Technology: Open Source Tools Help Ease Integration Woes

By Debra D'Agostino  |  Posted 05-23-2006

It¹s no secret that open source software and operating systems can help companies cut costs and create competitive advantages on the cheap. Now, a new set of open source tools are emerging to help connect and integrate entire IT systems‹open source or not.

Just ask Alex Knezevic, IT director at Marena Group, a small firm based in Laurenceville, Ga. Marena manufactures specialized post-surgical garments such as compression girdles and bras, made from a special fabric the company created and owns exclusively. "Let's say you have a procedure, like liposuction," he says. "Afterwards you need a garment to hold things in place while you heal. Our fabric actually speeds up recovery time."

Like many small businesses—the company employs about 50 people—Marena began migrating its systems to open source about eight months ago in an effort to cut overhead costs. But it quickly ran into a problem: Its proprietary systems weren't connecting easily to its open source applications. "We have about 10 systems that need to be connected," Knezevic says. "For example, our ERP system, which is open source, needed to connect to our order management system, which is proprietary." Since the point of moving to open source was to cut costs, Marena was in a bind. "The toughest thing in software development is integration," he says, "and companies like Oracle and Microsoft make a killing on tools that most companies can't afford and don't know how to use because they are so complex."

After some research, Marena turned to open source integration vendor Jitterbit. "We explored other options at first," says Knezevic, but the tools were either too hard or too expensive to use." Jitterbit's free software got Marena off to a good start, Knezevic says, "but it supported its software so well we decided to engage in a commercial license with them."

And it paid off. Knezevic estimates that hiring outside help to do the necessary system integration would have cost upwards of $120,000. The price of the Jitterbit license: $10,000. "It does involve some work and some quasi coding, but it's pretty straightforward—I don't even think you need programming experience to figure it out."

But it's not just about cost savings, Knezevic says. "Now we are free to do things our customers really want, like focusing on marketing plans and offering order customization options on our Web site," he says.

Knezevic hopes that Marena's strategic use of technology will also help to resurrect the sewing industry in the United States. "Most apparel manufacturers and sewing plants have gone overseas to Chian or India," he says. "We are one of the few survivors, and we believe we can motivate others into these waters. Technology is our market strategy for doing that."