Enterprise Resource Planning with BlueSeer

Desktop ERP

© Lead Image © melpomen, 123RF.com

© Lead Image © melpomen, 123RF.com

Article from Issue 259/2022

An open source ERP solution can save you thousands of dollars – in licensing fees as well as customization expenses. BlueSeer is an open source ERP solution that runs on the Linux desktop.

Most businesses in the manufacturing sector adopt some form of centralized software that records and retrieves data from various departments within the organization for purposes of metrics and financial reporting. This software is collectively called "Enterprise Resource Planning" (ERP). ERP software is ubiquitous throughout modern manufacturing industries and constitutes a total enterprise solution that governs most, if not all, aspects of daily business activity – from inventory control to financial accounting.

Today's ERPs have a much larger scope of application compared to their predecessors (see the box entitled "A Brief History of ERP"). Beyond accounting and materials management, current ERPs offer solutions for other departmental operations within an organization, such as sales and marketing, supply chain management, human resources management (HRM), customer relations management (CRM), asset management, and many other business operations. The last two decades have seen an explosion of new ERP software applications with new vendors marketing creative solutions to manage business operations and fill feature gaps of competitor offerings.

A Brief History of ERP

The term ERP first appeared in an article published by the Gartner Group in April of 1990 that forecasted a vision for what manufacturing software was to become. The article suggested a larger definition and scope of software applicability that would encompass operations other than the core manufacturing concerns exhibited at the time, which were primarily financial accounting and inventory control. However, the actual concepts of an ERP system predate the acronym by three decades. The application of an electronic system for managing manufacturing processes date back to the 1960s with the advent and large-scale availability of mainframe systems introduced by IBM. Several manufacturing companies at the time applied these systems to manage inventory movement of raw components by incorporating calculations of reorder points and material usage within a structure called a Bill of Materials (BOM). These systems were labeled Inventory Control (IC) systems and were, in their early stages, simplistic and cumbersome, but developmental work during this period laid the foundation for future software development.

As IC systems were being introduced into the manufacturing mainstream, a parallel effort to standardize best-practices in materials management was also being cultivated based on the pioneering work of Joseph Orlicky, Oliver Wight, and George Plossl, whose research culminated in what was to become the basis for Materials Requirements Planning (MRP). MRP was a strategic approach to managing movement of inventory materials that was gaining popularity throughout the late sixties and seventies as a standard for best practice in manufacturing. The 1980s saw further refinement of MRP business strategy to include integration with other business operations, leading to the evolution of MRP II (with a renaming of the acronym to Materials Resource Planning). MRP II became the gold standard for operational excellence in manufacturing, and many budding software companies of the time touted MRP II as a core component of their software. These MRP II systems would later evolve into today's ERP. MRP II is still considered the key signature component of any manufacturing software that can legitimately claim the label ERP. Several software companies led the charge in incorporating best practices of MRP II and accounting into their software, and some of these would become the firebrands of today's ERP systems. SAP, MAPICS, JD Edwards, Baan, and Oracle all were early products in the ERP market. SAP and Oracle originally focused on financial accounting before expanding to encompass other operational concerns. MAPICS, derived from an IBM-developed predecessor in the late 1960s called PICS, was one of the first to adopt the principles of MRP II as a core feature. All of these early commercial ERP systems eventually adopted some form of MRP II features, as well as adding layers of other functional and operational concerns.

Most of the innovations today target options that go beyond on-premise installations and engage cloud-hosted platforms in the form of software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), or hybrids of cloud-based technology. As with other markets, the drive to offer more enhancements and fill feature gaps has led to consolidations of packages by acquisitions and mergers. This consolidation has created a best-of-breed class and fully established SAP and Oracle as the flagships of today's ERP vendors. ERPs are now marketed as off-the-shelf total solution packages that attempt to encompass every aspect of business operation. The biggest advantage is the implementation of a single-access application portal that removes departmental "silos" of operations.

In systems of the past, various departments in an organization would use the "swivel-chair" approach, entering and retrieving data between independent software applications. This approach can lead to inconsistencies in data, data duplication, and poor interdepartmental coordination. Job functions such as sales order entry and shipping are highly dependent on inventory availability – at both the manufacturing floor level and raw materials level – and the availability of cross-departmental data improves customer delivery efficiencies and decreases interdepartmental communication errors. Another distinct advantage is the reduction in redundant data entry processes between disparate systems. The storage of master data within a single back-end repository means other functional applications within the package can interact with the master tables without replication.

The use of ERPs is not without difficulties. The cost associated with purchasing and implementing a total ERP solution can be substantial. Commercial ERP applications are becoming increasingly too costly and too complex for many smaller businesses to afford and implement. Most high-end ERPs (SAP, Oracle) can easily run in the millions of dollars when the implementation project is complete. Even the cost of commercial mid-range ERPs can be overwhelming to some and effectively prohibitive to others. Training and implementation costs are also challenges when considering an ERP. Open source ERP systems that are freely available for usage and customization can provide some relief to the cost of commercial systems, particularly to the small or start-up manufacturing company.

Commercial ERP systems have gotten bigger, more versatile, and more expensive. The leading ERP vendors focus on customers with multiple locations and hundreds, if not thousands, of users. But what if you just need a simple system for a small company with a single data entry point or, at most, a few nodes on a local network? BlueSeer [1] is an open source ERP system that is designed to run on the Linux desktop. If you are looking for a practical solution that is easy on the budget, consider BlueSeer for ERP.

Open Source ERPs and BlueSeer

Open Source options in the ERP market have become more prevalent in recent years. Open source ERPs represent a strategic movement in reducing the overall cost of ownership for companies investing in ERP implementations. Not all ERPs that are open source are free however. Most open source ERP software brands have the usual marketing hooks of free trial downloads with expiration limitations and registration gimmicks, and only a handful are truly free. However, regardless of whether the software application is free or provisional, the open source nature of the source code does provide advantages that reduce the total cost of ownership.

The feasibility for customization of the software is an important part of the cost savings. Customization is practically inevitable, even with commercial ERPs, and customization of the ERP to match the actual process can be quite costly. Most commercial ERPs either do not allow client customization of the software or will require you to purchase the source code. Open source ERPs offer a better alternative by insuring the source code is readily available for end users who wish to better manage the cost of customization. Furthermore, open source ERPs that primarily use free developmental toolsets, such as Java, Python, MySQL, and PostgreSQL, provide even greater savings because they support so many software libraries and are known to so many developers. Commercial ERPs, on the other hand, with their proprietary or highly specialized components, lead to substantially higher customization costs.

BlueSeer ERP (Figure 1) is specifically designed to confront the cost of customization and the overall cost of implementation and ownership. BlueSeer aims to be the first truly free desktop-based ERP package in the manufacturing community. The BlueSeer codebase is written entirely in Java, and the back-end database engines are freely available toolsets (SQLite and MySQL) that have a wealth of available documentation and software library resources. The development is consistent with the aforementioned primary pillars of ERP design and MRP II concepts, with financial accounting (Figure 2) and inventory control at the center of its core functionality.

Figure 1: BlueSeer ERP is an open source business software package targeting desktop environments.
Figure 2: Financial reporting and metrics in BlueSeer.

BlueSeer has the usual functional areas that are expected from a traditional ERP, such as order entry, purchasing, scheduling, shop floor control, accounts receivable, accounts payable, and human resource management. In addition, BlueSeer offers non-traditional functionality that commercial ERP systems typically leave to bolt-on 3rd party applications. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) mapping, label management, and time clock management are three functional areas that are often additional purchases if you work with a commercial ERP, but BlueSeer has integrated these modules within the core application.

BlueSeer's most distinguishing characteristic is arguably its deployment architecture. BlueSeer ERP is a desktop application that specifically targets the Linux (and Windows) desktop using the Java Swing GUI libraries. This approach is in contrast to most open source ERPs that deploy a web-based architecture, incurring the need for a separate web server and the installation complexities that accompany a web-based design. With BlueSeer's SQLite version (pre-bundled), the download and installation take a matter of minutes on either Linux or Windows. Implementing BlueSeer ERP on any of the free Linux distros (as either client or server) can be considered a serious contender for the lowest cost of ownership approach. The Linux OS has long been targeted as a back-end solution in web-based distributed ERP architectures (both commercial and open source). However, the Linux desktop has gone largely ignored as a viable deployment solution. BlueSeer was designed especially for deployment on the Linux desktop as a single-user ERP with the option to deploy multi-user client-server implementations through a MySQL/Linux server combination as necessary.

In either case, BlueSeer ERP, in combination with a Linux OS distro, is a considerable cost saver and particularly beneficial to the small or start-up money-conscious manufacturer. To demonstrate how easy it is to get started, I'll show you how to install BlueSeer ERP on the Linux desktop and provide step-by-step instructions for the simple business scenario of creating a sales order, shipping the sales order, and printing supporting documents such as packing slips and invoices.


You can install the BlueSeer ERP package on most Linux distributions. Two Linux download options available. One is a .deb file for Debian-based distributions, and the other is a generic install (zip file) that is applicable to a wider variety of Linux distros. I will use the generic zip file installation, which is a relatively simple procedure. Both install packages come with a built-in Java Runtime Environment (JRE), so you do not have to be concerned about any specific JRE/JDK version preinstalled on your desktop. The first step is to download the software from the Github repository. Go to the following link and download the blueseer.generic.Linux.v61.zip file:


Open a shell prompt and type:

unzip blueseer.generic.Linux.v61.zip -d/home/user/blueseer

The preceding command will unzip the contents of the zip file and create a directory called blueseer in the /home/user directory. You can adjust /home/user to be whatever parent directory you desire. Once the contents are extracted, your installation of the standalone SQLite version of BlueSeer is complete. For a directory listing of the contents, see Figure 3.

Figure 3: The newly installed BlueSeer application within the install directory.

You can execute the application by typing:

cd /home/user/blueseer

The application should start, and you will be immediately prompted for credentials. The default credentials are admin and admin for the user and password. On the initial execution, you will be prompted for a country of origin drop-down selection box. Choose your country of origin (which will effectively assign the default currency code for the application). Then restart the application. You now have a working instance of the BlueSeer ERP.

Business Simulation

With the application installed, you can proceed to run the business transaction simulation of creating an order and invoicing the order. You will first need to do a little configuration to get the customer and item master data created and configured.

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