Whether or not a proprietary or open-source warehouse management software solution is best for a company depends on several factors. It depends on the company’s size, what types of inventory the business deals with, how many warehouses the company has, who’s working in the warehouses and many other details. In general, companies need to do plenty of research to select the best and most targeted IT resources for their business operations.
With that in mind, there are some good ways to evaluate whether a company should utilize an open-source warehouse management tool:
Pros of Using Open-Source Warehouse Management Tools
One of the biggest reasons that small businesses use open-source warehouse management software is simple: it’s a question of cost. Business leaders feel that they don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on licensing fees, so they get by with a much cheaper open-source solution.
Whether this works out, again, depends on the implementation and use case. If the business can figure out the nuts and bolts of the open-source software by working with the community, an open-source project can be successful. Others get mired down in confusion, partly due to a lack of support.
A Versatile Framework
Here’s another big reason that many companies of all sizes use open-source warehouse management software: many of these tools are fairly simple to install and learn. But quite a few of them also offer the possibility of self-customization — that is, as long as there are tech-savvy people available who can modify the software. If they do, then they can make the software do all sorts of things that are unique to their business model.
A company that makes food products and needs detailed documentation of different sizes and shapes of containers can build the product specifications into customized software modules that show inventory pieces. A company that wants to tie certain data tables together can do that, in order to get more real-time business intelligence about what’s happening on the floor. This kind of “do-it-yourself” approach appeals to firms that have enough IT skill to make an open framework their own.
Working with the Community
As mentioned above, business users of open-source warehouse management software work with the developer community that maintains the software package. Working with a community is different than getting support from a vendor. It often allows for the kinds of creativity mentioned above, and again, it can be a lot cheaper than trying to get all of the services and support that a client would require from a traditional software vendor.
Cons of Using Open-Source Warehouse Management Tools
Cost of Training and Implementation
Sure, open-source software can be cheap in terms of upfront costs. Businesses can get the software installed virtually for free in many cases. However, the problem comes when they don’t factor in the costs of implementation and use.
Open-source packages can be difficult to learn. They generally come without a lot of detailed training support. In the long run, the costs of developing support in-house can more than cancel out any savings that the company got by eliminating licensing fees.
Lack of Customization
Another potential problem with open-source software is a lack of custom functionality or high-performance features. Vendors often put a lot of work into offering more customized controls and all of the most cutting-edge, state-of-the-art functions in their software packages. For example, a vendor package might work better with physical barcoding, whereas inventory tracking not even be available in a free open-source solution.
Perhaps a business needs this kind of inventory tracking, and so it pays more to go with a vendor that can assess and offer those specific capabilities. It’s not hard to see how an open-source approach can take a company down the wrong path if they’re not able to build and integrate the components that they need.
One of the values of vendor supported warehouse management software is that it’s often able to give companies functionality that its open-source counterparts don’t have. There’s also the question of how warehouse management software ties into an overall IT architecture.
Along with the advances in enterprise resource planning and other business software, the idea has emerged that software architectures need to be integrated in order to offer a free flow of data. Experts warn companies against having data silos where useful information is trapped in one part of an IT system, unable to be imported where it can do the most good.
That’s a potential problem when it comes to open-source software implementation. While a vendor may be able to provide advice and help with the integration process, with open-source software, many companies are on their own. If they don’t get help with integration from the developer, they may not be able to achieve the data transparency that they need.
The Bottom Line
It’s always helpful to look at the size and scope of your business. A business that only needs warehouse management support for three products typically won’t need a super-detailed and sophisticated warehouse management software package. However, a company with multiple warehouses that handle a significant volume of inventory will typically need more features and functionality. Doing accurate comparisons and brainstorming logistics of implementation and ongoing user activity will get companies closer to the solution that they need, whether it’s an open-source warehouse management software or a vendor-acquired system.