Open Source ERP xTuple: Growing with Help from its Friends

Recently I had the opportunity to present one of the keynotes at xTupleCon 2014, xTuple’s second annual user conference. After last year’s inaugural event I posted a recap, referring to xTuple itself, an open source ERP solution provider, as A Small Company with a Big Reach. If you are (still) not familiar with xTuple, and/or are (still) not aware of the premise behind open source, you might want to click on the link above and read last year’s post.

This year, in his opening keynote, xTuple President and CEO Ned Lily (also the author of The ERP Graveyard Blog) started out with a brief history of the company, which you can also see summarized as an infographic on the xTuple website:

  • Company 1.0 (2001 to 2004): The company was originally named OpenMFG and provided software for manufacturing functions only, relying on other third party (external) solutions for financials.
  • Company 2.0 (2004 to 2007): Still known as OpenMFG, the product expanded to include fully integrated CRM, multicurrency, and more advanced manufacturing functionality. While built on open source technology, during this phase the company business model and the product itself weren’t open source – software wasn’t available for free. But it did start to leverage the community and began incorporating user contributions into the solution.
  • Company 3.0 (2007 to 2011): The company changed its name to xTuple to denote growth and more functionality (beyond manufacturing functions), as it “jumped off the cliff and made it real open source. ” It released its core product, PostBooks as free and open source (FOSS) with support for scripting for customizations and extensions.
  • Company 4.0 (2011 to the present): The company remains xTuple, and although it still operates on the premise of open source, as Ned put it, they are “knee deep in R&D on multiple fronts.”

In fact the R&D efforts over the past 3 years are now culminating in a variety of enhancements, including:

  • Mobile Web Client – This is more than just the ability to run xTuple on a mobile device. While it is called the “Mobile Web” it is not a mobile-only solution. However, the desktop client has not gone away and the two are fully interoperable. But beyond the web interface, the Mobile Web Client introduced new object oriented architecture. It is a 100% JavaScript, HTML5-based application, which works on any modern tablet, smartphone or desktop web browser.
  • xTuple Server – Think of this as a pre-configured version of the software for an on-premise server-class (not a desktop) computer. The result is a more secure, standardized appliance for easier implementations and upgrades.
  • xTuple Cloud – This is a secure, hosted model that emphasizes portability. Mint Jutras research has confirmed that many companies are attracted to the concept of being able to move freely between cloud and on-premise deployment, however we see much more movement from on-premise to the cloud than vice-versa. Companies that move to the cloud, particularly SaaS (software as a service) deployments, get hooked and almost never go back. But this portability is an attractive feature for existing xTuple customers wanting to move to the cloud without re-implementing.
  • REST API – Short for REpresentational State Transfer, REST is a technical approach that most business users will not necessarily understand or care about. Suffice to say it is an architectural style that exploits existing technology and web protocols (like HTTP and XML) and is simpler to use than other styles.
  • xTupleCommerce – xTuple is currently overhauling its web portal for B2C and B2B sales. Originally built for xTuple itself to use, it was admittedly a “little clumsy” as a product. xTuple is working on that. A first step in the process is a real-time interface back into the xTuple order system. Most eCommerce solutions available today take more of a “bolt on” approach. With further work, this is an area where xTuple could build out some differentiation in the market.
  • Business Intelligence – the Mobile Web Client integrates with open source business intelligence tools (Pentaho Open BI Suite) to provide an integrated open source toolset for analytics and dashboards.
  • xTuple Distribution – A dedicated new edition for wholesale distribution was introduced last year at xTupleCon 2013 and continues to be further developed

xTuple’s stated mission is to “help companies of all sizes successfully implement powerful and easy-to-use open source ERP software to grow their business profitably.” While not the only open source ERP on the market, it is probably the most well known and perhaps even the leader. It provides a potentially attractive alternative for small companies to move away from entry-level solutions like Sage One (formerly Peachtree) and Intuit’s Quicken or QuickBooks at a very low price – maybe even for free! But xTuple is not just installed in small companies. With companies like Nordic Naturals, UHaul and Good-lite to its credit, it has proven it can also address the needs of larger companies, but must continue to broaden and deepen its offering.

Meanwhile, even as some industry observers still claim ERP is dead, I see the market moving more quickly than ever. Solutions are expanding far more rapidly than ever before as new technology enables more rapid innovation. Will the open source business model allow xTuple to keep pace with the pace of the market? It will need a very engaged community and will need to effectively tap into the strength of that community and channel those efforts back into the product. If those in attendance at xTupleCon are a good indication, they are very well engaged. While it might not have the deep pockets that other ERP vendors might have, with the continued help from its friends and customers, it doesn’t appear that xTuple is in danger of winding up in the ERP Graveyard any time soon.

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