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I've had the pleasure of talking with small business owners in the past about moving their business over to open source technologies. I've also heard officers of major corporations speak on the same topic, typically in a conference setting.
The overall point that was shared between the two business types is that in order to switch an enterprise environment to a completely different enterprise environment (software specifically), there needs to be a cause or an identifiable reason why switching to open source software makes sense.
Open Source Software Switching Considerations
I once worked as a consultant for a company that was at the time considered a "Microsoft Shop." That meant the company relied on Microsoft solutions for many of their enterprise software needs. When I inquired about why they didn't consider using open source alternatives, the reasons given included everything from not wishing to throw away the already huge investment to having already trained everyone to use the products provided. And for the most part, despite the huge cost, the solutions provided worked.
When the company started years ago, open source enterprise solutions were largely unavailable at the time. Those options were not nearly as trusted as they are today. Because you must remember, whatever solution one chooses for their business - it must be dependable and you must be able to find support if needed.
I personally think it's that last part that makes getting businesses to "make the switch" to open source solutions so difficult.
Easy ways to switch your business to open source
The two easiest ways to begin using open source business solutions is when starting a brand new business or when you're introducing brand new software (that's not replacing an existing solution). With both examples, the key takeaways are that you're not trying to change learned behavior.
For example, let's say you're getting ready to implement a new CRM application for your business. For the sake of this example, let's also say that you are introducing the use of a CRM for the very first time. This means when you get the CRM instance up and running, there aren't any preconceived notions of how it should interact with your business. This opens the doors to implementing an open source CRM without trying to get your co-workers onboard and dumping a pre-existing CRM platform.
This is yet again an example of why running open source solutions before the business has grown into a proprietary rut makes sense. There are no pre-existing expectations to overcome and this makes everyone's life easier.
If none of the above is an option for you, then I'd suggest taking the baby step approach to introducing open source software into your business. Look for solutions that your business needs, that are no longer available. This is very common, especially with accounting, CRM, and other groupware solutions. When this happens, you're likely to be presented with the problem that the user data in these platforms is locked in with limited export options. If this doesn't terrify the powers that be within your business, nothing will.
If this problem falls onto your shoulders instead of someone elses, you may need to hire outside help to get your data out of the vendor lock-in nightmare. Once the data is safe, you're able to make sure that you're relying on open source alternatives in the future.
Open Source Software Examples For Your Business
Let's start off with the basics we might want to replace with open source alternatives. First up is clearly going to be Microsoft Exchange. Assuming you're starting off fresh or otherwise able to get your data free from its grasp, migrating to Kolab is a no-brainer. Kolab is a modern, cable MS Exchange alternative that will ensure your data is accessible in terms of ownership and up time.
For business accounting, I recommend migrating to BeanBooks. It's been tested by and relied upon by mid-sized company System76. Plus, it can be managed either locally or as a service provided by the aforementioned company above.
Next up, you'll need a decent open source CRM solution. One great all around CRM option is EspoCRM. Available both as a cloud option or something you have locally on premise, EspoCRM allows you to create and cultivate your customer relations in an open source environment that's good for your business.
And of course, none of this matters without modern open source human resources software. That's where IceHrm saves the day. This open source HR software provides you with the tools needed to manage your employee's time at work, vacations and so forth. Best of all, it does so in a secure way - not something that can be said for all HR software out there.
The last example I want to present is for businesses that may have a customer front facing element. Whether that's retail or simply the need to process payments, this is typically referred to as POS or point of sale. One of the best is called uniCenta. It is capable of working with just about any retail environment and is scalable to meet your needs for handing POS transactions.
Now it's time for the last suggestion and I've truly saved the best for last - a single application that can be scaled to handle every single element of your business. It's called odoo and it can be scaled to handle your ERP, CRM, accounting, HR, inventory/POS, project management and more. The only area that it lacks in is that it's not ideal for groupware tasks. I'd stick to Kolab for that. But otherwise, it's nearly a one size fits all open source solution for your business.
Should your business go open source?
I think it's important to consider whether or not it even makes sense for your business to go open source? If it's new, then the obvious answer is that going open source with as many elements as possible means you're in the drivers seat and keeping your data free.
On the same level, it's difficult for existing enterprise environments to make the switch due to employee expectations, existing workplace system requirements and the overall headache that comes from changing anything deeply ingrained into a workplace culture.
My parting advice to you would be this: open source makes sense when it offers your company something of benefit. Cost and avoiding vendor lock-in are indeed considerations to remember. But by the same token, if you can't find the benefit by making the switch, then it may not be right for your business.
What say you? Do you feel that a mix of open source and proprietary is the best way forward for most enterprise environments? Perhaps instead, you believe it should be all or nothing? Hit the Comments, let's hear your perspective on this business topic.