Open-Source ERP Software: Benefits, Challenges and Top Vendors

More than ever, businesses are relying on enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to streamline their operations. From accounting to manufacturing to sales, the all-in-one solutions drive efficiency and collaboration. But for some businesses, the price tag of an ERP solution is simply too high.

Open-source ERP software is a cheaper alternative for many companies, especially small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). It’s modular and flexible, allowing companies to only pay for the features and customizations they need.

What is open-source ERP?

An open-source ERP system is an enterprise resource planning system with publicly available source code. Companies can access the open-source code for free and customize the software themselves, rather than relying on the vendor. Most ERP solutions are proprietary or closed source, and customers can’t access the source code.

Benefits of Open-Source ERP

There are many reasons to choose open-source ERP software. Here are some of the benefits:

Lower costs

ERP software isn’t cheap. Solutions generally cost between $75,000 and $750,000 for SMBs and $1 million to $10 million for larger companies. These high up-front costs can stop many companies from investing in the technology.

Open-source ERP software can be a cost-effective alternative because customers don’t have to pay a license fee to access the source code. That means companies can install and customize the software for free.

Most ERP solutions have a broad range of features and modules that are included in their cost. On the other hand, open-source ERP systems come with only basic functionality. Companies can decide whether to add free modules or pay for proprietary features.

For more info on costs, check out our 2020 ERP pricing guide.

More control over customizations

When companies want to add customizations to their ERP solution, they often have to work with the vendor, their internal IT team and even an external consultant. It can take time to coordinate between groups, and there can be miscommunications. And if the vendor decides it can’t develop a particular customization, the company doesn’t have any other options.

With open-source ERP software, companies can create customizations internally, without having to go through a vendor. Businesses also have access to ready-made or industry-specific features and modules created by user communities. This reduces the time and complexity of customizations and gives companies more options.

Simpler to scale

One of the biggest challenges in selecting an ERP solution is considering future scalability. Many growing companies realize too late that upgrading their software or increasing the number of users requires costly reimplementation.

Open-source ERP is easier to scale and can be upgraded more frequently without disruptions. However, this is only the case when system customizations are properly implemented.

Demo at your own pace

Companies that want to test out an ERP solution usually have to contact a vendor, request demos and set up a meeting. This process takes time, and the company will likely sit through a sales pitch.

On the other hand, companies can access open-source ERP code through a publicly available database and test the software without interacting with a vendor’s sales team. Although the solution won’t have customizations at first, companies will be able to test it at their own speed and discretion.

High-quality coding

“High-quality” and “low cost” are words that are seldomly paired. But many low-cost open-source ERP solutions offer high quality coding because they’re built on previous open-source projects that have been reviewed by various independent developers.

Your internal IT staff also has the ability to audit open-source code for quality. With closed source ERP solutions, IT employees can’t access the source code. They can only test whether software processes work correctly with business data.

Challenges of Open-Source ERP

Although open-source ERP software has many advantages, it may not be right for every company. Here are several challenges to consider:

Underestimating the cost

Open-source ERP solutions have publicly available source code companies can access for free. However, this only includes basic functionality. Vendors may charge a fee for advanced features, proprietary modules, cloud deployments, training and support. Depending on what features and assistance a company needs, an open-source ERP solution can still be a sizable investment.

In addition, companies still pay implementation costs, which include internal IT staff, database hardware, and security and backup software. If the company uses an external consultant during implementation, that can increase expenses.

Requires knowledgeable IT staff

Companies that want to implement open-source ERP software need to have IT staff with significant programming and ERP expertise to design and install customizations internally. Many companies, especially small businesses, may not have the in-house technical knowledge to implement an open-source ERP solution

It’s important to note that if a company doesn’t buy a support plan from a vendor, internal IT staff will be responsible for maintaining the software. In the event of a system error or major crash, the company is on its own.

Management suspicion

As with any software adoption, it’s important to get buy-in from key stakeholders, such as executive management. But this group may be particularly suspicious of open-source ERP software, especially if it’s a new concept to them.

Executives might have concerns about the security and viability of software with publicly available source code. In this case, the implementation team will have to demonstrate that an open-source ERP solution can be safe and long-lasting. For example, positive references from other customers can help get management buy-in.

Excessive customization

ERP implementation is a long and complex process, and companies can waste significant time and money if it’s poorly planned. Because open-source ERP systems offer many potential customizations, companies need to set clear guidelines for the functionality they need.

According to Ned Lilly, CEO of xTuple, “It’s easy to fall into the trap of overcustomizing, especially with open-source. The most successful implementations work with standard processes and methodologies, and make modifications only where the business need can’t be met otherwise.”

Lack of documentation

User training is a vital step in implementation and requires documentation that explains how users operate the ERP software. Most commercial vendors provide this documentation, but for open-source software, this type of reference material can be lacking or missing entirely.

IT and management may have to create software documentation so users can be trained.

Top Open-Source ERP vendors

Open-source ERP solutions have been in the market for many years. Here are several of the top vendors:

odoo ERP software review by Better Buys

Odoo is a comprehensive open-source ERP system with over 30 main modules and more than 16,000 third-party apps. The open-source software is available in two versions: Odoo Community and Odoo Enterprise.

Odoo Community is free to implement and maintain on-premise. It includes basic modules for accounting, project management, customer relationship management (CRM), human resources, inventory, manufacturing, e-commerce and marketing.

Odoo Enterprise costs $28 per user, per month and includes advanced functionality and mobile device access. Additional modules and apps can be installed for free or from $12 to $96 per month.

Customers can get help with implementation by purchasing a tiered Success Pack (fewer than 50 users) or by hiring an Odoo consultant (more than 50 users).

ERPNext is an open-source, web-based system aimed at small and medium-sized businesses in the services, manufacturing, retail, distribution, education, nonprofit and agriculture sectors. The software is form-driven, which means users enter info into customizable fields through a user-friendly interface.

On-premise and self-hosted deployments are free for up to five users. Basic modules include accounting, project and task management, sales, inventory, CRM, human resources and manufacturing.

ERPNext has two pricing plans for its cloud deployment:

  • Standard – The Standard plan costs $20 per user, per month. It includes 10 GB cloud storage, 5,000 emails per month, tracking up to three companies, 10 custom forms and integration to payment processors as well as Dropbox, Shopify and AWS.
  • Pro – The Pro plan costs $50 per user, per month and adds on 25 GB cloud storage, 15,000 emails per month, tracking data for unlimited companies, and unlimited custom forms and scripts.

ERPNext is designed for self-implementation, and most companies don’t need any help. However, the vendor does provide videos and other resources for implementation. In addition, paying customers receive one-on-one sessions with the support team to help configure the system.

Customers can access email-based support, a bug-fix guarantee, and advanced functionality in finance, accounting, inventory and payroll.

xTuple is a scalable, open-source ERP software targeting small and medium-sized businesses. The solution comes in four industry-specific versions: Postbooks, Distribution, Manufacturing and Enterprise.

The Postbooks version includes core modules, such as finance, sales, CRM, supplier management, inventory, manufacturing and distribution. Users can access demos, live video tutorials, articles, community forums and implementation manuals.

The other industry-specific versions of xTuple include advanced functionality, specialized modules, and in-classroom and online training. Price ranges are:

  • $45 to $150 per user, per month
  • $1,350 to $4,500 for a one-time perpetual license
  • Cloud deployment – $100 per month, plus $30 per user, per month.

Customers can also purchase a support plan that covers online and phone support, fast-tracked assistance and answers to transaction questions.

Dolibarr ERP & CRM helps organizations manage their business functions. Developers can install the source code onto their servers and customize it to fit their company’s needs. Dollibarr is built on a modular design and includes several core modules like CRM and sales, human resources, finance and billing and marketing.

While the open source software is free, some of the modules and plugins that are available in the DoliStore marketplace may require a nominal fee.

In addition to deploying on premise, organizations can choose to purchase the DoliCloud option, which has a 15-day free trial and two subscription tiers: Basic and Premium. The Basic package starts at €9 per user, per month ($9.74 per user, per month) and has 5 GB of storage and the basic features of Dolibarr ERP & CRM. The Premium package costs €30 per month plus €12 per user, per month ($32.46 per month plus $12.98 per user, per month) and has all of the features of the Basic package, plus 25 GB of storage and priority email support.

Bottom Line

Open-source ERP solutions offer many benefits. They also pose several challenges, and they aren’t for every company. If you’re in the market for an ERP solution — open-source or not — check out our ERP Buyer’s Guide for more info.