New open-source CRM app uses gamification

BOSTON — The backers of a new open-source CRM (customer relationship management) application called Zurmo are hoping to stand out in a crowded field via the use of gamification, the notion of applying game-like design principles in an effort to make users engage more closely with a product.

Now in beta, Zurmo is written in PHP and made available under the GPLv3 open-source license. A release candidate is slated for availability in July, with a “general audience” release scheduled for September.

Its core CRM features cover contact management, deal tracking and activity management, while the gamification elements include the use of points and badges that users receive based on the actions they take, both in terms of sheer use as well as “business-related milestones,” such as garnering a certain number of sales leads.

As users build up these points, they can achieve higher levels. The best performers jockey for space on a “leaderboard” inside the application, with the idea being to spur competition.

“We made the decision to go with gamification about six months ago,”said Zurmo’s community manager, Stafford McKay. “We could either continue on and do the normal enterprise functionality like everybody else, or do something different.”

The problem is that the CRM industry “has failed in terms of user adoption,” McKay added. “Truly, end users do not use the [systems]. We’ve got to fix this. What is the point of creating an application nobody’s going to use?”

Gamification is still a nascent field, “but we see it as really interesting and very possible in terms of motivating users,” McKay said.

The company is seeking contributors to the open-source project. Right now, five internal developers and about eight committed external contributors are involved.

Zurmo is using test-driven development practices to create the software, which makes the process slower but avoids buggy code.

It would probably be possible to reach general availability earlier than September but Zurmo wants to make sure the initial release has “a nice baseline of functionality,” said co-founder Ray Stoeckicht.

Gamification is a key philosophical focus of the product but not the only one, he said. In addition, Zurmo intends to deliver a “pure” open-source product, with all features available for download at no charge, rather than offering more basic editions at no cost and charging more for additional functionality, as is often done, he said.

Zurmo’s backers have previous experience in running an open-source CRM business. Stoeckicht and McKay both work for Intelestream, a firm that offers consulting and services for SugarCRM and its own Intelecrm application, which is a fork of the SugarCRM community edition code. Zurmo’s lead architect and co-founder, Jason Green, was an early SugarCRM employee and founded Intelestream, where he serves as CEO.

Intelestream and Zurmo are completely separate companies, and Zurmo has its own codebase, according to McKay.

Zurmo hasn’t made final decisions on how it will make money off the software, but will probably look toward support and customization services, as well as building out a channel model, Stoeckicht said.

Hosting is available for the software from Zurmo and a few partners, but right now most deployments are on-premises, he said. In terms of customers, Zurmo is targeting small and medium-sized businesses.

Zurmo’s success or failure may rest on how it executes the gamification components.

“Gamification is most effective when it employs rewards in exchange for actions,” said analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research. “Sometimes the reward isn’t pay, it’s personal pride,” he added. “Really good gamification mechanisms take advantage of non-monetary rewards.”

For example, reaching a certain point threshold might earn a user a dinner with the boss or a preferred parking space, Wang said. “It’s something that’s valuable to them. That’s what motivates people.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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