Open ERP package takes on giants

Melbourne-based Mid-Comp International has adopted an open-source approach to its Java-based Odyssey distribution and accounting product, but does not expect users to fiddle with the core software on a regular basis.

The open-source orientation is there more as long-term insurance for customers, says managing director Steve Bridges.

"We're not kidding ourselves that we're sure to be around in 10 years' time," he says, and it makes sense to offer the customer a fall-back position with open source.

Where individual tailoring of the product is concerned, customers are invited to encode their own policies, alone or with the help of Mid-Comp, its New Zealand agent, Fusion5, or another developer, or to pick policies from those developed for other clients and available on the company's website.

This approach of having a central skeleton with separate "plug-and-play" modules accommodating particular styles of doing business will, Bridges says, help deal with the classic difficulties users have in adapting ERP packages to their individual style of operation. This has tied up large companies for years and harmed the reputation of ERP.

"Not only does the customer have to tailor it the first time; they have to repeat the tailoring every time they upgrade," Bridges says. Odyssey's detachable policy modules are designed to avoid this; they will replug unaltered into the same sockets on each upgraded version of the main software.

Odyssey, launched last week in New Zealand, is not, properly speaking, an ERP package, Bridges says.

"We don't do manufacturing, we confine ourselves to corporate accounting and distribution." But he expects customers to compare it to the major ERP offerings like SAP and JD Edwards, as the closest match in the market.

Odyssey's first customer, and still its flagship reference site, is Nintendo Australia, which implemented the software in January 2001 and moved over completely from JDE a year ago.

Nintendo went through something of a trial by fire with the launch of the Game Cube. This required the company to take on about 40 casual warehouse staff, who had to learn to operate the product quickly. "Everything got where it was supposed to go, and nothing went missing," Bridges boasts.

Odyssey is written entirely in Pure Java "with about 9000 classes; it's one of the largest Pure Java applications written", he says. It is accessed entirely through the internet or an intranet, with only a browser required on the client machine.

Bridges says Mid-Comp would be happy with 1% of the New Zealand market, and 0.1% of the much larger Australian market.

Bridges says the company has steered clear of Microsoft's .Net platform. Even IBM, synonymous with proprietary computing in the 70s and early 80s, has seen the light and done a 180-degree turn in the open systems direction, he says, "and Microsoft is still going the other way. I don't understand it."

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