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Ready to use: Open source ERP

In this tip, two of our site experts sound off about recently introduced open source enterprise resource planning (ERP) software options.

Enterprise apps previously unknown to the open source world are now popping up all over the place. In this Q&A, two of our site experts sound off about recently introduced open source enterprise resource planning (ERP) software options. Ken Milberg is President and Unix Systems Consultant at Unix Solutions, and our resident Unix-to-Linux migration expert. Bernard Golden is the CEO of Navica, Inc., the author of a column on entitled "Golden's Rules," and our resident expert on software issues.

How is open source ERP software faring in the enterprise?
Ken Milberg: Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is used to support the entire business function/process of the organization. In years past, one would hear the usual spiel about systems such as SAP and/or PeopleSoft being optimized and developed on Linux systems. While it is great that SAP has been available on Linux for many years and PeopleSoft is now joining the bandwagon, it speaks that much more to Linux and its strength as architecture, that companies are willing to use open source software to run their most critical business infrastructure.

Perhaps the most popular open source ERP system is developed by Compiere. It has received rave reviews and has many satisfied customers. Among other advantages, open source breeds the creativity lacking in the for-profit companies, and also provides for a much lower cost of ownership, as well as more control over what you want to do.

Is Compiere a good replacement or auxiliary to SAP and PeopleSoft?
Bernard Golden: Compiere is a combination ERP/CRM product. With a combined data metastructure for both types of functionality, it addresses the too-common problem of information silos that make it difficult to offer customers an integrated view of their order and service interactions. It is targeted toward organizations of less than $200 million in revenues, although this focus is more from a market segment choice rather than a technical limitation. Compiere has had nearly one million downloads.

It is not typical that Compiere and SAP operate cooperatively; it's sort of a "Who's the boss" situation. It's either one or the other if you want an uncomplicated, lower-cost configuration. Migrating the data from SAP to Compiere is a detailed but not difficult challenge. There are several options for data transfer – SQL, Java API, and CSV.

How well does it scale?
One user is using Compiere to support over 200 retail outlets with several hundred users, with plans to move to 2,000 outlets.

Am I likely to encounter any challenges in switching to Compiere?
The biggest challenge may be in configuring Compiere to meet the specific business needs of your company. Depending upon your company's industry, you may need to modify the data structures, workflows, etc. Compiere's partners can help in this effort if your organization is not able to perform this task.

As a side note, if you require additional assistance, partners are the only way to go. Jorg Janke, the founder of Compiere, chooses not to let his firm offer any services at all. Having worked at a couple of large ERP vendors he saw too many instances of partner conflict due to the vendor stepping in to snatch opportunities, and vowed not to let that happen with Compiere.

Are there vendors who implement and support these types of products?
Though organizations purchase ERP-type systems for a variety of reasons, usually they do so with the intention of trying to change the workflow of information processes and/or their ability to manage complex data more centrally and strategically. On most occasions, these organizations prefer to hire people to help them implement these types of changes. With respect to ERP systems, on their Website, the open source vendor Compiere provides a list of over 50 vendors that implement their software. Of course, there are also other solutions available for companies that don't have this kind of money, which include in-house training of IT staff.

Any advice for upgrading on Compiere?
The key to a successful migration is planning, piloting, and communication. Determine what modifications you've made to SAP for your implementation. Confirm that you can accomplish these mods in Compiere. Put together a pilot installation and test whether the right functionality and results are available in Compiere. Then create a project plan -- and don't overlook the human deliverables as well. Change is stressful, so plan on lots of user interaction, and make sure you outline the benefits of moving to the new system in terms they appreciate -- like vastly lower cost and more flexibility in upgrades.

Why aren't more businesses using open source ERP?
Ultimately, the community also needs to do a better job of educating people that one need not have to pay money for consultants for help, and that that reaching out to the open source community, whether it is for Linux or ERP help, (through the Compiere user community), can be a great option for you, and can certainly save you a great deal of money.

For more information:
  • Ask Ken a question about Unix-to-Linux migration
  • Ask Bernard a question about open source software

  • Dig Deeper on Linux servers

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