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.