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Project-Open -- Outside The Lines

Open Source is a force to be reckoned with in today's enterprise software market. Almost every type of enterprise application, from business intelligence to sales-force automation, now includes at least one open-source option; some of them, such as the popular SugarCRM platform, are quickly gaining ground against established, closed-source competitors.

Another promising open-source enterprise application, Project-Open, is just starting what its creator hopes will be an equally successful journey into the IT mainstream. It has a long way to go: Although this project-management tool has won respect and recognition within the Free Software community, it remains almost completely unknown everyplace else. In addition, Project-Open faces one challenge that products such as SugarCRM do not: In a market where most enterprise applications gravitate towards the familiar three-letter product descriptions, it is a hybrid tool that does not fit easily into any of the usual categories.

Frank Bergmannn, Project-Open's creator and chief developer, describes it as an integrated project management system. Specifically, he said, it offers planning, tracking, online collaboration and control of a company's business projects; in addition, it supports the management of provider relationships and accounts receivable/payable activity. Currently, Bergmannn stated, the software is better suited for mid-market firms than large enterprises; it can handle up to 20,000 projects, 200 employees, 2,000 freelancers and 2,000 customers.

Although Project-Open includes some CRM functionality, Bergmannn says it is not just a CRM system. Instead, Bergmannn prefers to describe it as a "Project-ERP" system -- that is, software designed to manage projects at the organizational level.

"I admit that this is a bit difficult to understand and even more difficult to explain: We are a tiny little 'SAP' for consulting companies. It's a completely new product category," Bergmannn said.

"ERP systems have a very, very different dynamic than other products. You need to understand how the entire organization works. You need a lot of experience and/or an education in business administration to understand the issues."

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