SAN FRANCISCO -- Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software provides a means to control many business processes. The trouble is that some software products end up controlling and even limiting the direction that a business and its processes can take, said Jorg Janke, co-creator of Compiere, a six-year-old open source ERP package. SearchEnterpriseLinux.com spoke with Jorg at the Open Source Business Conference about the benefits of and obstacles to open source adoption. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:
There is much talk about the flexibility and freedom that open source can offer. Is that a rose-colored view?
Janke: No. With open source software, a company really is in control of its destiny. There are a couple of ways this works.
Consider that the average proprietary implementation lifecycle is 10 years. What the spender wants to know is whether the product and the company that makes it will be viable in 10 years. It's impossible to predict if a company will fail, get acquired or merge. Compiere is an open source project that can not be merged out of existence. As long as there are uses and users for it, it will be there.
With open source software, a company has the means to pursue its direction rather than the direction of the product it bought. Open source projects develop in the direction their users choose. Of course, user feedback has some impact on how proprietary products are developed, but they can't improve upon it independently or change a product's direction if it's heading down the wrong track for that user.
IT managers tell me that they won't switch ERP systems, even though they're not satisfied with their current system. They say that replacing one big ERP package with another impacts too many departments and is too huge a job. Isn't this a big adoption barrier for Compiere?
Janke: Implementation of ERP is very multi-faceted. That is one of the reasons why ERP implementations can take quite a bit of time. It doesn't have to do with the software so much as growing out acceptance through the users. One of the benefits of Compiere is that you can start with something basic and evolve. You don't have to implement something huge to start with.
What's your advice to an IT manager who wants to try before they buy?
Janke: My suggestion is to test drive. Download and implement Compiere on a machine, and then take a few hours trying to mimic your company's business processes on it. There is nothing better than actually accomplishing a pilot in a short period of time … and being able to answer questions pretty quickly. Questions like: Is there enough strength for us? Can we utilize it with existing applications? What are the deficiencies?
With proprietary software you don't get the test drive for all sorts of reasons. For one thing, a test drive provides a different truth than what sales may have said. That is one of the benefits of open source and Compiere. There is no information hiding. Everything about the software is visible. The power of using open source is having lots of information, having the ability to distinguish the real information from the hype and hearsay.
While IT managers like the free downloads of open source products, they want something more concrete than a Web site when it comes to implementation and support. They tell us that a fear of not getting enterprise-level support is their top reason for not using open source apps. What is Compiere's approach to services and support?
Janke: We're is more of a back office organization, and our partners implement and support Compiere. So, we are not in competition with our partners. Our partners have significant development and implementation capability. They're the ones helping with the local support and actual implementation.
That business model is much more stable as you have a far broader base where people can get support. If you don't like one partner, you can switch to another. We currently have about 50 partners worldwide. In each quarter, we usually add 5 to 10 partners to that count. They're experienced. Essentially, they say, "Thanks a lot for the lead. Now, can you please move out of the way?" And, we do.