Odoo is an open source ERP package aimed at organisations of various sizes.
It's hard to build a business on a completely open source product, observed Odoo APAC director Matty Fievez, so the company also produces a paid enterprise version.
There are now around five million users in total worldwide.
Fievez sees three main reasons for this success. Odoo is user friendly, provides built-in integrations, and allows processes to be automated.
'User friendly' is perhaps a cliche in the IT business, but he justified it by pointing to the way Odoo's contemporary UI contrasts with the outdated UIs found in some other business software, and makes it more familiar and acceptable to employees.
Where Australian organisations are using unintegrated software, they typically fall into one of two camps, he said. One resorts to "messy" and highly manual processes involving paper documents and Excel spreadsheets, etc. This makes it hard to get an overview or to generate an ad hoc report, and is not a good use of employees' time.
The other tends to use five or more applications such as Xero, Excel (for inventory) and Hubspot. They are all good products, he told iTWire, but unless they are all connected the problem is again one of being able to see the overall picture.
Odoo combines these various capabilities and allows data to flow as needed. So a web form can feed the CRM, customer data is available to accounting functions, and sales and other transactions can be incorporated in reports.
Automation can be a frightening term to the non-technical, but Fievez pointed out that it can be a big timesaver.
He gave the example of an events business. The activities involved in running an event include to-dos, sending invitations to contacts, sending reminders, and after the event sending 'thank you' emails.
Each of these are small tasks, but together they can take a lot of time.
Odoo lets users create an activity template for one event, and then update it for those that follow. This speeds up the process considerably, as all of the necessary emails are sent automatically, and the contact details for each potential attendee will already be in the system.
As long as the system was properly configured (Odoo strongly encourages new customers to engage it or one of its partners to ensure that happens), setting up an automated process from scratch is straightforward, he said.
When it comes to introducing a new piece of software, it's important to realise that "people do not like change at all," said Fievez.
Consequently, a 'big bang' rollout should be avoided as it will have a negative effect on productivity.
Rather, Odoo recommends an iterative process, starting with whichever function is the immediate priority, for instance CRM.
The approach is to determine what data needs to be imported, import it, and then configure the software to suit the company's business flows.
Once you think it's ready, pilot it with a couple of staff members, and once they are satisfied roll it out more broadly. This process takes around a month, he suggested.
The next iteration introduces the next most pressing function, and so on.
It's essential that "top management [eg, the CTO] is 100% involved," he counsels, and that person should be the primary contact between the organisation and Odoo. Their understanding of how the business works is essential to the project, so this cannot be delegated.
In Odoo's experience, willingness to involve Odoo itself or one of its partners (who typically deal with particular industries) in the implementation process is a key success factor.
Around 10-20% of paying customers try to go it alone, but they tend to drop the software after the first year because they failed to capture the benefits.
"The service part is really an investment," said Fievez. The software covers the whole of the business, and unless the organisation has a large and experienced IT team it is unlikely to have the necessary implementation expertise.