Information Systems have played an increasingly visible role over the past several years in improving the competitiveness of business. More than just tools for handling repetitive tasks, they’re used to guide and advance all of a company’s‘ daily activities. Integrated management software is today very often a key source of significant competitive advantage.
The standard response to a need for responsiveness, reliability, and rapidly increasing expectations is to create an organization based on departments with a clear linear structure, integrated around your operating processes. To increase efficiency amongst salespeople, accountants, logistics staff and everyone else you should have a common understanding of your problems.
For this you need a common language for shared references, policies and communication. An ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system makes the ideal platform for this common reference point.
Open Source software at the service of management¶
Risks and integration costs are important barriers to all the advantages you gain from such systems. That’s why, today, few small- and medium-sized companies use ERP. In addition, the larger ERP vendors such as SAP, Microsoft and Oracle haven’t been able to reconcile the power and comprehensive cover of an ERP system with the simplicity and flexibility wanted by the users. But this is exactly what small and medium enterprises are looking for.
The development processes of open source software, and the new business models adopted by their developers, provide a new way of resolving such problems of cost and quality for this kind of enterprise software.
To make an ERP system fully available to small and medium enterprises, cost reduction is the first priority. Open source software makes it possible to greatly reduce development costs by aggressive reuse of open source software libraries; to eliminate intermediaries (the distributors), with all of their expensive sales overhead; to cut out selling costs by free publication of the software; and to considerably reduce the marketing overhead.
Since there is open interaction among thousands of contributors and partners working on the same project, the quality of the resulting software benefits greatly from the scrutiny. And you can’t be everything at once: accountant, software developer, salesperson, ISO 9001 quality professional, specialist in agricultural products, expert in the customs and habits of pharmaceutical vendors, just as a start.
Faced with these wide-ranging requirements, what could be better than a world network of partners and contributors? Everyone adds their own contribution according to their professional competence. Throughout this book you’ll see that the results exceed any reasonable expectations when such work is well organized.
But the real challenge of development is to make this solution simple and flexible, as well as complete. And to reach this level of quality you need a leader and co-ordinator who can organize all of these activities. So the development team of Tiny ERP, today called Open ERP, is responsible for most of the organization, synchronization and coherence of the software.
And Open ERP offers great performance in all these areas!
The Open ERP Solution¶
Because of its modularity, collaborative developments in Open ERP have been cleanly integrated, enabling any company to choose from a large list of available functions. As with most open source software, accessibility, flexibility, and simplicity are important keywords for development. Experience has shown that there’s no need to train users for several months on the system, because they can just download it and use it directly.
So you’ll find the modules for all types of needs, allowing your company to build its customized system by simply grouping and configuring the most suitable modules. Hundreds of modules are available.
They range from specific modules like the EDI interface for agricultural products, which has been used to interface with Match and Leclerc stores, up to the generic demonstration automation module for ordering sandwiches, which can take care of the eating preferences of your staff.
The results are rather impressive. Open ERP (once called Tiny ERP when it started out) is management software that is downloaded more than any other in the world, with over 600 downloads per day. It’s available today in 18 languages and has a world network of partners and contributors. More than 800 developers participate in the projects on the collaborative development system of Tiny Forge.
To our knowledge, OpenERP is the only management system which is routinely used not only by big companies but also by very small companies and independent companies. This diversity is an illustration of the software’s flexibility: a rather elegant coordination between people’s functional expectations of the software and great simplicity in its use.
And this diversity is also found in the various sectors and trades which use the software, including agricultural products, textiles, public auctions, IT, and trade associations.
Lastly, such software has arisen from the blend of high code quality, well-judged architecture and use of free technologies. In fact, you may be surprised (if you’re an IT person) to find that the download size of OpenERP is only around 6 MB. When that’s expanded during installation its size is mostly attributable to all the official translations that are packaged with it, not the operating code. We’ve moved a long way from the days when the only people who could be expected to benefit from ERP were the owners of a widget factory on some remote industrial estate.
Why this book?¶
Many books set out to tell readers about the management of enterprise, and equally many aim to instruct the reader in the use of a piece of specialized software. We’re not aiming to add to those lists because our approach is intended to be different.
Having restructured and reorganized many businesses, we wanted our management experience to generate a work that is both instructive and practical. It was important for us not to write a manual about OpenERP, but instead a work that deals with advanced management techniques realized through these IT tools. You’ll see what management practices might be useful, what’s possible, and then how you could achieve that in OpenERP.
It’s this that we’ll consider OpenERP for: not as an end in itself but just the tool you use to put an advanced management system into place.
Who’s it for?¶
Written by two CEOs who have been successful with new technologies, this book is aimed at directors and managers who have an ambition to improve the performance of their whole company’s management team. They’re likely already to have significant responsibilities and possess the influence to get things done in their company.
It’s likely that most readers will come from small- and medium-sized enterprises (up to a few hundred staff), and independent companies, because of the breadth of functions that need to be analyzed and involved in change. The same principles also apply to larger companies, however.
Structure of this book¶
Part One, First steps with Open ERP, starts with the installation of OpenERP. If you have already installed OpenERP you can directly take your first steps on a guided tour in the Guided Tour chapter. If you’re already familiar with OpenERP or Tiny ERP you can use the Developing a real case chapter to find out how to create a new workflow from scratch in an empty database with nothing to distract you. Or you can skip directly to the Customer Relationship Management chapter in the Managing Customer Relationships part, to start with details of OpenERP’s functional modules.
Part Two, Managing Customer Relationships, deals with Supplier and Customer Relationship Management (SRM & CRM). You’ll find the elements necessary for managing an efficient sales department there, and automating tasks to monitor performance.
Part Three, General Accounting, is devoted to general accounting and its key role in the management of the whole enterprise.
Part Four, Effective Management of Operations, handles all the operational functions of enterprise management: Human Resources for managing projects, through financial analyses supplied by analytic (or cost) accounts. You’ll see how using OpenERP can help you to optimize your leadership of an enterprise.
Part Five, Stock and Manufacturing, describes the physical movement of Stocks and their Manufacture (the transformation or products and services into other products).
Part Six, Sales and Purchasing, deals with Purchasing and Selling goods and services.
Part Seven, Process and Document Management, is focused on the Process description and Documentation handling that OpenERP manages.
Finally Part Eight, System Administration and Implementation, structured in two chapters, explains first how to administer and configure Open ERP then provides a methodology for implementing OpenERP in the enterprise.
About the authors
Fabien Pinckaers was only eighteen years old when he started his first company. Today, over ten years later, he has founded and managed several new technology companies, all based on Free / Open Source software.
He originated Tiny ERP, now OpenERP, and is the director of two companies including Tiny sprl, the editor of OpenERP. In three years he has grown the Tiny group from one to sixty-five employees without loans or external fund-raising, and while making a profit.
He has also developed several large scale projects, such as Auction-in-Europe.com, which become the leader in the art market in Belgium. Even today people sell more art works there than on ebay.be.
He is also the founder of the LUG (Linux User Group) of Louvain-la-Neuve, and of several free projects like OpenReport, OpenStuff and Tiny Report. Educated as a civil engineer (polytechnic), he has won several IT prizes in Europe such as Wired and l’Inscene.
A fierce defender of free software in the enterprise, he is in constant demand as a conference speaker and he is the author of numerous articles dealing with free software in the management of the enterprise.
Geoff has held posts as director of services and of IT systems for international companies and in manufacturing. He was Senior Industrial Research Fellow at Cambridge University’s Institute for Manufacturing where he focused on innovation processes.
He founded Seath Solutions Ltd (http://www.seathsolutions.com/) to provide services in the use of Open Source software, particularly Open ERP, for business management.
Author of articles and books focusing on the processes and technology of innovation, Geoff is also an active contributor to the Open ERP project. He holds an MBA from Cranfield School of Management and an MA in Engineering and Electrical Sciences from Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He is a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and of the Society of Authors.
Having observed, suffered, and led process implementation projects in various organizations, he has many thoughts to share on the successful adoption of an effective management automation tool.
From Geoff Gardiner
My gratitude goes to my co-author, Fabien Pinckaers, for his vision and tenacity in developing Tiny ERP and OpenERP, and the team at Tiny for its excellent work on this.
OpenERP relies on a philosophy of Open Source and on the technologies that have been developed and tuned over the years by numerous talented people. Their efforts are greatly appreciated.
Thanks also to my family for their encouragement, their tolerance and their constant presence.
From Fabien Pinckaers
I address my thanks to all of the team at Tiny for their hard work in preparing, translating and re-reading the book in its various forms. My particular thanks to Laurence Henrion and my family for supporting me throughout all this effort.