Si Chen believes open source has something to offer organizations with specialized business applications needs.
To Chen, principal of Open Source Strategies Inc., a Los Angeles-based consulting firm, open sources flexibility lends itself to ERP (enterprise resource planning) solutions. Open source puts ERP source code in the hands of companies, which can freely modify it to meet their specific needs.
With ERP customization is close to inevitable. Chen pointed out that as many as 80 percent of ERP deployments in some market segments are custom-developed systems. And commercial ERP products from the likes of Oracle and SAP are rarely implemented without significant adaptation.
"In the commercial world, you are still sort of stuck – you have to pay the license fee," Chen said.
But with open source, he added, customers can forgo the license fee and tweak the software until it suits them.
Chens first exposure to open-source ERP was in a user role. He began exploring the field a couple of years ago when he sought a system for his online retail operation, Gracious Style. He settled on the OFBiz (Open For Business) open-source enterprise automation suite. In time, Chens company became one of the core developers of OFBiz.
Now, Open Source Strategies is lead developer on Sequoia ERP, a version of OFBiz positioned as an ERP solution. Sequoia ERP is available under the MIT Public License.
"We saw a significant need for an open-source ERP solution that was low cost and … very flexible and could be developed in a community process," Chen said.
Dan Houck, a software architect based in Pittsburgh, said Sequoia ERP "will require extensive customization for your business and a heavy knowledge investment." That story, he added, holds true for any ERP offering. But if an organization is going to invest heavily in ERP, Houck reasoned, why not invest in "something you have control over?"