Open source CRM software makes a big splash


Author: Mary E. Tyler

BlueWhale 1.0 is a new customer relations management (CRM) product
from TechWhale, a Tampa, Fla.-based open source development company.
TechWhale’s president Alan Ranciato claims BlueWhale, which was
released in December, is the first all-encompassing open source CRM
application written in .Net.

“.Net has really picked up, and a lot of companies out there don’t
have the in-house talent to run a Linux server or MySQL, where
Microsoft administrators are a lot easier to come by,” says Ranciato.
“Companies already feel comfortable having Microsoft in-house,
whether or not it’s the right call. Microsoft products are in there.”

Besides running on the dominant platform, Ranciato believes there
are other strengths to developing in .Net. Easy integration with
existing back-end products like Microsoft’s GreatPlains and Navision
accounting products was a big plus. Ranciato feels it was also easier
to support database server and Web server farming, and different
session models within the .Net architecture.

Ranciato insists the software is true open source, with the code
distributed under the TechWhale Solutions
Public License
version 1.1.2, a modification of the Mozilla
Public License version 1.1. The curious can download BlueWhale for
free and install it for free. For $129 per user per year, TechWhale
offers email and phone support, full documentation, tested and signed
upgrades, and special, exclusive support forums. For companies that
do not have the support staff to host in-house, TechWhale offers a
hosted service for $35 per user per month. The company also provides
a free online demo.

While BlueWhale runs on Microsoft servers, on the client side,
BlueWhale is browser-based. “It’s optimized for IE5+,” says Ranciato,
“but it’s been tested on Netscape and on Firefox for Windows. There’s
a little degradation in those due to some cascading style sheet
functionality which can easily be tweaked.” BlueWhale also worked
just fine in Safari on Mac OS X and Konqueror for Linux. We found some minor visual glitches in Opera and Firefox on Linux.

Features and shortfalls

The competition’s weakness is BlueWhale’s strength. After spending
years as a CRM consultant working with various proprietary solutions,
Ranciato sums up the shortcoming of the competition succinctly: “You
couldn’t add a field to a form without a team of developers there.”
TechWhale’s goal is to get away from the idea that a customer should
need a team of developers to make changes to an application. “There’s
unlimited custom fields and dropdowns,” says Ranciato. “Basically the
entire thing can be customized by the end user.”

Another unique feature of BlueWhale Ranciato highlights is the way
support or sales cases can be automatically routed to specific
people. For example, say a specific customer service representative
known red widgets inside and out. Red widget questions can
automatically be sent to that rep rather than going to just

What’s with the whale?

Why BlueWhale? “The company was founded as Phoebiz, a play on Greek
mythology, Phoebus Apollo, the sun god,” explains TechWhale’s
president Alan Ranciato. “No one could spell or pronounce Phoebiz. We
decided on an image change and went with BlueWhale, the largest of
whales. We went with TechWhale as a company name.”

Because it’s a new product, TechWhale couldn’t hook us up with
customers willing to talk and Ranciato wouldn’t name names — not
even beta sites. But he says customers can tailor the software for a
variety of vertical markets. For instance, a Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX)
compliance firm with consultants all over the country participated in
beta testing using BlueWhale for sales at the main office. “But
externally, they’re using it to track client progress and billable
hours,” explains Ranciato. “They’re using it for knowledge
management, auditing and compliance templates, audit test cases, as a
collaboration suite in addition to the CRM functionality.”

Market and analysis

BlueWhale is aimed mainly at the middle of the CRM market,
Ranciato says — companies with 10 to 100 users. Forrester Research’s
vice president of CRM Erin Kinikin agrees that this is a good target.
“Mid-market CRM is like the wild, wild West. We’re seeing lots of new
vendors and the market is growing. Hosted CRM solutions, which
minimize up-front costs, are growing the fastest — 120% to 200%
annually according to our recent vendor evaluation.” “

According to Kinikin, hosted solutions have turned the market
upside down by appealing to end users “without getting bogged down in
IT.” She sees BlueWhale’s low price and dual-pronged attack (both
hosted and on-site) as a strength because it’s rare. “SalesForce does
a great job with hosted CRM, but if you want to move on-premises,
you’re out of luck. Microsoft has a licensed (on-premises) product,
but only hosts through partners,” explains Kinikin. “BlueWhale is
lower priced than most of its hosted CRM competitors, but they have
to show they can match the hosted players for ease of customization
and ease of use.”

However good that news may be, Kinikin sees a host of competitors
in the wings: Microsoft CRM,, Siebel, SalesNet,
NetSuite, Goldmine, Maximizer, and SalesLogix. “There’s a mid-market
shakeout coming,” Kinikin says. “There can’t be this many vendors
long term.”

Ranciato was complimentary of BlueWhale’s open source competition.
“As far as Compiere, the biggest thing we’re lacking is ERP. I think
that’s our biggest weakness,” he admits. “Sugar is a bit more mature.
They’ve been out a bit longer.” But he points out, “Some of the
features we have built into BlueWhale — the custom fields features
or a lot of customizations issues — [Compiere and Sugar] don’t
currently have.”


  • Enterprise Applications