Essential Open Source Skills for CRM Professionals

Updated: January 08, 2008

Issue

 

Open-source applications are changing the way contemporary business owners and executives think of software and support. More choices mean more opportunities to expand offerings and branch into new ventures. But without the people with the right talent to get the job done, the only option may be proprietary programs supported by third parties.

You may be ready to use a CRM system hosted on your internal network, but are you aware of what it takes to install, support, maintain, troubleshoot and train users? While features vary widely from solution to solution, the basic building blocks of CRM are common to all offerings. They generally consist of a database server, a Web server and, if the CRM system is written partly or entirely in Java, an application server. The specific solution you choose to implement will largely determine the set of skills needed to set up and maintain that system. Some of the components require advanced skills to support, while others can be handled by those with intermediate or even introductory knowledge.

The experience required to support these services is no longer as rare as it was just a few years ago. The growing popularity of open-source software and operating systems has required IT technicians and engineers to expand their skills sets accordingly.

 

Analysis

 

The optimal skills needed by support staff for implementing and maintaining an open-source solution are:

  • Advanced system administration: Manage file systems and permissions; install software by script or by compiling from source code; manage users and groups; and manage memory and performance issues.
  • Database management: Install an RDBMS (relational database management system) and secure it; create databases and tables and make minor changes.
  • Web services support: Need intermediate to advanced knowledge of Apache software.
  • Knowledge of Java, PHP or both: Need intermediate knowledge of scripting for PHP; familiarity with Java Virtual Machine Architecture.
  • Miscellaneous component knowledge: Needs vary widely with components; advanced knowledge of installation of packages and source.

 

The reality is that a junior-level system administrator can successfully install and support a CRM system if documentation, training and third-party support are engaged to maintain the system on a long-term basis.

Lacking the aforementioned skills shouldn't be viewed as a barrier to implementing an open-source CRM solution in your company's environment. Good administrators can catch up quickly, but you may have to rely on support from third parties until your staff is up to speed. This translates into higher startup and initial support costs for your system. Support costs from third parties should decrease over time as your staff's skills increase.

What if you don't have the talent you need in your company to successfully implement an open-source solution? Do you search externally for talent or develop your own in-house? There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches.

Recruiting externally can have distinct advantages over developing expertise in your existing personnel. Hiring someone who is already knowledgeable in open-source applications can shorten the time it takes for your new CRM system to become fully functional and your users productive. You have to decide if the increase in productivity is worth the recruiting and salary costs you face when hiring an experienced outside resource. Developing an internal resource with training can be a morale booster and less expensive than an external hire, but the learning curve and loss of productivity may outweigh the advantages.

 

Next Steps


The question now is: Where do you find talented individuals with open-source experience? Do you find them in the same ways and places you would find other support personnel? The answer is yes and no. You can find strong candidates by all of the traditional methods: placement firms, newspaper ads, online job-sites and the careers link on your own corporate Web site. But although these methods produce good candidates on occasion, they often don't, and the process can be very slow and time-consuming. Remember: People who are heavily involved in open-source projects tend to think outside the box and have often broken with tradition to get where they are. You have to do the same to locate and recruit the best talent for your project.

The first place to look when seeking experts for your CRM system is your CRM vendor. Often, the company will have a jobs section on its site to match talent with companies like yours. You can also try looking into SIGs (Special Interest Groups), which are gatherings where like minds meet and discuss topics relating to a particular technology or application. Do some research online or consult your local newspaper for listings of meeting times and places. If you don't want to attend the meetings, you can contact the group leader and ask him or her to make an announcement at the next meeting. Finally, many open-source Web sites have job listings available at no charge to the employer or the job seeker. Those seeking open-source jobs will often check these sites and their online networks before resorting to more traditional formats.

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