[Updated November 2016. Based on feedback and new entrants in the space, we’ve added some listings to our original article.]
Solving complicated problems for your business doesn’t mean you have to splash out for a million dollar enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Oracle and SAP may dominate the field, but there are plenty of free, open source ERP options that can help get your business in shape.
Before we dive in, a warning to the wise — putting an ERP in place is a headache. Most implementations go over budget, take too long, don’t deliver on the plan, and just generally make businesses miserable. Don’t fall into those camps. Having a clear plan, a clear problem, and clear goals is the recipe for ERP success. Even a “free” ERP costs your business time and money.
iDempiere is a full-fledged ERP, with everything from invoicing to POS integration to warehouse management to forecasting. While iDempiere is open source, installing an ERP is never truly free. Chuck Boecking, an ERP specialist, suggests budgeting between $20 thousand and $100 thousand for businesses earning $10 million to $100 million.
iDempiere, like most open source programs, relies on community support for troubleshooting. Businesses may also call in specialists with experience in iDempiere.
The software provides just about everything an ERP could, including product planning, warehouse management, and payroll, among many others. While it requires more setup than some of the other options on this list, iDempiere is one of the most robust open source options available.
Odoo is free for two users, when hosted online, but it jumps up after that. However, if you install and maintain the software in house, Odoo is totally free. If you are managing a system that doesn’t get touched by many people, Odoo online might be perfect. The software covers all the standard warehousing, manufacturing, and sales channels. Odoo’s distinction is that the whole system revolves around a series of apps.
You can bolt on access to apps for a monthly fee that help you build a website, install ecommerce portals, run a CRM, and on and on. The benefit of this system is you don’t end up running a bloated system when you could be running a slim setup.
Odoo’s obvious downside is the limitation on users or the need to have a skilled technical team in house. Luckily, adding online users beyond the first two isn’t prohibitively expensive. With its scaled approach to users and features, Odoo provides a solution that can grow with your business.
webERP is hosted completely online. It can be accessed from any device that has a browser and a PDF reader. The software is installed on a web server, which can either be owned and managed by the company or provided by a third party.
Some reviewers have mentioned that the simple nature of webERP leads to some drawbacks in functionality. webERP is specifically designed to be used and expanded by less technical businesses, with code that’s supposed to be readable and editable more easily.
All of that adds up to a system that can be put in place quickly and cheaply, but which may end up needing expansion later on.
Openbravo is a web-based ERP based on a modular system. The software comes in three “flavors” depending on the needs of your organization. Openbravo Community edition is the free release, offering a stripped down version of the paid Enterprise and Professional editions. These editions include some premium, commercial modules — like financial management and inventory management — that many businesses find necessary.
Moving up to the Professional edition will cost you $4,500 per year while the Enterprise edition runs $22,000 per year.
Like Odoo, Openbravo’s open source meets commercialized product approach gives users a place to go for support besides just community forums. Of course, support comes at a cost, which can put a damper on the lower cost option that open source often offers.
ERPNext is an open source solution with the modern user in mind. ERPNext is designed for small and medium businesses and is presented as a series of apps. The whole system is designed for the less technical among us, which is both a blessing and a curse.
ERPNext’s simplicity means that it’s easy to set up, using simple forms to enter information about your business and walking you through the whole process in typical setup wizard style. It’s a feeling that quickly becomes familiar as the ERP is clean and user friendly.
Of course the downside is in expanding the ERP to fit specific needs for larger or more complex businesses. While there are built in tools for designing specific forms and reports, adding more complex elements requires diving headfirst into the code.
ERPNext is free for five users when hosted online, or free for any size business when installed on your own servers.
VIENNA Advantage is an open source ERP out of Germany. The core product includes an ERP and CRM that the rest of the solutions revolve around. The platform is web-based, so you can access it across devices and without having to worry about some of the nitpicky compatibility issues that plague small businesses.
The Community Edition is a free option for “developers, technical companies and micro enterprises looking to deploy a basic set of features.” There is no built-in support for this edition and you’ll have to have someone with strong technical skills on-hand to get things running smoothly.
That said, once installed, you’ll have access to a ton of free modules. These include document management, accounting, and reporting tools.
If you end up loving the product and want to move management over to someone else, Vienna offers two a cloud-based, hosted solutions. One for small-medium businesses and one for enterprise clients.
MixERP is free and open source, built on the ASP.net framework. In its free iteration, you manage hosting and upgrading, but you’ll have access to support for $49 per issue. It’s a nice mix between do-it-yourself and complete outsourcing.
The free version comes with all the bells and whistles, including inventory management, sales management, accounting, and HR tools to keep your business running smoothly. It does lack manufacturing and payroll management options, though, so larger companies will need to use one of the cloud or on-premises, paid versions.
The range of open source ERP options should offer a solution for almost any business. While implementations can go awry, making clear plans and having an understanding of the problems that you’re trying to solve with an ERP can take a lot of the sting out of putting one into place.
If you’re looking for a more extensive list of ERP options, check out Capterra’s full listing of ERPs, complete with reviews and feature breakdowns.
Looking for Enterprise Resource Planning software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Enterprise Resource Planning software solutions.