Open Source ERP: When Open Source Collaboration Breaks Down

By Derek Singleton posted 02-28-2011 19:06

Open source software development at its finest is a communal effort. It has proven itself a viable model in several areas of software development. However, there is one area where the community effort has broken down. That is in manufacturing enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. Open source simply hasn't taken off for manufacturing ERP software the way it has for say, infrastructure software. Part of the reason for this is the introduction of capitalists into the open source ERP model. 
Community contributions are central to the open-source model. Traditionally, the largest area of contribution has been developers writing and contributing code. However, contributions are also made in quality assurance, documentation and support. Again, this has worked well for open-source infrastructure where technology is coded for developers, by developers. There is an admirable sense of partnership between these birds of a feather. A developer’s necessity spurs innovation, while altruism and a desire to be recognized drives her to contribute that code to the open-source project.
This model breaks down when business people enter the picture. As capitalists, they are compensated to grow their firm’s profits, not support a community. Business people seek a proprietary competitive advantage. As a result, they are unlikely to share their innovations. In most cases, business people will support the core of an open-source project; however, they will soon seek to monetize differentiated extensions and other value-added enhancements to the project. Based on what I’ve read of the Compiere chronicles, it appears that the competing financial motivations of the sponsor, channel and contributors were behind many of that project’s challenges. 
It's a shame that in an area of software that would truly benefit from collaboration, the community development element is missing.


  • ERP
  • open source