Free ERP Software isn’t Really Free

Every business is different. From processes, culture to revenue, no two companies are ever the same. That presents a challenge when a small or medium-sized organization starts to explore their ERP software opportunities. From the huge list of ERP software, where do you start? An exploration into free ERP systems is not an uncommon starting point because, frankly, the upfront price on traditional ERP systems can be shocking.

Anyone that’s done a little research into the free ERP products will find no shortage of lists, articles, and collections of software that’s out there. What’s a little harder to surface is the answer to the question, “will this work for my business?” The reason is that there is a trade-off with free ERP systems not many people consider – the exchange of support and information.

The Information Flow Dynamics of Traditional vs. Free ERP Systems

On a basic level, with traditional ERP setups, you’ll typically work with a partner and have dedicated points of contact. Those contacts are the conduit for creating a relationship that ultimately maximizes the value of your investment into the software. They’ll train, implement and support your ERP system. It’s a clear process with well-defined points of accountability that’s backed with experience with other clients.

When you go the route of free ERP setups, the information flow changes. The one thing to remember with free ERP systems is they are usually based on open source software. There is absolutely nothing wrong with open source software, in fact, you’re probably using tools or visiting websites that run it, but you need to understand the training, implementation, and support will fall to your organization without a dedicated contact. That doesn’t mean support is absent. In lieu of those dedicated contacts, support typically comes from the wisdom of the crowds. Blogs, FAQs, online documentation and community forums will be the avenues you can access information. When you find a vibrant community behind a free ERP system, there is no shortage of help but it’s a double edge sword. Poorly supported free systems are a huge source of stress. It’s not unlike choosing the wrong traditional ERP partner.

Free ERP Systems will Cost Something

With free ERP systems, you’ll need to dig into documentation, read forums, send messages to users and do the legwork yourself. There may be some demos out there, but they’ll be self-guided.

If you have employees investing time into exploring these options, the “time equals money” equation starts to take effect. While the initial software might not cost you anything, the support and upkeep of free ERP systems will still consume company resources. You’ll need to create processes, workflows and define terms as you begin to outfit your system. It might take the form of putting additional work on existing employees or hiring dedicated staff to become the ERP admins that make sure you have continual access to your company data.

So, you won’t see a bill from a vendor or partner, but you’ll be taking on more responsibility for your own destiny. To some, this may sound like the opportunity of a lifetime. To others, this could sound like a disaster waiting to happen. You need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your own business challenges to estimating the cost of free ERP systems beyond the software “price tag.”

Free ERP Systems Can Work if You Understand What’s Required to Succeed

Complete access to every aspect of your system to modify, participating in a community of similar people exchanging ideas and help and self-reliance on critical business software might be the right fit for your organization. All that comes with a cost attached and the heavy-lifting to determine what success looks like will fall entirely on your organization. However, a majority of organizations aren’t staffed for that responsibility upfront. If you have never implemented an ERP system, or don’t have access to leaders who have done this in the past, this path could be filled with danger that could sink your company’s bottom line and tarnish your reputation.

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