Category Archives: “IT Leadership”

ERP in 2015 – free and open!

cmitBack in the 1990’s I ran an IT Center in Georgia with a mission to help small to mid size companies select and implement off the shelf ERP software. Over an eight year period I assisted hundreds of companies in their quest to upgrade or acquire an ERP system. Back then ERP systems all tended to be proprietary commercial, client/server, installed on on-premise servers, and accessed by users over local and wide area networks. None ran as web apps over the public Internet aka SaaS (Software as a Service) and there were virtually no open source ERP systems of any consequence.

Fast forward to today and you see ERP systems running on a variety of platforms, Windows and most flavors of Linux, and many are available as SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions where you don’t have to know or care which operating system they are running on.

While the most popular ERP systems, especially for larger companies, are from SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft; there are also a number of open source solutions available to freely download and deploy as you see fit.

Besides the obvious benefit of being free, today’s open source ERP solutions have several other advantages including a wide variety of deployment scenarios, hundreds of volunteer developers, and large support communities. Most of these systems are backed by companies who provide optional fee based Software as a Service plans, premier support, installation, migration, and integration  support, etc. But you always have the option of downloading and implementing the software yourself completely free of charge, either on premise on your own server or on a cloud platform such as Amazon EC2 or Microsoft Azure.

Some of the most popular open source ERP solutions include the following:

Odoo – With over two million users Odoo seems to be by far the most popular of the open source ERP options. I’ve used Google Trends to compare all of these open source ERP systems and Odoo seems to stand out far ahead of all the others as you can see in the following Google trend graph. I’ve tried all combinations and get similar results each time regardless of which (open source) ERP systems I compare with Odoo.

erptrends

Odoo provides an integrated suite of apps for CRM, Accounting, Manufacturing, Warehouse Management, Project Management, eCommerce, Web Site, and on and on with hundreds of applications that can be bolted on as the need arises. Odoo offers a fee based cloud hosted solution (free for the first 2 users) or you can download all of the software for free and install it yourself.

odoo
Odoo Setup Screen to Install Optional Modules

Odoo is written in Python and uses the PostgreSQL database. Screens can be customized but you should be able to handle Python if you want to do the customization yourself.

With Odoo and most of these systems you have a wide variety of deployment options; local on premise server, Amazon Web Services, Rackspace, Digital Ocean, etc. So far my favorite method of deployment for a multi-user Odoo server is the Bitnami Odoo Stack which can be launched with a single click onto Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, or VM Ware vCloud. There are also pre-configured Docker containers for Odoo.

ERPNext – This system is inexpensive at only $300 per year for 5 users on the hosted version. It’s also easy to install the free version yourself either on premise or cloud. ERPNext is designed for self-implementation. The Setup Wizard helps you get started with your Company, Items, Customers, and Suppliers. Included are modules for accounting, managing inventory, sales, purchase, and project management. The applications that make up ERPNext are form-driven—you fill information in a set of fields and let the application do the rest. The whole suite is easy to use.

ERPNext is written in Python and uses the MariaDB database.

Dolibarr – Easy one-click install onto most Linux hosting platforms such as Hostgator and Siteground. Designed for small companies,  foundations and freelances.  Written in PHP and uses either MySql or PostgreSQL database and installers are available for Windows, Debian/Ubuntu, Fedora/Redhat/OpenSuse. Documentation is available at http://wiki.dolibarr.org/

Opentaps – I haven’t tried this package but their website highlights some impressive case studies with high profile companies like Honeywell and Toyota. You can read about features available here.

An Opentaps Amazon Machine Image is available to install onto Amazon’s EC2 cloud platform. I haven’t tried it yet but I know it’s available.

Written in Enterprise Java using either MySQL or PostgreSQL databases.

Compiere – This ERP system is the only one I recall from back in the 1990’s as the first open source ERP package of any consequence. Back then it seemed hard to install compared to competing commercial packages and so I did not promote it in my IT Center. Compiere has since been acquired by Aptean, a company that has acquired many commercial ERP packages over the years including some I demonstrated at my center…Made2Manage for example is now owned by Aptean.

Compiere is written in Java and runs on Postgres and Oracle databases.

webERP – This is an easy to install ERP web application available on most commercial hosting platforms such as Siteground and Hostgator.  I installed on my Siteground hosting account with a single click of the mouse. webERP is a complete web based accounting and business management system that requires only a web-browser and pdf reader to use. It has a wide range of features suitable for many businesses particularly distributed businesses in wholesale, distribution and manufacturing.

Written in PHP with a mysql database.

There are other ERP systems that claim to be open source…and technically I’m sure are open source. However they make obtaining and installing the “free” version (usually called the Community version) of their software difficult and hard to find with virtually zero support of any kind.  I’m leaving them out of this list on purpose. Not that there is anything wrong with these packages but in this post I wanted to try and highlight some of the easiest open source ERP systems to obtain and install as well as provide readers with a glimpse of the many solutions that are available nowadays in this space.

In summary open source software is being used more than ever before in modern Enterprises, including open source ERP solutions, that may be just as functional as their commercial counterparts but without a marketing organization to promote them get much less attention and awareness.  Hopefully articles like this one will help get the word out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re working in technology but are you living in the right place?

Even in the technology business where everything is mostly online and even with all the modern communication capabilities we enjoy, the old adage…location, location, location…still holds true.

Where you live can be a huge advantage when it comes to access to resources, opportunities, and inspiration.

I was thinking about this yesterday while attending Amazon’s AWSome Day in Atlanta at the Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead. This was an all day training session by one of Amazons technical trainers provided free of charge.  It was a first class event with all the perks that make going to an all day lecture fun and something you might not expect even at a paid training class…great lunch, free drinks, and hors d’oeuvres.  A very good experience overall…not just for all the new knowledge gained but also for a memorable and fun day.

It’s not just the raw knowledge you pick up at these events but also the inspiration that comes from the feeling of being part of a group of so many other like minded technology enthusiasts. Something you just can’t get in isolation.

But in order to have this experience…you have to live within driving distance of Atlanta (or one of the other cities on the AWSome tour)…or pay to travel.

I was just thinking that if I still lived back in my home town in Arkansas I would never experience events like this one…and that would be a huge disadvantage for sure.

And it’s not just events by Amazon it’s also Microsoft, Google, Salesforce, IBM, and on and on. Not to mention the dozens of technology meetups held every month somewhere around the metro area.  Yesterday after AWSome Day ended I walked across the street to the Hilton and spent some time at a Salesforce event that happened to be going on at the same time.  It’s really non stop and it’s all freely available.

There’s another Amazon Web Services tour, AWS Big Data Solutions, starting later this year. Is your city on the list? schedule

Finding time to adopt tech innovation is Catch 22 for many people

I’m having a problem. I keep running into people who just don’t have time to adopt new technology innovations like social media. I recall years past when I was selling the idea of preventative maintenance systems to plant maintenance managers. Often they would listen to my pitch then say something like, “Well that all sounds good except I’m just too busy putting out fires every day to find time for implementing a PM system.” I can’t count how often I’ve heard those words. To their way of thinking it was simply a catch 22 situation where there’s no time to prevent future fires while today’s fires are burning. But then sometimes I would come across a plant maintenance manager who whole heartily adopted a PM strategy and system. Faced with the same daily fires they somehow found the time and energy to adopt the new technology and often came out looking like heroes as a result. I have often asked these “hero” maintenance managers how they found the time to adopt and implement PM and the answer I heard most often was “I didn’t have the time NOT to adopt a PM program.” How can this completely opposite viewpoint be explained? And it’s not that the managers who couldn’t imagine having time to adopt new ways of working and managing were lazy. Most were very hard working and put in far more than 40 hours each week just trying to keep their heads above water. I can understand why the idea of piling something else onto their plate seemed insane from that perspective. But then how to explain the maintenance managers who had the opposite view, successfully adopted the new PM system and revolutionized how their organization operated?

Today I run into managers who when faced with the idea of adopting social media will say, “I’m just too busy to pile even more work on top of what I’m already doing.” And they really are busy emailing, sending out revisions of attachments via email, going to meetings, and returning phone calls to even think about piling on even more responsibility with Twitter or Facebook or a blog. The problem I think is they can’t imagine how social media will reduce and in some cases eliminate their old style of communication and collaboration. In their mind the new technologies will simply pile more work on top of their current load. It’s funny how the same patterns of behavior and thinking just keep cycling round and round no matter the endeavor.

Some Companies Can’t Innovate

I was just reading about a conference put on by a middle-school in the Bronx called Dot-To-Dot. The main conference topic was exploring freedom but what really caught my attention was the technology platform they used to organize and host all aspects of the conference. Since 2007 this public middle school, IS 339, has been using Google Apps to engage students in new and innovative ways like student run businesses and student projects. Even grading and progress is managed collaboratively with students using Google forms and spreadsheets. What strikes me is how does a public middle school adopt and innovate with a technology like Google Apps when so many companies and government organizations (run by adults) are seemingly unable to do the same? I’m wondering what are the major factors in corporations and governments that stand in the way of adopting a strategy around technology innovations like Google Apps. I’ve seen it over and over throughout my career…with minicomputers, personal computers, LANs, 4th Gen Languages, Web Sites, Intranets, content management systems, etc. These technologies have all been right there staring every company in the face..but most companies just can’t seem to see the new technology until years later after the technology has been adopted by others and has become “old hat.” Why does this happen? If I had to pick one barrier to adoption of new technology for innovation I would have to choose middle management. There always seems to be one or more middle managers, who know little to nothing about how technology is used and where it is going, but for some reason finds it necessary to stand squarely in the way of anything that he/she deems TOO new. I think the reason small startup companies are so innovative is because they aren’t big enough to have put any middle managers into place. Once they do the innovation slows down or even stops. If anybody else has a better idea I would sure like to hear it.

Emerging Tech Hype Cycle for 2008

I was just reading about 2008 emerging technology hype cycle published by Gartner. According to Gartner new technologies progress through five distinct stages (1) Technology trigger, (2) peak of inflated expectations, (3) trough of disillusionment, (4) slope of enlightenment, and (5) plateau of productivity. And each technology moves through these stages at it’s own pace. Some on a 2-5 year cycle for example while others are on a much longer cycle of 5-10 years. I just located the 2006 curve here and I’m searching for as many as I can find. Since I began my career in technology back in 1980 I’ve been well aware of this curve. But this is the first time I’ve seen it published and documented. I can’t think of a single new technology over the past 28 years that hasn’t gone through these stages…except for the ones that flopped or became obsolete before reaching stage 5. In my early years I would be so disapointed whenever an exciting new technology like artifical intelliegnce for example would enter stage (3) trough of disillusionment. But after a while I realized this stage is inevidable after so much hype is piled on by industry media and consultants who are trying to capitalize on the initial excitement in order to rake in the big bucks while business leaders struggle to understand and are afraid of being left behind. As these same business leaders begin to realize the technology can’t possibly deliver the sky high results that were promised…they start a backlash against the technology that always appears very negative. Articles appear with quotes from prominent corporate leaders telling war stories of how the technology failed to deliver. Over time the story fades and all of the get rich quick consultants and vendors move on to the next new over hyped technology. Meanwhile the people who are left are the ones who believed in the technology all along recognizing it’s potential and understanding it’s limitations. They began to advance it’s capabilities and utilize it to solve problems and thus begin the long slow climb back up out of the trough to real value on the plateau of productivity where most decent technologies eventually end up.


Microsoft IT Leadership Summit

Last week (3/22/07) I attended Microsoft’s IT Leadership Summit held at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel near the Galleria mall in Atlanta. This was a nice “executive level” event where they gave each attendee a black portfolio and a book, “Enterprise Architecture as Strategy.” Everything was very well organized with really good food (full breakfast and lunch). They even loaned each attendee an HP IPAQ during the event to access the agenda, check email, view the attendee list, and take surveys…pretty cool.

The summit consisted of morning and afternoon keynotes with breakout sessions in between. Sessions were a little too general for me but I suppose they were geared towards the C level types in which case they were probably OK. The last keynote was outstanding and gave me some eye opening insights.

The speaker was Laurie Orlov, a VP from Forrester Research. Her topic was on the strategic role of IT where IT organizations can be categorized into three types, solid utility, trusted supplier, and partner player.

The solid utility type of IT group basically keeps the lights on and costs down. In order to implement a new application this type of group will always hire outside resources including project management.

The trusted supplier type of IT group is expected to deliver the applications requested by business managers in addition to keeping the lights on. Trusted supplier types often rely on outside contractors/consultants in order to implement new applications but mostly handle project management internally.

The partner player is strategic. IT is expected to find opportunities to apply technology to the business in order to grow the top line. Skills & competencies necessary to implement new applications may or may not be available internally, but often are. Partner Players “lead” the overall organization into applying both existing and emerging technologies in new and innovative ways.

The CIO for solid utility and trusted supplier normally reports to the CFO. While the CIO for partner player typically reports directly to the CEO.

According to Laurie 45% of companies desire their IT organization to be the solid utility type, while 45% desire IT to be a trusted supplier. A mere 10% of companies want their IT group to be a partner player.

I guess it’s my IE background but I always aspire to be a partner player within my organization. After hearing Laurie’s talk I realize that I have been involved with IT groups that clearly had a solid utility mindset and at the time I couldn’t understand their resistance to change and new ideas. Whereas other IT groups seem to not only welcome new ideas but actually thrive on them. Laurie provides a good framework that can be used to categorize these two extremes.

This is good to know and gives me a new way to evaluate members of my chosen IT profession. Now before considering a new job opportunity I will attempt to ascertain which of these categories the new position falls into. I certainly wouldn’t want to get stuck in a solid utility environment and apparently almost half of positions would be in this situation…bummer. On the other hand it would be fun to find an IT group currently operating as a solid utility but aspiring to be more of a partner player.

Thanks Laurie and Microsoft!