The Way Business Is Moving published by
Issue Date: August 2007

CRM is @Hand for small businesses

August 2007
Angela Eager

Privately held Canadian software and service provider, The Long Reach, is offering a new CRM software model that combines multiple open source projects with its own proprietary code, to create what it describes as a customer relationship and business management system.

The Info@Hand application is built on the SugarCRM framework under SugarCRM's public license, which is a version of the Mozilla license.
The Long Reach also brings together the Joomla content management portal, Asterisk IP telephony and Virtuemart e-commerce open source projects with its own proprietary integration, business and CRM functionality. The result is a modular, web-based system that offers core CRM functionality plus order management, project management, resource tracking, customer service and HR. It is aimed at small to lower-end mid market companies with two to 200 employees.
The hybrid model, which mixes open source and proprietary source code could be described as open source project consolidation and productisation.
"We include value added open source projects and add features that address two to 200 employee organisations in the business management area. Then we add the glue so they all work together, and offer support, all out of one place. It is not free but nothing is free," said Long Reach president and CEO Michael Whitehead.
Users pay a one time fee of $250 per user. The support and upgrade service costs $62,50 per user, per year.
The company said it aims to provide software that will enable businesses to track the money side of the business along with the CRM information. "We do small business management from a CRM core," said Whitehead.
A common usage scenario would see Info@Hand being used by customer facing staff. As well as being able to make use of the CRM functionality, they would also be able to create quotes or invoices rather than having to off-load their creation to an accounts system.
As part of the Info@Hand integration facilities, the quotes and invoices would then be synchronised with the organisations' back office accounts system. The Long Reach provides an optional finance integration offering for Intuit's QuickBooks, which is the accounts system its target customers are most likely to use.
The application is more pragmatic than comprehensive but aims to address needs that are specific to small businesses. "We wanted to let front office people have access to tools to produce content, prepare quotes, process credit cards and so on, whatever is appropriate for the business, knowing that they can synchronise to the proper accounts system," said Whitehead.
There are potential issues arising from the hybrid model. It cannot be defined as an open source project and the proprietary code could make it more difficult to integrate Info@Hand with fully fledged open source projects. Also, The Long Reach uses technology licensed from SugarCRM under the Mozilla public license but SugarCRM is about to move to GPL 3.0.
Whitehead said it would not make any difference to Info@Hand users because they license from The Long Reach not SugarCRM. While their rights to use the SugarCRM code should not be affected, they will not receive any enhancements SugarCRM makes to its CRM framework. However, Whitehead said Info@Hand is using progressively less open source code as it develops.
Version 5.1 of Info@Hand has just been released. A significant release, it features upgrades across the board. Previous upgrades tended to be small and piecemeal.
Of the 400 or so customers, around 3% are in North America with others spread through Canada, Europe and Australia.
The Long Reach aims to compete with vendors like Net Suite and Sage. Its offering lacks the sophistication of their offerings and the company does not have the presence of either vendor but its price point and technology model do present small businesses with another choice of CRM system.
Source: Computergram

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