An OpenPro Impression – 1 Reason for a Scripted Scenario Demo

First impressions don’t always hold up to in-depth examinations. My impression that it was an open source product went awry because of a few omissions on OpenPro’s web site. I asked whether the software was offered under an open source license. The nature of the answer was part of some past events that reinforce, in my mind, how beneficial it can be to script scenarios for vendor demonstrations before finalizing an important software selection. What does my license question have to do with vendor demonstrations? I’ll explain, because it’s just a part of a larger example.

My colleagues and I research different sorts of enterprise software. We’re constantly revising analysis models that we use in obtaining and reviewing data about software functionality. Typically we ask vendors to respond to an RFI as though it were a real customer’s. Once we have that information we review it for completion and accuracy. The important part of the review takes place when the analyst provides a scenario, from the RFI response, for the vendor to demonstrate.

As an actual customer, asking for a demonstration per your script is your chance to see if your impression of what the vendor says it provides, will hold true to its claims and if the reality of those claims will be of a satisfactory quality for the needs you’ve outlined. This is not to imply something nefarious might otherwise occur, one never knows how the wording of a certain criterion might be interpreted or misunderstood.

If you request a demonstration from several vendors and do not provide a script to follow, there’s no guarantee that the vendors will show you parallel functionality to compare. They may show you what they think are the most impressive features. But those might not cover the requirements that are most important to you in terms of getting the job done or better, improving how its done. Several of my colleagues wrote a much more detailed article on this subject a few years ago, How Some ERP Vendors Demonstrated – Warts and All.

Back to OpenPro. Looking at the company’s web site today, it doesn’t appear very different from how I remember. In just about every possible instance, the company writes about its relationship with open source but if we examine it in more depth, where is the project page? How do you get access to the code? What is its license? I apologize in advance if I’ve missed this information. It’s just that I’ve come to expect these things from companies offering open source solutions. Often, it’s easy to try open source apps before getting involved in a more sophisticated purchase, so perhaps an argument could be made that, in general, there is less necessity to get a scripted vendor demo. It’s certainly not so in this case.

Although it promotes the impression that it’s an open source product, when I talked to the company some time ago, I came to understand that the ERP system itself wasn’t open source, but rather it ran on top of open source software and was programmed using open source languages. Maybe this status is different now, admittedly it’s been a while since I’ve had contact with anyone at the company. The point is, I don’t think the first impression given by the company is necessarily the reality and indeed, this became a pattern when pressed for demonstrations.

I’d received one demonstration from the vendor on a scripted scenario for some of its ERP functionality. It wasn’t spot on but I’d rather give the benefit of the doubt and assume that perhaps questions in the script weren’t as understandable as possible, which requires some more clarification work. Upon requesting further review and suggesting ways to clarify responses the vendor was, at best, not forthcoming with its revisions.

Had I or my colleagues been an actual customer, we would have had the impression that OpenPro does far more than any existing major ERP, SCM, and CRM vendor combined. Consider that even well-known open source ERP solutions like Compiere, OFbiz, opentaps, and Openbravo don’t offer that extensive a range of functionality.

We wanted our demonstration of a scripted scenario based on our RFIs. If the company simply misunderstood a thousand criteria or so, well, that would be a good opportunity to clarify and find out what the product really could do. Unfortunately that never came to pass.

To sum it up, notice how you get one impression from the marketing of a web site (that OpenPro appears like an open source ERP system), which upon seeking details, no longer seems accurate (it relies on open source systems and languages)? Did the company’s marketing personnel not fully understand what they were projecting (an honest mistake) or is something else going on? Does that even matter if you’re the customer?

You ought to get what you think you’re getting. When it comes to the system’s capabilities finding out whether the vendor understood your RFI and can actually provide what it said it can, makes a difference in how you evaluate your options.

2 Replies to “An OpenPro Impression – 1 Reason for a Scripted Scenario Demo”

  1. Josh,
    We have been searching for an ERP system that can run on Macs, none of which were designed as such, so have been looking at open source code options for several months. The functionality and user ineterface for OpenPro are very impressive, more so than OpenMfg, a rival. It is with great interest that we read your review, but we are still unsure as to its implications. Do you mean to suggest that customers cannot easily make modifications or debug its software, thus a weakness? Do you have any recommendations for other Mac compatable ERP packages (presumably open source code) to look at? Ane experience with Open Mfg? Input would be welcome.
    Paul

    1. Paul, firstly, let me say that I don’t intend to discourage you from selecting OpenPro if it fits your requirements better than your alternatives and is available to you at the right price point. It sounds like you’ve already seen a demonstration or else tried it out for yourself. Maybe it’s a good fit for the requirements you’ve specified. Were you able to see your organization’s requirements demonstrated?

      Because you mentioned “customers” plural, I’m guessing that you’re interested in the sorts of debugging and modifications associated with the people and organizations participating in FOSS communities. If that’s the case then it seems like it would be good to ask how OpenPro facilitates those communities around its software and how it manages the changes, improvements, and direction of its community. Open source projects that don’t manage and foster their communities adeptly can result in chaos, which might do more harm to the future of the software than to help it. Yet the benefits of these communities (benefits of an open source ecosystem) are a valuable reason to be considering an open source solution.

      Have you found that OpenPro confers typical free and open source software rights for modifying its code as you might need (are they now licensing it under an Open Source Initiative or FSF approved license)? I think it is important to verify that you would have those rights if this is something you intend to make use of. Unless I’ve made an error, to my eyes, OpenPro doesn’t clearly present those community characteristics mentioned above. Of course, if you don’t necessarily insist on a FOSS ERP solution such characteristics might not have the same importance to you (lack thereof may not be a considered a weakness).

      But the crux of my point, and looking back at my post I may have rambled on about a couple things confusing the issue, is that impressions a vendor gives, ought to be validated against what it can actually provide for your needs. This would be true for any software but I chose to discuss OpenPro because I had some first-hand experiences that seemed to bear out this point. First, the handling of its “open source-ness” and second, the unwillingness to demonstrate the surprisingly immense range of functionality it claims to support. In the first case this has an impact on the future of the product, its roadmap and its viability. In the second case the impact quite specifically affects what you will achieve with it for your business requirements.

      You asked about OpenMFG. I personally have not been party to an in-depth demonstration of its software (so I cannot fairly comment on its capabilities), though CEO Ned Lilly, has been quite willing to give me earnest responses to questions.

      You asked about other ERP systems that support the Mac OS. Here are a few that you might want to look into, to my knowledge they support OS X as a server platform (not sure if you’re looking at it for the client side or not).

      Compiere – http://www.compiere.com
      OpenMFG – http://www.openmfg.com
      openTaps ERP – http://www.opentaps.org

      I understand that the following support Unix or provide hosted services–perhaps it would be worth checking if Mac OS X is also supported.
      Adonix – http://www.adonix.com
      OpenBravo – http://www.openbravo.com
      Epicor – http://www.epicor.com
      Lawson – http://www.lawson.com
      Metasystems – http://www.metasystems.com
      NetSuite – http://www.netsuite.com
      Pronto – http://www.pronto.com.au
      QAD – http://www.qad.com

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