One of the main goals of OS ERP Guru is to provide a comprehensive,professional comparison of open source ERP solutions,providing value to our readers looking into open source ERP solutions to run their business.
Due to the complexity of ERP projects,there are many factors which have to be considered before deciding on which ERP solution to implement.We have chosen the 10 most important evaluation criteria,which we will use in our open source ERP comparison benchmark matrix.
1.Customization Complexity- No matter how comprehensive an ERP solution is,customizing the software is inevitable. Open source ERP solutions are particularly easy to customize,since the source code is freely available. Also,these solutions are written in popular,widely used computer languages such as PHP and Java.It is also important to evaluate how easily customized code is migrated during software upgrades.
2.Functionality – All ERP packages are expected to support core business process. For example,creating customer,vendor and products master records, maintaining customer orders and sending invoices are integral parts of ERP systems. Besides core processes, ERP solutions vary widely. One ERP solution might be very good at managing manufacturing operations, while another one will have a robust accounting module.It is vital to identify the unique strength of each open source ERP solution and decide which one fits your business requirements best.
3.User Experience – Although many older ERP solutions do not pride themselves in their user experience, modern technologies make it much easier to build pleasant user interfaces,making it easy for users finding information and connecting it to the business process they are managing in the ERP information system. User interfaces should be clean,clear,intuitive,offer context-based help,enabling users to be as efficient as possible in their daily tasks.
4.Development Activity – Unfortunately, many open source projects do not last many years. That is true,of course, for non open-source software as well-smaller software companies are bought and products are discontinued, software vendors go bankrupt and support and maintenance companies discontinue operations. The good news is,since the products are open source,the source code is available and you can continue developing the product to fit your specific needs even if the official development of the project stopped. However, in any given open source project,developers activity might vary over time, effecting rate of bug fixes and new features development. It’s important to consider the development activity in the months prior to the time the decision about the open source ERP solution is made.
5.Knowledge – A key succes factor in any kind of information system implementation is knowledge around the product. Too often, great software products are not successful because there are not enough professionals who know how to implement the product. That is especially true for ERP implementations – the complexity of the project and the varying requirements from one project to another requires strong knowledge of the ERP software being implemented.New open source ERP solutions do not always have enough experienced consultants that can help customers bring out the highest possible Return On Investment.
6.Production-readiness – We use the term production readiness as a placeholder for a set of requirements that has nothing to do with functionality,but are of equal importance to any business software -performance,ability to scale to large numbers of records,high availability options,recovery procedures in case of system or database crash,security features,user management and access control. These are often the factors that differentiate mature open source ERP solutions from others. Production readiness is commonly overlooked, especially by small and medium companies,since the volume of transactions and data stored in the ERP system is relatively small.Hopefully, an ERP system will help the business grow to a point where this issues will rise – suddenly, creating a new customer orders or displaying an inventory report takes 10 seconds instead of 1 second,system availability is not 100% or the system shuts down because the database is full.You must consider early on future growth rates,allowed downtimes,cost of lost data etc.
7.Integration – Every ERP project requires integration.The open source ERP solution you will use will need to communicate with other software systems – mail servers,spreadsheets,your vendors’ ordering system,your shipping companies’ software.In commercial ERP solutions, the integration is handled by middleware – usually a huge bundle of software components that manage that integration.An open source ERP can never provide that level of integration support.What it can do is use standards which are supported by other software vendors to enable painless integration. For example,using XML files to import and export data such as customer and product records is the de-facto standard in data exchange. Exposing functionality as web services and being able to consume web services from other systems is also becoming increasingly popular.
8.Migration – The first step of most ERP projects is migration. For large ERP implementations,that step can take months if not years. For smaller companies implementing open source ERP solutions,the amount and complexity of data to migrate from older systems to the new ERP system is much smaller. Still, a poor migration can bring an ERP project to failure. Open source ERP solutions should provide a flexible migration component,allowing import of data from multiple sources(text files,csv,excel files,database files),a validation layer,acting as a gatekeeper,stopping low quality data from entering the new system and an exception reporting tool.
9.T.C.O.- Open source is free.Well, not always. Almost all open source products are free to download and use,but some some are not. Also,most are free to download and use-you will still need to customize the software and require some consulting services. There is a long debate between supporters of open source software and commercial software vendors over the question “How much does a free,open source software, actually costs”. You can be sure of one thing – you will save a lot of money on licensing the software itself,money you can invest in customization,consulting,support and maintenance.
10.Community – The open source movement is all about community.A group of people working night and day,spanning multiple time zones,writing large amounts of great code,without being paid! It sounds crazy,but it’s true. All successful open source projects have one thing in common – a thriving,diverse community,supplying everything required to support wide adoption of software-not only development but also documentation, bug reporting and support forums.The larger the community, the higher chances of success for an open source project.
Although there are some other criteria you might want to consider,the list above is a must in your checklist of evaluation criteria for open source ERP solutions.
In future posts we will have a detailed discussion on each criteria.