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Top 4 Must Have Open Source Business Software Tools

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1st Nov 2012
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Startups generally don't have too much cash at their disposal; even if cash is available, there are thousand other important things to spend on. So setting up technology for the basic processes can be a difficult task, more so if you are a non-tech startup with very little or no software background. But as we all

know, technology can dramatically help you in speeding up things, get good performance and what not. We will see how open source can help you set up your basic processes right, without spending much (At least not as much as proprietary software). And these open source tools are not just “Chalta hai” but “Daudta hai”, as the bike ad goes. I mean these are very powerful business tools which are available free of cost, thanks to the huge developer community.What ever be the core business of your startup, there are few basic things which every business needs. For example, the customer relationship management, invoice management, document management etc. These tools are important for you to manage the most important aspects i.e. customer and money of the business. Following is a brief introduction of such tools, segregated based on the genre.

Website building

This the the first thing that you would want to do when you begin a business, developing website. Easy addition/upgrade of content, great looks and the power to manage everything without much technical know how, these are the most important things in a website for a non-tech startup I feel. “Joomla” is

one tool which you can use for this purpose.Joomla is a platform using which you can manage your website. It has a front end which a visitor to your site would see, and a back end where you can login and manage the site. The front end of Joomla site is rendered based on the template selected by you. The template, like a plugin can be easily installed on to the Joomla site. So, you have to just finalize the look of your site, develop a template accordingly and you are good to go. The template can be developed with some basic knowledge of HTML, CSS and PHP (This link will help you get started). Once the template is installed to the site, the admin can update the content as and when required. Joomla takes care of rendering the content as a proper web page.

Joomla can also be extended using various extensions available here. These extensions can help you add several great features to your site, which otherwise may be very difficult to develop or implement. So, don't forget to have a look at the extensions.

Having said so much about joomla, I would like to add that, if you need to regularly upgrade the site content, want some good UI features on your site and don't really want to get into the nitty gritty of coding, then joomla would be a good option to consider. Pre-requisites to install joomla on your web server is php and mysql support. You may even get dedicated joomla hosting by many web hosting providers.

CRM / Lead management

Customer relationship management is the most important for a business, after all business is all about the customer. So, this has to be taken seriously. Open

source has few great tools for CRM. Among the best of them is “SugarCRM”. It is available as SaaS as well as open source software. We will discuss about the open source version here, although there are few additional features available in the SaaS version.SugarCRM helps you manage your leads, accounts, opportunities and much more. As you logon to home page, you will find several small blocks, called as dashlets. These dashlets show you relevant information in discreet manner. The dashlets can be added or removed depending on your taste. Each record in Sugar can be linked to other records, i.e. An account can have several contacts, even accounts can be linked to a parent organization. The community edition also comes with a powerful search functionality. You can find detailed guide to the software here.

To begin using SugarCRM open source version, you can get started here. This link has all the info about the download, setup and installation procedure that you would need.

Invoice / Accounting management

Invoicing and financial – accounting is yet another important aspect, which if tracked properly will help you access the health of the business very well. GNUCash is one such desktop accounting tool, which will help you manage your bank accounts, income, and expenditure very well. All the tools that we

discussed till now are server based tools, i.e. The software sits on a web server, and you can access it through your web browser. But GNUCash is a desktop tool, which will be installed on your PC as any other software.Once you download and install GNUCash on your system, you can start working with it, with very little or no configuration at all. The tool lets you create, save and print invoices, manage you account with double entry and much more. Here is a complete list of GNUCash features. GNUCash also generates graphical reports, complete with bar graphs,pie charts etc.

You can download GNUCash from this link. Here is the detailed guide to use the tool.

Workflow / Document management

Number of documents can grow up very quickly in an organization, whether it may be manuals, tutorials, customer related documents, or your guidelines

internal to your company. And before you know it, you have some very big folders in your office PC's, where finding a document is nothing less than finding a pin in a haystack. Finally when a document is required, you have to look frantically for it in mails, folders.Open source has a reply for that, a free document management tool, Knowledge Tree (KT). KT, like SugarCRM is available as both, an open source software as well as SaaS. Needless to say, we will focus on the Open source version here. KT is a server based tool, so it sits on a server, and can be accessed via any internet browser. Pre-requisites for web server are php and mysql support.

KT lets you manage your documents as well as the workflow related to the documents. You can manage the permissions (who can access which file), search based on the metadata (content of the files), also, you get a complete activity report for each user, making it absolutely sure that no one can get away by downloading any confidential files that they don't need (But off course have access to). Here is the complete documentation for KT installation and usage.

Keep checking this space for more open source related tools and tips.

Author Bio: Nitish Tiwari, is a software engineer based out of Bangalore with a keen interest in software, especially open source software. Along with fiddling with open source software in free time, he also writes for Linux for you (An Open source based magazine).

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