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What is Open Source CRM?

Regardless of the industry, it’s hard to imagine a company operating without CRM software. It is one of the most effective tools for organizing customer data, communicating with potential clients, and managing sales and marketing activities. Using data gathered from different sources and stored in the CRM platform, companies can increase customer loyalty, improve conversions and boost income.

The market offers a wide variety of CRM solutions, each with different features and price points. While all CRMs have their own pros and cons, open-source CRM platforms have gained more popularity in recent years due to their cost-effectiveness and customization flexibility.

In this article, we’ll explore what an open-source CRM is, discuss its advantages, and determine which businesses can benefit from these solutions.

What is open-source CRM?

Open-source CRM software is a type of software whose source code is freely available for public use. In other words, it is a customer relationship management system that is free to download, free to use, and its source code can be modified by the company that uses it to completely suit their business needs.

As a rule, open-source systems have a huge community of experienced developers who work together to fix bugs and issues, add new features and build extensions. This constant cycle of improvements results in the application getting better, more useful, and more error-free over time.

Open-source CRM vs. Proprietary CRM

So, what differentiates open-source and proprietary platforms? It’s customization-friendliness.

Proprietary (sometimes also called commercial) CRMs are ready-made solutions where the source code isn’t available to the public. They are provided with a fixed set of features determined by the CRM vendor, offer limited customization, and any improvements or updates will depend solely on the vendor’s development schedule. These CRMs typically require subscription fees (cloud platforms) or license purchases (for on-premise deployment).

Open-source CRM is more flexible. Users get the same features as in proprietary systems, but with the option to self-host them, adjust and build features to fit their specific needs. The ability to use them for free makes open-source systems a good choice for startups or businesses on a budget.

What are the advantages of open-source CRM software?

Here are some of the advantages offered by open-source CRMs from which you can benefit:

  • Cost-effectiveness. In most cases, open-source solutions are either free or affordably priced. Your company won’t have to invest high upfront costs in the software or sign any long-term commitments. If you have enough time and skills to modify the source code, you will get an efficient business tool at your disposal without having to pay for expensive and sometimes restrictive software licenses.
  • Customizability.Open-source CRMs are fully customizable. You can adjust and modify the code to add new features and change the way the existing ones function to make the platform perfectly match your business’s unique needs.
  • Improvements & Bug fixes. Another great advantage of open-source solutions is faster issue-solving and bug-fixing. Thanks to a vibrant community of developers and active users, there’s a non-exhaustive source of collective experience that is used to fix bugs and resolve problems quickly, so that the system is continuously improved.

Things to consider before choosing open-source CRM

As with any other type of software, open-source CRMs have their share of potential drawbacks that are important to consider before implementation.

  • Implementation. Installing and maintaining an open-source CRM often requires technical knowledge. If you or your team aren’t tech-savvy, be prepared to invest in training or hire external help.
  • Support. Open-source software provides lots of customization possibilities but the support options are either limited or paid when compared to proprietary solutions. But you can still rely on user guides and documentation for troubleshooting or try to seek help on community forums.
  • Security. While open-source software offers transparency and potential for community-driven security fixes, it also comes with a responsibility. If not properly maintained, open-source systems can become more prone to security risks.
  • Updates. The same as with security, updates and bug fixes will not be installed automatically. You need to stay on top of new improvements to download and install them on your own.

Understanding open-source software licenses

Open-source CRMs offer a huge advantage to completely adapt the software to your specific needs, but they also come with responsibility – you need to understand and stay compliant with the open-source license that governs its use. Understanding the license used by the CRM you’ve chosen is crucial, as it clarifies how you can use, modify, and potentially distribute the software.

There are two main categories of open-source licenses impacting these permissions: copyleft (GNU licenses) and permissive (MIT or Apache 2.0). Copyleft licenses require any modified versions and contributions to also be open-source and shared under the same license, while permissive licenses are more flexible. You can find out more about licenses here.

Most Common Open Source Licenses

License Name Short Description Permissions Conditions Limitations Copyleft
MIT License A short and simple permissive license with conditions only requiring preservation of copyright and license notices. Commercial use, Modification, Distribution, Private use Include license and copyright notice Liability, Warranty No
Apache License 2.0 A permissive license that primarily concerns modifications and restricts the use of trademarks. Commercial use, Modification, Distribution, Private use Include license and copyright notice, State changes Liability, Trademark use, Warranty No
GNU General Public License v3.0 (GPLv3) A widely-used free software license that guarantees end users the freedom to run, study, share, and modify the software. Commercial use, Modification, Distribution, Private use Disclose source, Include original license, Copyright notice, State changes Liability, Warranty Yes
GNU Affero General Public License 3.0 (AGPLv3) A version of the GPL that has an additional clause that treats SaaS (“Remote Network Interaction”) like distribution, for purposes of invoking the copyleft conditions. Commercial use, Modification, Distribution, Private use Disclose source, Include original license, Copyright notice, State changes, Network use is distribution Liability, Warranty Yes
GNU Lesser General Public License v3.0 (LGPLv3) A free software license that permits users to run, share, and modify the software, but also combine it with non-free software. Commercial use, Modification, Distribution, Private use Include license and copyright notice, Disclose source, Same license (library), State changes Liability, Warranty Weak
BSD 2-Clause License A permissive license with minimal restrictions on redistribution. Commercial use, Modification, Distribution, Private use Include license and copyright notice Liability, Warranty No
BSD 3-Clause License A permissive license with minimal requirements regarding the redistribution of software but specifically prohibits using the names of the contributors and organizations associated with the project to endorse or promote products derived from the software without prior written permission. Commercial use, Modification, Distribution, Private use Include license and copyright notice Liability, Warranty, Non-endorsement No
Mozilla Public License 2.0 A weak copyleft license that allows the use of the licensed software within proprietary projects. Commercial use, Modification, Distribution, Private use Disclose source, Same license (file), Include license and copyright notice Liability, Trademark use, Warranty Weak

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. If you have any legal questions about licensing, consult a lawyer.

Who can benefit from open-source CRMs?

Any company, irrespective of its size, can reap benefits from implementing an open-source platform. Small companies and startups with limited budgets gain the ability to kick-start their business using software that keeps data organized from the very beginning.

Even large enterprises with in-house development teams can take advantage of the flexibility and customizability of open-source solutions. This software offers almost an unlimited ability to adjust its features, and create bespoke solutions that perfectly suit any industry requirements.

To make a long story short, CRMs are essential for any company’s success. The right CRM can help you save time, money and resources while improving the overall effectiveness of your business. If implemented properly, an open-source CRM solution may become an effective tool that will accelerate the growth of your business.