Apache OFbiz project is a relatively new open source ERP solution. Being the new kid on the block has its advantages – it allows you to easily integrate unique functionality around your core software that provides added value for your users. More mature software packages sometimes find it difficult to fully adapt to modern trends as they feel it might damage their stable core, a core they worked for years to improve. Also, it is sometimes technically impossible to add new technologies to existing software.
OFbiz took advantage of that fact and incorporate into their open source ERP offering several unique features,extending its core ERP functionality, which can be found in very few ERP solutions. This post will present some of these features – Embedded BI(Business Inelegance), eBay and Google Base interfaces and supports for the Oagis standards.
OFBiz Features, Beyond The Core
BI (Business Information) is the name used to describe a special set of tools and technologies that provides business insight through advanced reporting and data mining. It answers questions like ‘how much are my best salesmen selling over the past 5 years’,'what are my 10 most sold products by region’ and ‘how much each of my distributors is selling comparing to last year, divided by product line’.
OFBiz is offering what I called embedded BI and I will explain why – standard BI solutions are stand alone(Non-Embedded) applications and not part of the ERP an organization is using. Transactional data (customers orders,invoices,shipments etc.) is created in the operational ERP system and transfered in a batch mode, usually over night or when operational activity is minimal, to the BI system for analysis. This BI system would almost always be running on a separate server.
OFBiz took a different approach. Since OFBiz is targeting small-medium businesses, the amount of information that goes into a BI system is not huge. In Apache OFBiz,the BI system is running along with the operational system,on the same server. Each transaction created in the operational part of OFBiz is also written to a designated area used for BI.
This approach has advantages and disadvantages. I will not discuss them here as it is a bit off-topic but I believe OFBiz should provide a mechanism that will allow the OFBiz administrator to decide if he wants to use the Embedded BI functionality or prefers to take the more standard approach – export all relevant information (both master data and transactional data) to external files to be consumed by a BI system (either OFBiz’s own BI or any other BI solution) and manage delta (e.g. export only data that has changed or created since the last export). OFBiz will create a separate database for the BI data – if that can be a database on a remote server, it would be a first step in the right direction. I still think support for ‘Batch Mode’ should be added.
eBay is the worlds’ largest trading platform, used by many SMEs . Adding an eBay interface makes a lot of sense for an open source ERP software. I really like this move on OFBiz’s part and I hope it will make OFBiz popular among the ever increasing number of eBay sellers.
The eBay integration works in both ways -
- Export Product Data – You can easily create an eBay sale directly from OFBiz – just define what product you want to sell, the quantity and the duration of the auction.
- Import Orders – This functionality lets you import eBay orders back into OFBiz. You will need to supply the order number and the order will be automatically created in OFBiz! COOL!
Google Base is a free product listing service from Google, still in Beta phase. I see it as an attempt by Google to compete with eBay, as the service is pretty similar to eBay’s service. Google tries to win over eBay by offering its product listing service for free, while eBay is charging both sellers and buyers using its service.
The idea behind Google Base is that anyone can publish any product they want to sell, without even having to own a website. Users than search the product listing to find products they want to buy.You can use Google’s checkout service for payment transactions (similar to eBay’s PayPal payment service).
Again, the integration with an open source ERP makes a lot of sense – just click a button in your OFBiz software, select the products you want to promote on Google Base and you have just reached a huge number of potential customers, with minimum effort, and best of all, for free!.
The Google Base service is in very early stages and its hard to tell if it can compete with eBay’s large and trusted community of sellers and buyers. OFBiz is betting it can.
Oagis is a standard defining structure of documents which are common to all business applications. The purpose of the standard is to allow seamless integration between different business applications – applications that support these standards can read and write semantic objects (customers,products,invoices,purchase orders) in an XML structure that can be consumed by a target system without having to do any mapping between the incoming object and the current representation of that object in the receiving systems.
Such standards have been invented and reinvented for the past twenty years. The problem is that the standard themselves are meaningless if they are not adopted. Getting all proprietary ERP vendors to agree on a specific standard representing the objects in their systems and actually implement the required interfaces is very difficult.
OfBiz chose to implement the standards provided by the Open Application Group, which has a very impressive list of members. That allows OFBiz systems to interface with other ERP software supporting Oagis without having to write any special software. That means that customers created in a CRM system supporting Oagis can be easily transfered to an OFBiz system, or a purchase order in OFBiz can be transfered to the vendor’s ERP system and automatically be converted to a sales order in the vendors’ system.
To summarize, Apache OFBiz offers,in addition to the core ERP functionality, a set of features that can really bring a lot of value to some of its user. I also like the non-conservative approach (supporting Google Base, for example) taken by the OFBiz project team.