Over at Computer Economics, we've just released a new study on adoption trends for open source business applications, such as ERP and CRM, and the results are encouraging.
Bottom line: although adoption levels for open source apps are still low, the ROI reported by our survey respondents is quite strong. 65% report positive ROI within two years, while only 5% report negative ROI. That's one of the strongest performances for any of the 20 or so technologies that we surveyed this year. An executive summary
and the full report on open source business applications
is available on our website.
Traditional vendors, such as SAP and Oracle do not seem to be viewing open source products such as opentaps, Compiere, xTuple, SugarCRM, and others as a threat. Why should they? The open source ERP and CRM market share is tiny--today. But that may change as major vendors continue to increase their software maintenance costs. As our study found, the ROI for open source is very strong, which should ultimately drive increased adoption.
What will it take for open source applications to really become a serious threat to traditional vendors?Thriving ecosystem of service providers needed
The primary need is to have a thriving ecosystem of service providers around a few open source products in each application category. Much of the discomfort with open source apps comes because business leaders by nature are conservative. They fear being "orphaned." They perceive proprietary software as being more viable in the long run than open source products.
This is in spite of the fact that the past thirty years have seen dozens of so-called major vendors go out of business
, leaving orphaned products. Or, vendors are acquired and their products are relegated to subordinate status in the portfolio of the new owner. Think of ManMan (now in Infor's portfolio) or Manfact (now in Epicor's).
It is also in spite of the fact that each of the open source products listed above--opentaps, Compiere, xTuple, and SugarCRM--have commercial development organizations behind them. Contrary to popular belief, most open source business applications are not developed by "volunteers." Open source is a software licensing model--it has nothing to do with how the software is developed or maintained. Open source means you have rights to the code and are free to use it, enhance it, and even redistribute it, provided you do so on an open source basis.
It also means that anyone, any service provider, can build a business around supporting the software. As long as there are users that need support, there will be demand for services, and with open source there is no restriction on who can provide them. So in this aspect--as we indicate in our full report
--open source may in fact be less risky than proprietary software. As long as adoption reaches a critical threshold, and there is a thriving ecosystem of support providers, the product will not be orphaned. And if the product is not widely implemented, at least you have full rights to the source code.
Where will open source service providers come from? Interestingly, I see ERP resellers and VARs becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. They have their own list of complaints, which I won't enumerate right now. Suffice to say that being an open source service provider is a much simpler life than being a "business partner" with a major software vendor. (Write to me or leave a comment below if you have an opinion on this point.) If open source adoption does increase, I can see a trend developing where service providers begin to add open source support to their offerings, or jump ship altogether in favor of supporting open source ERP and CRM apps.Don't underestimate costs of open source
Our study sounded one cautionary note regarding open source apps: early adopters tend to underestimate costs. It might be that because they perceive the software as "free," they tend to underestimate the costs of implementation and support. Our full report provides details on the percentage of organizations that reported TCO greater, less than, or the same as budgeted amounts. Nevertheless, in spite of a tendency to overrun budgets, the ROI for open source applications is overwhelmingly positive. In other words, most projects had no problem reaching favorable ROI even with cost overruns.
It's too early to say that open source is the future of ERP, CRM, and other enterprise applications. It is more likely that proprietary software and open source apps will each carve out their respective niches--sometimes coexisting in the same organization. Nevertheless, experiences of early adopters show that the business case for open source is strong. The positive economic characteristics of open source can only lead to increased adoption.Related postsCourt ruling strengthens legal basis for open sourcexTuple: a hybrid open-source ERP development modelThe disruptive power of open sourceTotal cost study for an open source ERP projectCompiere's open source ERP business model and growth plansOpen source ERP gaining adherentsKey advantage of open source is NOT cost savingsOpen source: turning software sales and marketing upside downERP Graveyard