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Conversation with SugarCRM: How Open-Source Solutions Give Companies a Leading Edge

By March 24, 2013Article

Editor’s note: No matter the industry, open source is enabling companies to leapfrog their competitors. Lila Tretikov, chief product officer at SugarCRM, explains the trends and shares examples of the benefits from OSS. What comments did SugarCRM hear in 2012 from existing and potential clients about why they are turning to open-source solutions? 

Lila Tretikov: There are many reasons organizations of all types are opting for open solutions like SugarCRM. Since we are an application that runs in the cloud, prospects are attracted to our greater flexibility and ease of integration with other systems. Even in a SaaS or cloud deployment, our open architecture makes it far easier and more cost-effective to connect to and deploy on a variety of systems than what is possible with the proprietary alternatives. Let’s remember that the cloud is largely made of open-source components. 

Larger businesses really like the fact that they can “own” the software deployment. Other proprietary SaaS CRM offerings do not allow users to take the software on site, nor do they have clear business continuity plans — unlike SugarCRM, which ensures every single user will always have access not only to their data but also their entire application, thanks to our open nature. No code escrow needed. How is open source helping SugarCRM innovate in the CRM area, an area of dynamic change especially with social media / digital media marketing? 

Lila Tretikov: I would place this in a larger context, and posit that open source is helping all vendors in this space innovate at a faster pace. Open source is the “first generation of social” — it established the way people all around the globe could collaborate on creating something original and innovative without even meeting each other. This is still true now. Today, open development tools and components are popping up rapidly, allowing us to create new and innovative features in areas like social media monitoring, social collaboration, etc.  

Open source continues to level the playing field, creating a competitive landscape where the best products — not simply slick marketing or huge sales teams, win. What changes do you anticipate for your company over the next 12-18 months because of the way open source is evolving? 

Lila Tretikov: I wouldn’t call them “changes” but, rather, we continue to become more and more agile in our development. The business user of today expects great, intuitive products and expects to update and upgrade their applications with the frequency of the games on a smartphone. Open source and our unique model in this space allows us to develop faster, at lower costs, and the result is a greater product experience for our entire user community. Please give an example of a customer company that has benefitted from open source and achieved an outcome(s) that they could not have achieved without open source. 

Lila Tretikov: One of our customers, a large global financial institution, was looking to update its CRM solution. However, it had a large investment in an older CRM system (Siebel) and also had made many acquisitions in previous years. Thus, it was literally paying for and maintaining nearly a dozen different customer-management systems. Of course, data management, customer service and high-level visibility into operations were an unhappy experience for both users and customers.  

While the financial institution knew it wanted “modern, Web-based CRM” based on their requirements, there was no way it could operate seamlessly while undergoing a huge rip-and-replace hardship. And the data had to be 100 percent owned by the customer and not “touching” any other databases of other accounts. The company also needed a strong business continuity plan. The company disqualified nearly every CRM vendor before coming across SugarCRM. 

Due to our open nature, we were able to create a highly customized, dedicated SaaS version of our CRM platform to work with this institution’s unique needs. The beauty of this deployment was that end users were able to quickly adopt a more intuitive, user-friendly Web-based tool they could access from anywhere and personalize with ease. However, the banking institution did not have to replace any of its underlying systems prior to go-live. Sugar acted as an overlay — a universal front end to many systems. As data rolled through the Sugar deployment, it was captured to power rollup and other high-level reports in near real-time. Reporting in a timely fashion was next to impossible given the myriad systems in place. 

Only an open solution like Sugar could have powered this project. Proprietary systems would have been far too expensive and too limited to customize to this level. And proprietary SaaS products could not offer the “dedicated” instance in a private cloud environment this customer required. From your observance, what industries are at the forefront of open source adoption these days, and why? 

Lila Tretikov: I think open source has “gone mainstream,” and we are seeing open technologies everywhere — we barely even take notice any more. The airline industry, for example, uses Linux-based operating systems for lots of things — even the in-seat entertainment systems. The auto industry is using open source and other open technologies to create smarter automobiles, ones that integrate with social media and other applications to optimize the car ownership life cycle. The healthcare industry is using open-source tools like Hadoop to manage Big Data initiatives to enhance research and development around the next generation of drugs that will save lives. Open source is everywhere — once you start looking. What is your advice for companies starting to look for open-source solutions? Is there anything they need to keep in mind that differs from looking for closed-source solutions? 

Lila Tretikov: I believe every company should consider at least one open alternative when looking for any new piece of technology. But for those specifically evaluating open source, my advice is to throw the “cost” factor out the window. Yes, open source has a lower total cost of ownership. But instead I argue decision makers should think about the greater flexibility, better maintenance, greater control and the decreased risk that comes with deploying open source. The cost savings can then be earmarked towards even more strategic, rather than tactical, projects to differentiate the business.  

Take five minutes to give us your opinions in the 2013 Future of Open Source survey hosted by Black Duck Software, North Bridge Venture Partners and Forrester. SugarCRM and SandHill are survey collaborators.
Click here to start the survey. 

Register here for the webinar on the survey results (2:00 ET, April 17). Don’t miss the live panel discussion revealing the findings in this year’s Future of Open Source Survey.

Lila Tretikov is chief product officer at SugarCRM. She is responsible for engineering and technology operations including engineering development and managing SugarCRM’s cloud services technology. Lila has a rich background in enterprise software, spanning multiple verticals from financial to bioengineering to high-tech. She focuses on building robust products and the redundant, highly available systems to support their delivery. 

Kathleen Goolsby is managing editor of

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