Posted tagged ‘Matt Asay’

Stop the Repetition and Focus on Innovation

March 21, 2009

The financial challenges many organizations will face over the next year will force some hard decisions. But I also hope it will bring some much needed clarity when it comes to technology.

The simple fact is that most organizations are using technology and locked in to manual time-consuming processes that are wildly outdated. The costs of this technology–both in terms of staff time and vendor fees—is, frankly, a waste. And it is waste that can be easily cut while improving operational and fundraising effectiveness.

The problem to date has many sources, but a line from a recent blog by Matt Asay captures the heart of it:

Open source is not an excuse not to compete. It’s a way to compete more efficiently, focusing on real innovation rather than everyone reinventing the same wheels.

Simple put, the proprietary model means that the technology most nonprofits use is a variation on features and functionality provided by countless other vendors. Each of these vendors has built this technology from the ground up. Simply put, that means the majority of development effort in nonprofit technology goes into “reinventing the same wheels”, either through expensive and laborious customization efforts or efforts to reach feature parity with competing products.

What a tremendous waste of time. Imagine if the competition between all the technology providers in our space saw the majority of effort going into innovation! Instead of seeing small step changes every few years and wild proclamations about how facebook and twitter integrations are going to ‘revolutionize’ your organization (really?!?), we would see true, genuine innovation that saves staff time, cuts costs and increases revenue.

For innovations that really are game changing, we need things like:

  1. Technology that actively recognizes and classify constituents using the same language and rules as your organization. If you consider a major donor someone who gives $5000 in a calendar year and group them as part of the “Founders Club”, you should not have to run queries, hack custom fields and create complex codes to translate this into your software. The software should automatically recognize them as such the moment they give that 3rd gift that puts them over $5000 for the calendar year.
  2. Technology should share information in real-time. With the advent of simple XML messaging networks, this has become inexpensive and reliable. Gone are the days of complex, expensive integrations between databases. Anytime there is activity or a change in data, a system publishes a message to the network in XML (this is the same language and technology used in Real Simple Syndication (RSS) and is also how banking and financial trading systems share information, so it is obviously secure). All your other systems connected to the network can pull down and update the information relevant to that system.

These are the types of innovations that matter. This is what we should expect from our technology. And the reality is that these innovations both exist and are likely significantly cheaper than what organizations are paying vendors currently.

We need to stop ‘reinventing the wheels’, open up our technology and commit to genuine innovation.

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Open Source Advantage: Simple, Powerful and Low-Cost

November 10, 2008

I read a great post by Matt Asay the other day referencing how during SalesForce’s user conference, the company pressured a hotel to move their competitor, SugarCRM, to another hotel. 

SugarCRM is a competing product that has grown very quickly. The product is not only robust, but it is open source and very inexpensive. As Matt Asay phrased it, “Value wins in a recessionary economy, to the extent that anyone does, and these open-source vendors are providing a heck of a lot of value…for a very low price.”

We actually switched to SugarCRM from SalesForce recently for similar reasons. Naturally we are very pro open source. But no one buys a product just because it is open source…and no one should. You buy the products that help you operate most effectively while being simple to use and provide the best value for the lowest cost.

That is precisely why we moved to SugarCRM. We have found it easier to use, more effective in our daily operations and we are saving a significant amount of money.

That is precisely what we strive to do for our clients. We are aiming to provide powerful, friendly tools that make it simple for you to be more effective and create value at low-cost. Open source is the best way to do that, even for the 80% of our customers who will never read or write a line of code.

Open Source CRM Gaining Traction

July 3, 2008

I just finished reading Bill Snyder’s July 2 article on PC World (the same article was originally published by CIO on June 30) titled “Open Source Delivers More Control, Less Cost.” This article is more compelling proof that businesses, large and small, are shifting to open source CRM because it’s a superior way to run an organization. From giants like H+R Block to six-person operations, the commercial sector now is well underway in giving up cumbersome, closed and expensive CRM systems like SAP, Siebel and even Salesforce.com.

The reasons for this shift are varied, but come down to three key advantages:

  1. Cost – Open source CRM does not require prohibitive upfront investment and the related risk. In addition, choice among vendors and service providers ensures the best pricing (i.e., you are not locked into your vendor for all changes and services).
  2. Control – According to Matthew Carson, CTO of a streaming media firm with 500 customers in 77 countries, “Control is a big issue. You want to be able to write the (CRM) system around your business model, not the other way around.” Amen. Your software should not drive your business.
  3. Ownership – Kurt Miller, president of a six-person business chose open source CRM over alternatives like Salesforce because, in his words, “No matter what happens, I control my own data.”

We are seeing this exact same trend among nonprofits, large and small, for the same reasons. In fact, as illustrated above, some of the most common arguments against open source CRM are being patently disproved by the diversity of open source success in the market.

One argument I often hear is that open source CRM lacks the robust features and functionality of closed, proprietary systems. This is a myth propagated by closed CRM companies’ sales and marketing machines. While different products certainly have different features and strengths, Orange Leap Open is every bit as powerful and robust — and more powerful in many key areas — as the leading nonprofit CRM solutions.

But, don’t just take my word for it. Consider the assessment of Keith Heller, Founder and Principal of Heller Consulting, the nation’s leading technology consulting firm with a specialization in helping nonprofits use Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge®, which is one of the most common donor databases in the philanthropic sector: “No product matches Orange Leap’s native features in enabling nonprofits to conduct highly complex segmentation to deliver the right message at the right time through the right medium.” And, since we are open source, you can download Orange Leap to see for yourself.

The second argument I hear is that small organizations with limited or no IT resources will find open source CRM too complex. That is simply not true. As seen above, organizations with as few as six employees are reaping the benefits due to the cost, control and ownership of data. To quote Matt Asay’s comments July 2 on CNET, “Does this mean that the only way to benefit from open source CRM (and other open source enterprise applications) is if you’re a technology-savvy shop? Of course not. Most don’t need to tweak the code, and never will. But even those who don’t, benefit from those who do.”

Matt’s quote from an earlier post aptly sums up why the closed, proprietary model is in such trouble:

No decision is best made blindly. No product is best defined, designed, and implemented in an information/feedback vacuum. Opening up source code means customers can place greater trust in the software they use even if they never read a single line of code, precisely because others can exercise this choice in their stead.

I could not be more excited about what lies ahead for nonprofits as the advantages of open source CRM are realized. Openness, transparency and collaboration have long been hallmarks of the work that charities do in their communities and around the world. Isn’t it time you held your software to the same standard?