What's All This Talk About Open Source ERP Systems?


I have used and implemented a number of proprietary ERP systems including: SAP, IFS2000, Oracle and even quietly, MYOB. Everyone has something that you’re not so proud of, right? Ok, so I have read 10+ articles on Open Source and compared this to my understanding of the products mentioned above.

Open Source ERP SolutionsTypically, we commenced the implementation with a set of standard user requirements, modified and added additional requirements (that I suppose would be considered unique to us, however, if available, would considerably improve our efficiency or customer interaction). What I found was that proprietary products, we either had to modify our approach to suit a particular proprietary product or consider incorporating a 3rd party vertical application, which only added complexity and integration headaches. Generally, proprietary products never did exactly what my organisation wanted, so, therefore we had to change – isn’t this the tail wagging the dog?

Honestly, we always needed to modify the ERP and there were always things that could NOT be compromised. In other words, just like buying a nice suit, we needed a tailored made approach. It was a lot easier when I worked at BHP Billiton, but not everyone has BHP’s resources at their disposal or the clout to get access to the proprietary source code. If we requested the vendor to make the changes, well, that could take months. Generally, our only option was to work around the product, which inevitably meant exporting data to spreadsheets, and thus getting isolated pockets of information throughout the organisation. In the MYOB case, this became extreme.

The Open Source Solution

Choosing the right Open Source ERP software is quite a different experience. At WilldooIT, Jonathan Wilson, the Sales Director, sees his role more as a problem solver, and frequently says “the right question is never ‘can the software do this to suit our particular requirement’, but rather, “what is the most efficient way to do it? With minor modification to the existing code, or a new custom module utilising the existing features?"

You get to use a very functionally rich ERP that works your way. Yes, you do need to pay for these potential modifications and you can also decide not to modify Odoo, however, in key areas of your operation tailoring the ERP to exactly what you want saves you time and increases your team's productivity. And as a result, you do end up with a truly integrated solution, eliminating any implementation issues or compromises.

Speaking to the Expert
Jonathan Wilson

I have asked Jon Wilson, the following questions:

  • Jon, what is the most typically asked for modifications on Odoo and why?

Generally, they are along the lines of, "We work in a very particular way that suits our business and we have not been able to find any product that does exactly what we want. Also, we are looking for an integrated solution, not one that may suit one part of our requirements very well, but we then have to integrate to our existing financial system”.
  • What is the typical payback for these important modifications?

We like to see paybacks with the first 12 months though improved efficiency, improved and more timely information, and increased sales through better customer interaction.
  • We all know that using 100% of a product really increases your productivity. Is this the case with our Odoo clients?

A fully integrated product can provide massive improvements in efficiency, critical data visibility and improve decision-making.
  • Once a modification is developed does it become part of the standard Odoo product set?

Not necessarily, however, Odoo guarantees that all modified installations can be migrated to newer versions. In one case we upgraded a customer 3 major version steps.

Now I can hear many of you saying there must be a huge cost to undertaking the modifications to Open Source ERP. Yes there is a cost but this is more than offset by the lack of ongoing significant license fees. Douglas Johnson from Acumatica says, "Open Source ERP solutions can have lower initial costs than proprietary ERP solutions because you do not pay licensing fees".

It also lists other distinctions that I will blog about in other articles.

Images: Deposit Photos