How Odoo could be so much better

Odoo review from a UK SME perspective

Odoo Review UK Perspective

An honest open reflection on Odoo from a small business owner and developers' perspective. Over the past year I have been speaking with Odoo partners, and attending official Odoo ran events to learn 'from the horses mouth'. This included speaking to both vendors, current customers, and bumping into potential customers at such events. We have experimented with creating a basic module, as well as worked with with the website theming layer as we create a web shop using the eCommerce module.

We are only discussing the community edition here with little reference to the Odoo hosted version because we don't believe that vendor lock-in is helpful to business growth.

Since investigating Odoo ourselves and writing about it we have been receiving calls from small UK business owners asking for a review on the Odoo system which used to be called OpenERP. Much of what is said here can be taken as food for thought over the adoption of any large software solution.

Odoo: Tone down your marketing

First and foremost, Odoo's marketing rhetoric is overblown. This unfortunately undermines what is a very powerful platform. An Odoo advert will promise the world suggesting that it is an out-of-the-box solution. It is not. What this results in is customers being fed a false image of how quickly Odoo can become their solution. It is an unfortunate misrepresentation over what Odoo actually is, a powerful system that can be configured to many different business processes.

Note that this is different from saying Odoo cannot be the ultimate solution. It can be, but unfortunately this gets lost in their overzealous marketing.

Of the UK Odoo partners I've met and spoken to, they quite rightly dedicate significant time (months) to understanding the nature of the business wanting to use Odoo, and working out how best to configure Odoo according to those needs. Such time investment, which is not addressed in Odoo's marketing introduces significant cost. For this reason I'm very cautious to recommend Odoo for small SMEs unless they fully understand the products versatility, and need for initial configuration and training. Odoo would do well by its customers and partners by refining its marketing message.

The truth is that Odoo certainly will not be right for you out the box, I guarantee it. A great beauty of Odoo is its feature set, knowing what you do and don't need configured in Odoo is a significant time investment, as is finding a company to help you implement it.

To set the stage I should point out that Karma Computing is a small IT consultancy for SMEs. Family businesses are our sole and beloved customers which we serve with our combined backgrounds in Computer Security, Journalism and Web Development. We only use open-source 'free' (as in Spanish "libre") software where the code is free to be changed and improved as desired. Sadly, Odoo is moving away from this model in its move to split its product into a 'Community' vs Enterprise' edition of the product.

For the interested reader, and balance, Oddo (which used to be called OpenERP) does have an interesting past of 'rubbing people up the wrong way'.

  • There is fork of Odoo called Tryton which grew out of an even earlier version of Odoo when it was called TinyERP
    • This was due to technical and business disagreements between its stakeholders (src)
  • There is a website called Sorry OpenERP dedicated to discrediting Odoo as a viable or secure business product. (until 2015 Odoo was called OpenERP).
    • It documents a clear 'split' between previous Odoo partners, and attacks Odoo saying it is not committed to open source

Is Odoo Right For Small SMEs?

Perhaps because of its marketing, Odoo is evidently attracting higher numbers of smaller SMEs which is in stark contrast to the bulk of its current userbase which typically comprises of large corporations: Toyota, steel mills, not to mention the Portuguese government... each with large budgets for the consultation costs incurred in deploying Odoo successfully. That is, the cost of deploying Odoo is much higher than than what a small SME (less than 5 employees) typically expects.

In short, SMEs should not see Odoo as an off-the-shelf solution. It requires significant time for both the planning and implementation (as most large software projects do).

Ecommerce isn't ready out the box

Payment options are very limited

We have successfully configured Paypal which comes as a standard module with Odoo, however other upcoming payment solutions such as Stripe, are only recently having modules developed for them which are generally not freely available. This leaves merchants with very limited choices over payment providers given the need for developers to integrate this compatibility.

For example, for £37.27 a Stripe module for Odoo is available, but please note, we have not tested that module therefore cannot comment on the quality of this module.

This drives home another food for thought Odoo has both a free & paid module market each with varying support options. This is significant, as depending on your needs, you may be required to purchase additional modules or have custom ones made to suit your business case. Also, there is a push, for-better-or-worse, to keep the price of modules relativity high, see below.

Odoo positions itself as a premium solution

Odoo wishes to maintain their position as being seen as a premium or 'enterprise' solution, which it has clearly demonstrated with its deployments in very large enterprises with comparable budgets.

When I attended the fantastic launch of Odoo version 9 in London, Odoo staff encouraged the developers of these modules to price their modules at "premium" prices, as to not give the impression that Odoo is a cheap product.

Making Odoo shop themes

It's a fun challenge

This section is quite technical, but may be useful for those wondering about building custom themes, buying an Odoo theme or thinking of paying somone to build one. A few key considerations:

  • Odoo Ecommerce themes generally cost around £150
  • There's not many of them (14 at time of writing)
  • If you make your own, you or your developer must learn Qweb which is tightly coupled to the Odoo codebase
  • It approaches web design & development in its own special way
    • Your designer will either hate it or love it, ours hated it (with a sample of one)

Odoo has a reasonable theming tutorial which is a must read for any web designer wanting to develop their own theme. Odoo is very much going its own way with the web development workflow and suggests new ways to approach web design development which may well take your designer a while to get used to because it doesn't really follow the general workflows that the wider web community has adopted. Bare this in mind if embarking on a custom design, your designer must be happy to adopt this approach, it isn't optional.

"Creating themes for Odoo is a total change of perspective. Instead of defining the complete layout for a page, you can create blocks (snippets) at let the user choose where to “drag&drop” them, creating the page layout on their own. We call this modular design." - Odoo's approach

This change of perspective is likely motivated in part by Odoos' dependency on a web framework called Qweb which was initially written by Odoo's CTO Antony Lesuisse. Qweb is clearly a versatile template engine which is tightly coupled to Odoo's core codebase. For that reason, however, your web designer has to learn the Qweb way!

Theme development would be much more approachable by the web design community if it adopted more widely used Python Jinja2 or similar, but of course its not that simple such a change would require Odoo to significantly refactor its codebase. The positive side of learning Qweb is that its also required for general Odoo development.

Its worth considering how Odoo got in this position: At the time of OpenERP, the web was in a very different place, at some point a bet was made on developing Qweb being ok and now Odoo is beholden or made more powerful depending on your perspective. Such is software.

Its my opinion that this is a major blow to Odoo's ability to compete in the SME market, because it is a significant barrier to web designers who must learn this approach. Not many designers will be interested in investing in the time required to learn Qweb just to be able support one system.

Having said that those that do, are obviously in high demand if Odoo takes off in the UK as a general solution for SMEs requiring bespoke design. At present though, there are only 72 themes available, 30 of which were developed internally by Odoo, the rest being sold via the Odoo app store.

Further Odoo development resources

Daniel Reis does a fantastic job of introducing Odoo programming in his Odoo Development Essentials Book.

What is an Odoo budget?

How much does Odoo cost?

This is such a broad question which is impossible to answer without context but because people appreciate ballpark figures its only helpful. The intention is to help small SMEs see the big picture of where Odoo is currently.

At the various Odoo related events I have attended, it is clear that in the UK at least, UK software houses are very ready (and are) supporting larger SMEs. There was a general consensus in the room of successful, deployed projects having cost between £25,000 - £80,000 and above. This will come as no surprise to larger SMEs for which alternatives are Sales Force and SAP alike.

However clearly Odoo's own marketing strategy is set to attract a border range of enterprises, including small. For example, I have spoken to software houses that have done Odoo deployments at the low end of £6000, but this is the exception to the rule.

Is Odoo ready for small SMEs?

Small enterprises are targeted by Odoo's marketing but it remains largly the same product between version 8 and 9 despite consmetic changes. Yet a significant shift in their marketing toward SMEs is evident, for example: A fictional self-employed 'Top-Hat seller' is used as an example customer in their video.
It makes significant claims including:

"Nicks online shop is up and running in a few days.

As orders poor in, Nick recruits more people.

In little to no time, you'll be up and running with Odoo"

Of course, this is veering on misleading and exaggerated but one might say that's just good advertising. Odoo would do well by its customers and partners by refining its marketing message to explain the power of Odoo. Its strength is in its versatility, and being open source means a developer community can get behind it to make it even stronger.

Otherwise, I fear I will continue to meet (and help out on a good-deed day) SMEs who have bought into the power off Odoo, but now realised it's more than they can chew. Its my opinion that the UK market hasn't yet adjusted, or my not be interested in supporting these smaller clients. Odoo is always improving, and may reach a point when users of it do not need significant time in configuring and learning it, until that time there is a real need to support SMEs who have the ambition to adopt it. Especially if that's the type of customer Odoo is trying to market to!

How long should an Odoo deployment really take?

Odoo does make more realistic claims within its version 9 documentation on the What do we expect from you page. It suggests:

  • Being flexible enough to learn 'the Odoo way'
  • Invest time in learning Odoo

In terms of how long with is take? This of course depends on the project, though Odoo Online does state the following estimation for their own 'Cloud Hosted' version:

"We used to deploy full featured projects within 25 to 250 hours of services, which is much faster than any other ERP vendor on the market. Most projects are completed between 1 and 4 calendar months." - Odoo version 9 Documentation

It is debatable whether the product is ready enough for smaller enterprises who are not used to such a flexible system such as Odoo, which requires time to integrate properly not to mention training. Documentation is a significant opportunity for Odoo to make waves in, in which it is already making progress in. In addition, they provide free webinars for training simply by singing up to their newsletter.

Final? Thoughts

There's a lot more I feel that can be written about Odoo, but this is approaching 2000 words which seems too much for a short review. Happy to contribute more if there's any questions.

Be more open

One topic that hasn't yet been touched by this article is the Odoo community which clearly has (it seems to me) significant opportunity to grow if allowed to. I haven't had the pleasure of being apart of it yet, but there there is the Odoo Community Association whose mission is

"..to promote the widespread use of Odoo and to support the collaborative development of Odoo features"

They clearly do a fantastic job in promoting the open source nature and future of Odoo, for example Stefan Rijnhart's contribution of OpenUpgrade for upgrading between Odoo versions. Though, I admit being slightly flummoxed over the need of a fee to become a member to an open source community.

There is clearly an eerie sense of uncertainly around Odoo's stance on open source (at least it seems that way from an outsiders perspective) which could instead be turned into Odoo's biggest success. Odoo clearly needs a strong community of developers to support SMEs unless its goal is indeed to be a complete SAASS solution of its own.

More may be added to this article, feedback & questions welcome.