I recently took a briefing from a company called OpenMFG, with the distinct hope that my skepticism about the role of open source in the ERP market would be dashed.
Unfortunately for OpenMFG, and happily for those of you who worry about having to cost-justify your decidedly non-open source SAP implementations, there is no imminent open source ERP revolution coming to your company any time soon.
This isn't how OpenMFG views the situation: this early-stage vendor purports to have the first open source ERP product on the market. It's definitely an ERP product, albeit one that is considerably less functional than many. But when you dig under the covers, the reality is that OpenMFG's so-called open source process is not much different than any other vendor's software development process. OpenMFG was built, to give them credit, on top of a healthy assortment of open source tools. But the initial development was done by OpenMFG employees, and the upgrade and enhancement process, while purporting to be open source, is really just a clever modification of the way software has always been enhanced.
It goes like this: customers sends in suggested changes as rewritten source code. OpenMFG reviews the suggested changes, and then implements the ones it likes, and releases the changes in its next product rev.
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This differs only vaguely from how every software vendor operates in that most vendors don't have their customers rewriting their code for them. It certainly saves on R&D expenses: counting on customers to enhance your product means you don't have to pay your own developers. That's still a far cry from an open source model, though it does explain one way in which OpenMFG plans to undersell its competitors.
Some day, some part of your ERP stack may be open source, just as some part of your systems software stack probably is today.
The difficulty in transferring the open source model from the relatively constrained, techno-centric world of systems software to the extremely broad and domain-specific world of ERP places that eventuality in the "still a way's off" category. But if there's any other company that wants to take a chance to convince me otherwise, feel free. I look forward to eating these words some day.
Joshua Greenbaum is a market research analyst and consultant at Enterprise Applications Consulting. He has more than 15 years of experience in the industry as a computer programmer, systems analyst, author, and consultant. Prior to starting his own firm, Enterprise Applications Consulting, he was the founding director of the Packaged Software Strategies Service for Hurwitz Group, which focused on technology, infrastructure and business issues in the enterprise applications market.