Your company is growing: orders increase, you are hiring more people, the warehouse is getting bigger. It’s getting harder and harder to keep track of everything through post-its strewn all over the office, or through the large spreadsheet you have so carefully built during the past few months.
If you ever find yourself in this situation, it means it’s time for you to start using an ERP software.
The initial investment may seem steep, but the value provided should exceed it tenfold, if it’s implemented and used correctly.
Let’s assume you’ve had a life revelation and decided to invest in an ERP. Now the question is: which one?
You google it and find out immediately there are plenty of choices and options to choose from. SaaS or on premise? Big general-purpose or something more focused? Open Source or Closed Source?
This last question may be one few people reflect on, but I feel like that choice is more important – and has more consequences – than most people realize.
In this article I hope I can show you the reason why I feel opting for an Open Source ERP may be the right way to go.
First, let me set the record straight on some common misconceptions:

  • Open Source does not mean “for free”, nor cheap. Open source ERP – and software in general – can cost much less or much more than similar Closed Source alternatives.
  • Open Source does not equal shoddy, “amateurish” or “second-class” software. There is this myth that all the Open Source software have been written by a bunch of young developers in their free time as a hobby. The reality is that a lot of Open Source software are created and/or backed by major corporations and foundations like Google, Red Hat, Facebook, Microsoft or – to cite some “smaller” names in the enterprise software space – Odoo (300 employees, 2 million users) and Magento (500-1000 employees, hundreds of thousands of stores using it).

Having said that, let’s dive right in and take a look at 5 major advantages granted by Open Source ERPs!
 

1. No vendor lock-in

Imagine you find a Closed Source ERP that offers you a great solution at a very attractive cost. You opt for it, and for the first few months everything seems to be great!
Now, the software house needs to make money and decides that, starting from the next year, some of the features you are currently using will turn into very expensive add-ons. And you have no will to pay so much for them. Surprise! As you have no control over the software, there’s not much you can do. You’ll just have to stop using those features.
This is a common trait of most – if not all – Closed Source solutions: the company which writes the software has a complete control over your installation. You may have your own a database containing all of your data, but
those are useful only thanks to the ERP. In fact, having the data without a software applying logics to them,
means you are basically back to the old post-its or to the large spreadsheet. And, as long as you know, the ERP
is a big black box – you can’t look into it and see how it works.
With an open source ERP, you’ll always have access to the “box” you’re using, and it’s not black, it’s transparent: you can see every part of it. How it works, how it uses your data. This serves as an insurance and gives the control over your installation back to you.
 

2. Extensibility

With an Open Source ERP, you have full access to the source code. That means you can change and customise every single aspect or function of the software, not just what the software provider thought about or allowed you to change.
It’s not unlikely having your own home vs renting. Sure, in your rented home you can change the carpet, maybe even repaint the walls in the colors you want.
But with an Open Source ERP you are free to literally tear down the walls between the kitchen and the living room and create the open-concept kitchen you’ve always dreamed of.
Metaphors aside, we at MONK Software use an Open Source ERP to manage all of our enterprise processes: sales, accounting, project management, employees management.
We could’ve done the same with most ERPs, either Closed or Open Source, but only by exploiting the superior extensibility of our choosen Open Source ERP we were enabled to do some of “heavier” customisations.
customized-odoo
Our heavily customised Odoo; you can see in the top right the lunch counter
We currently use it as datasource for our smart office. We overhauled the UI to match our needs and brand identity, and developed ad hoc modules to manage stuff you wouldn’t find in any other ERP. For example, we now track who’s there for lunch so that our in-house “chef” knows how many people she needs to cook for 😀
Also, we are in the process of integrating EIMe, our great conversational solution into the ERP to facilitate intra-company communications!
 

3. Quality of the code

This one isn’t an intrinsic advantage of Open Source software, but rather a common consequence.
Because it will be publicly visible, developers are motivated to write a cleaner, well-commented, easier to understand and all-around better code.
They’ll tend to avoid poor-quality code, makeshift solutions or any other piece of suboptimal code that you wouldn’t want powering the software that manages your entire company.
For software developers, code is like a portfolio. Nobody wants their name associated with a bad piece of code, just like no construction company would want to put their name on a collapsing, ugly building.
This is not to say that Closed Source code always has a lower quality. Companies usually have internal practices and guidelines to write good code, and with no doubt there are Closed Source software with quality, well-commented code.
The thing is with a Closed Source software you have to trust in the company practices to enforce good-quality code. With an Open Source software you can assess the code quality yourself (or ask your developers to do so) and trust in the constant public scrutiny that pushes developers to write only acceptable code.
Being a coder myself, I can promise you that even if I try to always write code as good as
possible, making it public always stimulates me to check it and make sure it all looks good (if you are interested, you can find our public stuff on github).
 

4. Security

A lot of people believe that being Open Source equals being less secure, because everyone can “look under the hood” and look for potential vulnerabilities.
This is a common myth that, despite being disproven over and over again, is still prevalent in the minds of non-technical people.
There is this mantra in the security community that “security through obscurity is not security at all.”
So, the truth is the opposite: for similar reasons to the one of my previous point, Open Source code is often more secure than Closed-Source equivalents.
The University of Washington did one of several studies on the subject, coming to this conclusion:

Open source does not pose any significant barriers to security,
but rather reinforces sound security practices by involving many people
that expose bugs quickly, and offers side-effects that provide customers and the
community with concrete examples of reusable, secure, and working code.

 

5. Community

Last but not least, an Open Source ERP, as any Open Source software, attracts an opensource-friendly
community. This means there usually is a spirit of collaboration, teamwork and participation that encourages
people to contribute in many ways.
As a consequence, the number of users reporting bugs, proposing features and ideas and generally contributing is higher than usual.
In addition to that, in case of bugs or any other issue that may be blocking for your business, you can fix the problem yourself and even share the fix with the whole community, with no need to report the issue and waiting for someone else to solve it.
odoo-network-huge
Odoo community on github in numbers: 6100+ stars, 5700+ forks, 2400+ open user reports, 900+ open user-proposed patches.
Does it sound rare and unlikely?
Well, I – as part of my work at MONK Software – have reported and fixed multiple bugs in Odoo, and they accepted and incorporated my patches.
This means MONK Software and I are officially contributors to Odoo’s source code. Pretty cool!
 

Conclusions

I think most of the article comes down to this:

  • With an Open Source ERP, you can be more pro-active regarding your ERP implementation.
  • By contrast, with a Closed Source ERP, you can’t help but accept the decisions of the software creators and hope they matches your needs!

If you want to know more about how an Open Source ERP can be useful for your company, contact us!

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