies and capture the mindset of today’s business executive who wants flexibility and to put their personal stamp on their work tools.

One of these players is SugarCRM, which has established its European headquarters in Dublin. What is interesting about SugarCRM is its entire platform is based on open source software (OSS).

The company, which was founded in 2004, has more than 250 customers in Europe, including Starbucks, Mergermarkets, Yahoo!, Corona Medical and Portugal Telecom.

Because its technology incorporates an open source architecture, users can customise the software to meet their specific needs. The software can be deployed in a number of ways including on demand, on premise and appliance based.

SugarCRM was co-founded by John Roberts, Clint Oram and Jacob Taylor and grew out of an open source project on SourceForge. To date the Sugar Open Source has been downloaded over three million times and the project remains one of the most active on SourceForge.

“We were all working in a proprietary CRM software company and we felt that it was time that a CRM application could be built from an end-user perspective. We quit our jobs and worked for free posting our technology on SourceForge.”

The popularity of the project allowed the company to raise US$26m of venture capital from Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Walden International and New Enterprise Associates.

“We cottoned onto a good idea and built a business,” recalls Oram. “Our product is targeted at individuals who need CRM to organise themselves and from there it could grow up to a commercial subscription in Professional and Enterprise team formats.

“The ‘professional’ version is targeted at teams of people in selling and customer support, while ‘enterprise’ is aimed at bigger teams in larger organisations.”

Oram believes the open source movement has created a compelling dynamic in the purchase of software. “With open source, everything is built in public and on a number of levels this changes the way software is bought and developed.

“When you have the source code to apply, especially with a public licence, you have a level of control you don’t have with proprietary software. Vendors like ourselves are also quicker to respond to problems like bugs in software compared with many proprietary vendors.”

Oram says the open source edition of SugarCRM is downloaded 2,500 times a day. “Our idea is to change the way business software is sold. Even the idea behind the name ‘sugar’ is designed to put a smile on your face.

“When you open the application you can personalise it with different themes and colours. This helps in the emotional sense of the user whose job it is to establish a connection with the customer and make them happy. It helps if the user is in a good mood.”

The latest edition of Sugar CRM, version 5.0, Oram says, is the culmination of four years’ work. “We took feedback from customers and decided to improve the application flow. There are also some neat additions such as an AJAX-based email client that is on par with anything like Yahoo! Mail or Google’s Gmail.

“It is very much built for the Web 2.0 generation in the sense that you can drag and drop everything around the screen. It’s designed to be visually appealing and users can access interactive charts to get quick dashboard views on their business.”

In recent weeks Sugar CRM revealed it has deployed technology from InvisibleCRM — a Gartner ‘cool vendor’ — which is also used by vendors like Salesforce.com and NetSuite. This allows SugarCRM users to take full advantage of the Sugar functionality while at the same time consolidating the customer data within their familiar Windows desktop.

Oram says the company is in the process of moving from its East Point headquarters to a city centre location.

“Our plan is to have up to 10 people by the end of this year and grow to 20 people by the end of 2008.

“Dublin is proving to be a rich ground for recruitment due to the many technology companies, particularly business software companies, in the country right now,” he concludes.

By John Kennedy