This chapter introduces the key aspects of Free/Open Source Enterprise Resources Planning systems (FOS-ERP). Starting by related work carried out by researchers and practitioners, it argues in favor of the growing acceptance of this category of enterprise systems while showing how this subject is not yet well explored, especially by researchers. The goals of this chapter are to highlight the differences between FOS-ERP and their proprietary equivalents (P-ERP) in terms of business models, selection, customization, and evolution; and showing the challenges and opportunities that they offer to adopters, vendors, researchers, and individual collaborators. Therefore, this chapter tries to broaden the discussion around the FOS-ERP subject, currently focused only in cost aspects, bringing more attention to other aspects and pointing out their innovative potential.
While increasing in market importance, FOS-ERP is still poorly analyzed by academy, where large quantities of articles put their research efforts on P-ERP deployment, project management, and economic aspects (Botta-Genoulaz, Millet & Grabot, 2005). Research on FOS-ERP software is rather deficient, and, therefore, a series of relevant aspects of FOS-ERP, which differentiate them from P-ERP, are still not well understood. As an example of this situation, a research conducted on the FOS-ERP evaluation subject, has shown how evaluating FOS-ERP brings more concerns than evaluating P-ERP (De Carvalho, 2006). One indication that FOS-ERP seems to be another situation where technology has outstripped the conceptual hawsers, is the fact that, according to Kim and Boldyreff (Kim & Boldyreff, 2005), “by September 2005 only one paper about Open Source ERP (Smets-Solanes & De Carvalho, 2003) has been published in the whole of ACM and IEEE Computer Society journals and proceedings, whereas more numerous articles have been published in non-academic industrial trade magazines.” Although nowadays more research work has been done on FOS-ERP, this subject is still a new one, with many topics to be explored and tendencies to be confirmed, since the number of adopters and the operation times are still small in relation to the P-ERP figures. In fact, FOS-ERP is a barely explored research subject. As said before, the first academic paper on this specific subject was Smets-Solanes & De Carvalho (2003); the first paper on evaluating FOS-ERP is De Carvalho (2006); and the first international event on FOS-ERP was held in Vienna, Austria, also in 20062. These facts show how FOS-ERP is a young research area, with relatively very little academic effort put on it until now.
However, some good work on related topics can be found. Currently the most in-depth analysis of the economic impact of Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) in enterprise systems was the one conducted by Dreiling and colleagues (Dreiling, Klaus, Rosemann & Wyssusek, 2005). The authors argue that “standards that supposedly open development by ensuring interoperability tend to be interpreted by enterprise systems global players according to their interest”. The authors follow this reasoning showing the deeper consequences of this: “[global players interests] might be incongruent with the interests of the software industry at large, those of users organizations, and may also have effects on local and national economies.” And more: “despite control of interfaces and standards by few software developers, even integration of the information infrastructure of one single company with one brand of enterprise system cannot be consolidated over time [citing many other authors].” On the open standards subject, they conclude, “software engineering principles and open standards are necessary but not sufficient condition for enterprise software development becoming less constrained by the politics of global players, responsive to user interests, and for ensuring a healthy software industry that can cater for regional market.”
Key Terms in this Chapter
ERP: Enterprise Resources Planning, a kind of software which main goal is to integrate all data and processes of an organization into a unified system.
Free/Open Source ERP: ERP systems that are released as Free Software or Open Source Software.
Free Software: According to the Free Software Foundation, is a Software that gives to the user the freedom to run the program for any purpose, study how the program works and adapt it to his/her needs, redistribute copies, improve the program, and release his/her improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits.
Free/Open Source Software Adopter Types: According to Xu (2003) it is possible to classify a software user company in accordance to its positioning in relation to a FOSS: Consumer: a passive role where the adopter will just use the software as it is, with no intention or capability of modifying or distributing the codes, Prosumer an active role where the adopter will report bugs, submit feature requests, post messages to lists. A more capable Prosumer will also provide bug fixes, patches, and new features. Profitor: a passive role where the adopter will not participate in the development process but simply will use the software as a source of profits. Partner: an active role where the adopter will actively participate in the whole open source development process for the purpose of earning profits.
Open Source Software: According to the Open Source Initiative, licenses must meet ten conditions in order to be considered open source licenses: 1. The software can be freely given away or sold. 2. The source code must either be included or freely obtainable. 3. Redistribution of modifications must be allowed. 4. Licenses may require that modifications be redistributed only as patches. 5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups. 6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor. 7. The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties. 8. The program cannot be licensed only as part of a larger distribution. 9. The license cannot insist that any other software it is distributed with must also be open source. 10. License Must Be Technology-Neutral The official definition of Open Source Software is very close to the definition of Free Software, however, it allows in practice more restrictive licenses, creating a category of “semi-free” software.
ERP Business Models: Broad range of informal and formal models that are used by a vendor to make profit from an ERP system deployment, customization, and maintenance.
ERP Evaluation: Process of selecting an ERP package, among various alternatives and in accordance to business processes, information, technology, and strategic requirements.