If you own or work for a small or medium-sized business, you've almost certainly explored open source as a way to reduce software licensing fees, avoid expensive vendor lock-in, and lower hardware costs. Those are, after all, the standard open source benefits you hear and read about over and over again. But it's important to understand that cost is only the first chapter in a much larger and richer open source story.
Yes, Linux and open source can almost certainly lower your IT costs. But if you approach the open source movement correctly, it can also open the door to sophisticated new kinds of solutions that were previously only available to very large enterprises–and allow you to deploy these kinds of solutions much more quickly and inexpensively than you ever thought possible.
In other words, open source can actually erase the barriers and boundaries between the kinds of technology solutions available to your small or medium-sized business–and those available to your largest multi-billion dollar competitors.
Novell has given this larger, richer open source story a name. It's called the Open Enterprise. And Novell is working nonstop to make the advantages of the Open Enterprise realistic and practical for all types and sizes of business. Of course, the model for developing Open Enterprise solutions looks much different than that of a typical proprietary solution. Open Enterprise solutions can start virtually anywhere–from the mind of a consultant working for a small solution provider to the in-house IT department of a medium-sized retailer.
The development process is organic and collaborative, typically involving many different commercial and open source vendors and the larger open source community. And the solutions tend to be more flexible and adaptable, because they're based on standard code and open, freely available APIs.
This open source model does a wonderful job of turning great ideas into working solutions, but it also creates some interesting challenges. How do you turn these organic, collaborative efforts into commercially viable software solutions? How do you make a solution developed by a small solution provider with limited marketing resources available to a wider audience? And how can you know an Open Enterprise solution has been thoroughly tested and meets your high standards for quality?
Fortunately, innovative new processes and programs are emerging to address these questions. These programs harness the remarkable innovation that's taking place in the open source community, make open source solutions commercially viable and provide resources to help bring them successfully to market.
To demonstrate how the whole process actually works, it's useful to look at a real, concrete example. So let's highlight the efforts of a small, but successful IT services company named Novacoast, and take a close look at how they're working with Novell to develop, market and sell a successful Open Enterprise solution.
> Introducing VoiceRD from Novacoast
Until a couple of years ago, Novacoast ran their small business from a single office in Santa Barbara, California. When the company decided to expand its services and open offices in a number of different states, Novacoast Chief Technology Officer Adam Gray began investigating possible telecommunications options for their growing business. Adam knew that setting up and supporting new offices would be expensive. But he was still surprised by the costs required to deploy even a midrange Voice over IP (VoIP) telecommunications solution.
"It didn't take us long to figure out that the advanced telecommunications capabilities we needed were going to be way out of our price range," said Gray. "The quotes that came in from proprietary Voice over IP companies were totally unrealistic for our situation."
It was back to the drawing board for Adam and his team. But rather than settling for some barely functional low-end proprietary solution, they started investigating a number of open source possibilities. "We were already invested in open source on the data side of our organization," Gray said. "So we decided to see what open source could do for us on the telco side."
The answer was surprising. Adam and his team discovered that Asterisk, an open source VoIP PBX running on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, offered most of the features they needed. They quickly developed some identity management drivers to simplify the provisioning process and make the solution easier to manage.
They also started exploring ways to add more advanced capabilities, such as a soft dialer, voicemail, conference calling, call recording and so on. A few weeks and a few lines of code later, Novacoast had a remarkably sophisticated and full-featured VoIP telephony solution ready to deploy in their business–built entirely on open source software.
Shortly after Novacoast developed this initial open source telecomm solution, they attended BrainShare in Salt Lake City. They were overwhelmed by the interest in their new in-house VoIP solution, and they quickly realized that they had the beginnings of a promising new product.
Novacoast spent the next six months working to integrate their telephony offering with other open source applications to create a solution that combined Customer Relationship Management (CRM), telephony, document management, collaboration and much more. The solution incorporated a number of leading open source and proprietary applications, including SugarCRM, Novell eDirectory, Alfresco content management and Novell GroupWise.
Open Enterprise solutions can start virtually anywhere–from the mind of a consultant working for a small solution provider to the in-house IT department of a medium-sized retailer.
Integrating all of these applications was surprisingly easy, because the Novacoast team had total access to open source code and APIs, and they were able to harness the expertise and knowledge of a knowledgeable and diverse open source community.
The end result, after a relatively short development process, was a remarkably sophisticated, capable and completely enterprise-ready solution that would normally only be an option for large companies with very deep pockets.
Novacoast's success in turning their small in-house project into an impressive enterprise-class solution embodies the Open Enterprise philosophy. For Novacoast, open source has quickly become much more than just another source for low-cost applications–it has actually transformed the way they approach their whole IT infrastructure. But that's really only half the story.
It's perhaps even more interesting to examine how they are making that solution available to other small and medium-sized businesses. Because that critical final step–turning an obscure in-house solution into a viable commercial offering–is often the most difficult, especially for small ISVs with limited resources.
So how is Novacoast doing it? How are they managing to successfully bring their solution to a wider market of small and mediumsized businesses?
The answer is Novell Market Start.
> Novell Market Start: Turning Great Ideas into Viable Enterprise Solutions
The Novell Market Start program accomplishes two major goals. First, it gives smaller software developers and solution providers a practical affordable way to bring open source solutions to market–and make them available to small and medium-sized businesses around the world.
Second, it connects small and medium-sized businesses to powerful, Novell-certified applications from proven commercial open-source and Linux-based software vendors. This crucial connection gives smaller organizations a safe, practical way to harness the benefits of open source. It also enables them–for the first time–to streamline their operations and deploy the same kinds of advanced enterprise-class solutions as their largest competitors.
As Novacoast discovered, this new Open Enterprise approach is about much more than deploying the occasional open source application. It represents a whole new approach to technology that enables small and medium-sized companies to transform the way they do business–from the back office to the desktop and beyond.
By harnessing the power of open source, businesses with between 100 and 5,000 users can dramatically lower their acquisition costs, leverage the momentum of the open source movement and enjoy enterprise-class functionality at a fraction of the cost of strictly proprietary solutions.
Novacoast is a prime example of how Market Start helps ISVs cover that critical "last mile" between developing a viable open source solution and bringing it successfully to market. First, Market Start gave Novacoast access to the larger Novell partner community–and helped them establish good working relationships with other technology providers.
According to Adam Gray, "Finding qualified partners can be very difficult for small solution providers. Market Start allowed us to create a very knowledgeable network very quickly and tap into a mature partner organization that's been around for decades."
Market Start also helped Novacoast refine their marketing message, position their solution effectively and tap into a wealth of marketing resources that smaller organizations normally don't have access to. With the help of the Market Start program, Novacoast has reached end users at strategic industry events, created and promoted podcasts and held a series of nationwide seminars to promote their offering.
And of course, small and medium-sized businesses can now take advantage of a complete, thoroughly tested and extremely powerful CRM and telecomm solution that provides remarkable enterprise capabilities–without proprietary license fees or expensive hardware.
> An Open Enterprise Solution in Action
Novacoast named their integrated solution VoiceRD. It's worth taking a closer look at this powerful solution, because it combines and integrates elements from so many different open source applications. VoiceRD is a prime example of what Market Start and an Open Enterprise approach to software development can accomplish for small and medium-sized businesses.
To provide a more detailed overview of the solution, we'll walk through a typical business scenario, show how the Novacoast solution works in the context of that scenario and then highlight some of the back-end technology that makes it all possible.
> The Scenario
Every business, no matter how small, uses some kind of customer relationship software to manage customers and drive sales efforts–even if it's just a simple Excel spreadsheet. This scenario walks through a typical sales cycle–and shows how VoiceRD can automate and enhance the process.
The scenario begins with a customer request to create and e-mail a business proposal. To respond to the request, the sales person will clarify some details with the customer, find the appropriate proposal template in the document store, fill it out, send it to the customer, answer some questions, revise the proposal, and close the business by obtaining a signed copy of the final proposal. Of course, during the whole process, the sales rep will need to track and record every interaction with the customer and perform a number of other customer relationship management tasks.
> The User Experience
The VoiceRD user experience revolves around the SugarCRM interface. SugarCRM is a powerful, rapidly growing open source CRM application that runs on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.
After the sales rep completes the initial call, she can click the Alfresco documents tab in SugarCRM to search her company's document store for the appropriate proposal template. Alfresco is an open source document management solution that's tightly integrated with SugarCRM.
When the sales rep finds the correct template, she can download it and begin preparing the sales proposal in OpenOffice. Behind the scenes, Alfresco tracks different versions of the proposal. After she's done, she can attach the document to the appropriate customer account and upload it to the document store.
As more ISVs explore open source and use a similar process to bring their own open solutions to market, a new world of affordable enterprise-class solutions will open up for small and medium-sized businesses.
Now that the first draft of the proposal is complete, the sales rep will send it to the customer. She can choose to do that either through SugarCRM's Send feature, or through the company's GroupWise collaboration solution. As she sends the document, SugarCRM automatically tracks the activity and adds it to the customer record.
Next, the customer reviews the sales proposal in OpenOffice and sends questions and comments through GroupWise. As these messages come in, they are automatically attached to the customer record in SugarCRM.
In one of the e-mail messages she receives, the customer asks the sales rep to call him back. Again, she can click the contact in SugarCRM to dial the call. In this case the sales rep will choose to record the call. After the call is complete, the recording is automatically stored in the Alfresco document store and attached to the customer record in SugarCRM.
As the sales rep and customer e-mail different versions of the proposal back and forth, the sales rep can also use Alfresco to set up discussion forums to discuss the proposal, manage different versions of the document and create content rules to manage the content. When they're ready to finalize the deal, the sales rep schedules a conference call with everyone involved to discuss the final proposal. She can schedule the call in SugarCRM, which automatically stays synchronized with her GroupWise calendar. She can also use SugarCRM and VoiceRD to quickly set up the call.
The most remarkable thing about VoiceRD is that it's built primarily using open source software, which makes it affordable and practical for smaller organizations.
After the call, the sales rep can check out the latest version of the proposal from the Alfresco document store, make the final changes and check it back into the document management system. Finally, she can go back into SugarCRM, access the customer's account, download the final proposal and use VoiceRD's fax capabilities to fax it to the customer.
When the customer faxes the approved proposal back, VoiceRD automatically converts the fax to an electronic file and adds it to the SugarCRM customer record. With the signed proposal, the deal has been successfully closed.
This quick walkthrough shows how VoiceRD automates and streamlines virtually every aspect of the sales process. Rather than distracting sales representatives with different systems, interfaces and applications, this sophisticated enterpriseclass solution allows the sales force to focus on closing business and adding value for customers. And of course, the most remarkable thing about VoiceRD is that it's built primarily using open source software, which makes it affordable and practical for smaller organizations.
> The Technology
It's obvious that many different applications and technology components are working closely together to make the VoiceRD solution work. Here's a breakdown of some of the technology that's working behind the scenes.
The Novacoast VoiceRD solution starts with a number of key platform technologies from Novell. The whole solution runs on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 or 10. It incorporates Novell eDirectory and other core identity management technologies. It leverages GroupWise to provide key communication and collaboration capabilities. And it relies on AppArmor to secure the solution and keep data safe and protected.
It's certainly no secret that VoIP holds a great deal of promise as a low-cost, next-generation telecommunication solution. But it has also been notoriously difficult and expensive to manage and deploy in a business setting. VoiceRD resolves these management issues by combining Asterisk, the leading open source VoIP PBX software with Novell identity management technology. With VoiceRD, you can tie directly into your identity management solution when you set up the system. This makes it very easy to provision employees with telecommunication services–and treat your telephone system like any other manageable network device.
In an Open Enterprise environment, developers have instant, unencumbered access to the standard code and APIs they need to integrate applications quickly.
SugarCRM is a third-generation customer relationship management (CRM) application that adapts to virtually any business environment. As the VoiceRD solution demonstrates, SugarCRM's unique open source architecture makes it easy to adapt advanced CRM capabilities to specialized business processes, add customized functionality and integrate a wide range of different applications. SugarCRM is available in a number of different deployment options, including on-demand, on-premise and appliance-based solutions. According to Jacob Taylor, one of the three co-founders of SugarCRM, this open and flexible approach makes SugarCRM the ideal architecture and interface for combining telecom, content management, collaboration and other advanced capabilities into enterprise-class solutions like VoiceRD.
"Open source software brings this great community of innovators together to meet business needs," Taylor said. "When you start combining different products, such as Alfresco for document management, Asterisk for phone solutions and SugarCRM for CRM, you quickly end up with a solution that's incredibly powerful, very easy to maintain, very easy to deploy, and has a great offering of support services around the world."
"Open source software brings this great community of innovators together to meet business needs."
Alfresco is an open source content management application that manages incoming and outgoing calls, keeps track of quotations, proposals, invoices and other documents, performs version tracking and even manages faxes and recorded phone calls. According to Matt Asay, the vice president of business development at Alfresco, these types of document management capabilities are an essential part of any successful CRM solution. "You simply can't have a complete, effective CRM application without content management," said Asay. "With VoiceRD, sales people no longer have to think of their phone system, their CRM application and their document management application as separate systems. They all become part of a unified, integrated whole that enables them to provide better service and add more value for their customers."
> Bringing All the Pieces Together
The VoiceRD solution obviously relies on complex interactions between all of the different proprietary and open source applications that make up the solution. In the past, this type of sophisticated integration was painful, time consuming and prohibitively expensive for most smaller businesses. But in an Open Enterprise environment, developers have instant, unencumbered access to the standard code and APIs they need to integrate applications quickly. And of course, they can leverage the expertise and advice of a large open source community to provide oversight, feedback and suggestions.
Novacoast benefited from this expertise by making the basic SugarCRM plug-ins and modules that drive their solution available to the open source community. As a result, they've received invaluable feedback from more than 500 users who have downloaded their integration modules. According to Adam Gray, this community assistance often went far beyond basic feedback. "We've actually had people in the community step up to the plate with actual code to fix problems and improve the software," said Gray. "All those different perspectives–from all over the world–were invaluable."