Ideas on Enterprise Information Systems Development

This blog is devoted to ideas on Enterprise Information Systems (EIS) development. It focuses on Lean Thinking, Agile Methods, and Free/Open Source Software, as means of improving EIS development and evolution, under a more practical than academical view. You may find here a lot of "thinking aloud" material, sometimes without scientific treatment... don't worry, this is a blog!
Every post is marked with at least one of Product or Process labels, meaning that they are related to execution techniques (programming and testing) or management techniques (planning and monitoring), respectively.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Free/Open Source ERP (FOS-ERP) - Part IV

In 2007 I wrote a book chapter on the differences between FOS-ERP and proprietary ERP (P-ERP), published as part of the Handbook on Research in Enterprise Systems in 2008. This post is part of a series that revisits this paper. Please refer to the first post of this series to better understand the structure used in this comparison.

Detailed Design and Implementation

The detailed design phase focuses on refining models and parametrization. The implementation phase concentrates on programming/configuring, validating, integrating and releasing modules for initial use. Remember that if you are using an interactive and incremental process, you will do this module by module, or even by implementing intermediary versions of modules: modules can have partial implementations that will be refined by operation, in other words, we can go back to refine a module in a future iteration. The Figure 1 revisits Gera's life cycle by changing it from a Waterfall to an Iterative & Incremental perspective.

Figure 1: Iterative & Incremental Gera's Lifecycle

In Figure 1, the outer loop refers to the iterations, while the internal loop refers to the possibility of releasing incremental versions of the modules.

If the adopter opts to participate actively in the selected project, deeper design and implementation decisions are involved, as well as the necessity of investing more human and financial resources for understanding the FOS-ERP framework, developing and maintaining parts of it, and managing the relationship with the project's community.

If a FOS-ERP vendor is involved, customization and maintenance contracts must define the responsibilities of each part on the deployment process. For instance, what the vendor should do if it finds a bug injected by the customer? What is the priority, for the vendor, for correcting this bug? Actually, is the vendor  responsible for correcting this bug, since for this part of the system the adopter decided to take advantage of the solution’s free license, therefore exempting the vendor of responsibility for the bug?

Furthermore, the adopter has the option of assuming different grades of involvement for each module. For ordinary modules, like payroll, the adopter can let the vendor do the work. However, for strategic modules, for which the adopter believes that holds competitive advantage by following its own business processes, the adopter can take an active role from detailed design to implementation and maintenance, to assure that the business knowledge, or at least the more precious details that keep the competitive advantage, will be kept in the adopter company. In that situation the vendor is limited to act as a kind of advisor to the adopter.

A very interesting point is the openness of parts customized for and sponsored by a specific adopter. Maybe the adopter doesn’t want to become a developer at all – which is very likely to happen, but it still wants to keep some tailored parts of the system in secrecy. In these cases, the ERP's licensing terms must be adapted, so that general openness of the code is guaranteed, while some client-sponsored customized parts can be kept closed.

Although this last point can seem to be nonsense in FOSS terms, it is a common real-life situation in FOS-ERP. In fact, I know a case that an adopter company sponsored the whole development of an FOS-ERP during a three-year period, without becoming a prosumer and keeping only a specific algorithm in secret. The original license had to be changed to fit this customer demand.

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