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Open Source Supply Chain Software Strengths and Weaknesses of Open Source Supply Chain Software

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 By Rick Cook

Not all Supply Chain Management software is expensive. A growing number of supply chain systems – or basic versions of them – are available at no cost. These open source programs, such as OpenPro, xTuple (formerly OpenMFG) and Compiere to name a few, represent a small, but growing trend in the world of open source supply chain management software.

Open source supply chain systems aren't yet seeing the market growth of open source CRM systems, or the new market adoption of open source ERP applications, but are clearly increasing in presence and getting strong interest from cost savvy IT and business buyers.

The basic concept behind open source supply chain software is simple. The application is free, or available for a nominal fee, and it comes with the source code. Open source licenses allow users to dig into the source code and modify it in any way they choose.

In practice the situation is somewhat more complicated. First, some open source supply chain systems are only open source at the most basic level. That is, the basic version of the program is released under an open source license, but the more complex, highly functional, version of the application software costs more and comes with proprietary enhancements and support. Second, the major cost of any supply chain system is typically not in the license fees for the software, but in the effort needed to successfully implement it.

The key question with open source SCM, as with any enterprise software system is "can it do the job I need done?" Obviously the answer to that varies with your needs. However there are some generalizations that apply.

The Nature Of Open Source Supply Chain Software

Open source SCM software tends to be much simpler than the big, expensive applications from the top vendors. Most open source vendors are aiming for the small to medium sized market and they tend to stress ease of implementation and use rather than supporting complex supply chain management functions.

That doesn’t mean that open source isn’t functional. For some businesses it will do the job as well as, or better than, some commercial systems. Many open source programs have dozens, or hundreds, of available modules to handle different business processes and functions.

In considering open source products it is particularly important to look at the functionality of the software and the strength of the support. Of course you need to do this with any commercial package you evaluate, but it’s particularly important with open source because the level of functionality tends to vary much more and understanding the strength of small, private vendors or loosely federated support sources can be difficult.

Caveats

In spite of its advantages, you need to understand the limits on open source supply chain software and open source software in general.

First, it’s important to understand that "open source" doesn’t mean "free." While there may be no charge for the open source software, there are still significant costs associated with any business software implementation. Open source licenses may give you more flexibility and perhaps other advantages, but you’ll probably save less than you think on implementation by using an open source SCM solution.

In theory, the availability of the source code and lack of licensing restrictions means you can customize open source software to your heart’s content. In practice, the same considerations on customization apply to open source as to any other kind of supply chain software. Customization is time-consuming, expensive and requires careful testing to minimize side effects and downstream repercussions with trading partners. All of these things substantially increase the cost of a business software implementation. Which is why it’s best to keep the customization on any project to a minimum.

Support, on the other hand, may be less of an issue than you might first think, even with something as complex as a supply chain management solution. First off, most open source suppliers have groups or divisions devoted to providing support for their products’ implementations. That comes at a price, of course, but then so does support for implementing conventional business software.

Secondly, user communities are much more important with open source products than they are with commercial software. Forums and news groups devoted to open source solutions are strong sources of information and help, often superior to conventional support efforts from conventional vendors. For one thing, other users tend to be more candid about problems and bugs. In fact the makers of open source supply chain software usually encourage community building in order to keep their products healthy.

The counter-balancing factor is that getting support for open source products in general usually requires more work on your part than support for conventional products. You have to be aware of the community for your open source project and be willing to join the forums and such to get help.

When selecting an SCM package, it's worth evaluating open source supply chain systems, even if it means hunting for the packages. Open source vendors tend to put less money into sales and marketing and a higher proportion of their budgets into software development. While this is generally a good thing for their customers, it does mean that open source supply chain systems can be more difficult to find. End

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Open source software vendors tend to put less money into sales and marketing and a higher proportion of their budgets into software development.

 

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