Top 5 Low Cost SaaS CRM Alternatives for Small and Midsized Busineses

In continuation of my last post, I want to tackle this time low cost CRM packages or services for small and mid-sized business looking to implement CRM in their organization. In this post I will focus on five CRM SaaS Vendors:

  1. Salesforce.com. Salesforce.com is an acknowledged pioneer in Software-as-a-Service applications and market leader in CRM. When you sign up for the service you can choose from different editions–ie Personal, Group, Professional, Enterprise and Unlimited. The system itself is broken down into several applications:
    Sales, Service & Support, Partner Relationship Management,
    Marketing, Content, Ideas and Analytics. Updates are done acording to seasons of the year–so they have a Winter release, Spring release and so on. Pros: Large user base; stable company; long term viability; mature infrastructure and feature set; rich ecosystem of third party apps to extend functionality; highly configurable and extensible platform called Force.com. Cons: Purely online service; lock in a real danger; the really nice features are only available in the high end editions; expensive for large deployments.
  2. Rightnow. RightNow’s suite of applications includes multi-channel Service, Sales,
    Marketing, Customer Feedback Management, Voice Automation, and
    Analytics. Rightnow started off as a traditional on-premise CRM  vendor but now seems to focus on On-Demand. Pros: Really strong in customer service; rich feature set in customer service type applications and workflows; close partnerships with telephony vendors make it a good choice for a contact center. Cons: Premium pricing; can be expensive over time; not much third party support developing on the platform.
  3. ZohoCRM. Zoho CRM is a new entrant to the SaaS CRM market and is gaining a lot of interest I believe because of its low cost, and its relationship and integration with the Zoho suite of online SaaS applications. Its feature set seems to be primarily focused on sales force automation (like Salesforce a few releases back) and has some basic features to extend and customize its features and functionality. Updates like many of the Zoho applications are frequent. Pros: low cost; integration with Zoho apps; unique features such as online spreadsheet integration; good choice as an entry level solution. Cons: little or no extensions or 3rd party support, basic APIs, functionality geared towards small teams.
  4. LongJump CRM. Technically speaking LongJump positions itself as an application platform when it started out which can easily be configured for CRM (this is the opposite of Salesforce.com which started out focused on CRM and is now repositioning as a platform provider, or Zoho which is more of a suite of different apps than an integrated platform). Longjump is easily extensible and configurable, and templates exist to reconfigure the application into something else. Overall a promising vendor although not as well known. Pros: Highly extensible and configurable; integrated platform. Cons: Seems to have a low customer base, small company, not as well known as other competitors, purely online service; lock in a real danger.
  5. Netsuite. Netsuite originally was focused on hosted ERP but has now reached a point where they now offer a comprehensive CRM solution as well. Everything is intergated together and offered as a suite, and on top of CRM you have a mature ERP product as well as modules for SCM, E-commerce, PRM, Analytics and others. Pros: mature product; wide breadth of features and functionality; complete beyond CRM. Cons: Expensive, purely online; vendor lock in a danger; limited third party extensions.

Next time I’l try to post CRM solutions from open source vendors. If I missed anything let me know!

Top 5 Microsoft Small Business Server Alternatives

With today’s tough economic climate, certain to be on the agenda for many managers today is how to cut costs and save money on capital spending–specially in IT. Certainly a good starting point for many would be to look at possible ways to save on software licenses.

For the next series of blog postings–I decided I will try to enumerate some good alternatives to some popular enterprise software packages–starting with Microsoft’s Small Business Server (or MS SBS) 2003, an all-in-one server solution for small business or remote office/branch office deployments.

Microsoft SBS 2003 is an all-one suite of products specifically tailored for the needs of small organizations. It incorporates Windows Server technologies, group email and collaboration with a bundled Exchange Server and Microsoft Sharepoint services, network-wide patch and update management, and shared fax services. It brings them all together in a tidy, unified administration screen. Accounts for users are set up once, and are simultaneously configured with other related services with the platform. It is available in Standard and Premium edition, with the premium edition adding on database capabilities with SQL Server 2005 Workgroup Edition and network perimeter defense with Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2004. Overall it is a nice package–if it weren’t for its confusing and costly per-user/device CAL:

The SBS 2003 R2 license gives you the right to install and use the server software. The SBS 2003 R2 CAL gives you the right for a device or user to access the server software. You need both types of licenses in order to be in compliance.

Add to that its artificial limit of only allowing up to 75 users to use the server, after which you have to upgrade to Microsoft Windows Server Standard Edition (or the upcoming Windows Server Essentials).

Its a good thing that in the Linux and open source side of things, there are a host of alternatives that companies can choose from to get the same or equivalent functionality and set of services that Microsoft Small Business Server offers:

  1. SME Server. We start off with the open source, and community-supported SME Server from Contribs.org.SME Server v7.4 is the latest version of the award-winning e-smith Server and Gateway. The SME Server is available as a downloadable ISO that can be installed and configured in less than 15 minutes. It is a Linux-based server (based on CentOS) that can provide a full range of services – including e-mail, firewall, file and print-sharing, web hosting, remote access and more. SME Server can integrate with Windows, Macintosh, and Unix/Linux clients, and within a Windows network environment. It’s as simple to use as a server appliance, but unlike a “sealed-box” appliance the entire system is modular and extensible, and an ecosystem of package contributors (called contribs) are available so it can be tailored to the needs of individual businesses. SME is released as GPL and is completely free but is community supported.
  2. Point Clark Networks’ ClarkConnect. ClarkConnect is a powerful server/gateway software solution designed for the small/medium-sized organization. Though ClarkConnect comes with an extensive list of features and integrated services, the solution is easy to configure thanks to the intuitive web-based interface. The platform is also based on CentOS, and what differentiates it from other solutions, including Microsoft’s is its hybrid-hosted approach to managing network services. These services include externally hosted and managed DNS services, Content Filter Updates, Intrusion Detection Updates, Software Updates, Port Monitoring, Resource Monitoring, and ASP Mail Services (antispam and antivirus). Pricing is an annual subscription with no limit on number of users (except in the free Community Edition). It is a complete, robust and low cost solution for small businesses where network security and connectivity is important.
  3. Collax Business Server. Collax provides a comprehensive, all-in-one server for basic network services such as File-/Mail-/Fax-Server, Firewall, DHCP-Server, Proxy, Web-Server and much more. This is the right choice when you want to consolidate all services on one server software and you want something that is simple to set up and administer. It comes in three editions: a standard, multi-functional edition, and an edition optimized for messaging and collaboration which is bundled with Open Xchange (a Microsoft Exchange alernative), and an edition optimized for routing and network security. Pricing is on a subscription basis and is based on a per user or unlimited user basis.
  4. Lotus Foundations Server. Lotus Foundations server used to be called Nitix before the company that developed it–Net Integration Technologies, was acquired by IBM recently. Nitix from the start had been playing up to IBM, touting its autonomic or self-healing features (a term coined by IBM scientists) and its integration with Lotus Notes. It installs easily and quickly, with the system deciding common office network and security settings–which is a boon to non-tech savvy users but is annoying to experienced admins. Like Collax, Clark Connect and SME Server, it too is an all-in-one server solution based on Linux but follows Microsoft’s example when it comes to pricing. Pricing is based on per user CAL’s and an annual maintenance.
  5. edgeBox. edgeBOX is a server appliance (software and hardware solution) which differentiates itself from the others by providing a full business phone system (IP-PBX), plus email, web, fax, security, calendar, contact directory, and much more out of a single appliance that can be managed remotely through an easy-to-use interface. Pricing and is based on company size which it bases on number of connected users. Edgepacks are available to extend the systems functionality for an added price.