Open-source payroll application launched

Clockwork has launched what it claims is the UK's first open-source payroll system, which it says will be cheaper than existing software from Sage and Northgate
Written by Ingrid Marson, Contributor

Clockwork Software Systems launched PayThyme, an open-source payroll application, in Birmingham on Thursday. At the company's launch event in Birmingham, Clockwork business manager Jim Welch said it was initially supplying the software pre-installed on hardware, but will supply it as an individual, supported product in 2005. The source code of the product will be available for free download from the company's Web site in two weeks.

John Pinner, managing director of Clockwork, said he estimates companies will save between £1,500 and £25,000 over comparable proprietary software. Clockwork is initially targeting its offering at smaller organisations, as larger busineses are less likely to replace their current payroll systems due to the costs involved, according to Pinner.

"The opportunities for introducing large new payroll systems are fairly limited," said Pinner. "Companies must have reason to change; for example, if part of company is being sold off. There is also an opportunity when someone has to replace a payroll, because their supplier has stopped providing support for a platform."

This was the case for the system's first customer, Peter's Cathedral Bakers, a Durham-based bakery that employs around 600 employees and has 70 retail outlets, which has been running PayThyme since April 2003.

Tom Knowles, the IT manager at the bakery, said it decided to switch to the open-source payroll application after its original payroll supplier announced that the bakery would have to move from the Unix to the Windows platform, as it was no longer supporting Unix. It already runs the majority of its systems on Linux, including an accounts and electronic point of sale system, and Knowles was keen to move to an open-source payroll system.

"I had no hesitation moving to open source -- I like the idea," said Knowles. "We haven't missed a payroll since we started. We've had some teething problems, but you always get teething problems when you set up a new system."

Gary Barnett, a research director at Ovum, said there is a good market for a reasonably priced payroll, although companies that have committed to large ERP installations are unlikely to migrate. He said there is also a potential for an open-source payroll application to be embedded in vertical ERP applications that are developed by ISVs.

"There are lots of vertical applications that have payroll embedded in them, which the ISVs have each developed separately," said Barnett. "Wouldn't it be great if they could pool their resources and build open-source building blocks for vertical applications?"

The payroll system runs on Debian Linux by default, but can also run on other Linux distributions including Red Hat and SuSE Linux. Pinner said the company chose Debian as the default distribution because it is stable and has a good update mechanism, which will allow Clockwork to pass on statutory updates to customers.

Clockwork's business manager Welch said he thinks open source is better than proprietary as it offers people more choice and flexibility. "Why should people be held to blackmail by proprietary vendors?" said Welch. He also said that open standards mean that you will always be able to get access to your information later.

"With Microsoft, two or three iterations down the line you won't be able to read your documents," said Welch.

As for future plans, Clockwork will release the software as an individual package next year. The delay in doing this has been due to the difficulties in supporting an application in different set-ups, said Welch. Later it may release a non-UK version of the payroll system, but this is difficult as the statutory requirements are different in each country.

It also hopes to release an open-source accounts package, and eventually hopes to produce an "Office in a box" for people who are setting up a company, which will include payroll, CRM, accounting and Office packages, said Welch.

PayThyme is not the first open-source accounting system worldwide. Open-source developers have built SQL-Ledger, a Web-based, multi-user accounting system which can be used with Oracle or the open-source database PostgreSQL. Oliver Elphick, a PostgreSQL developer based in the UK, is currently developing an accounting system based on PostgreSQL, but this is not yet completed.

Clockwork's pre-installed solution, called 'Payroll in a Box', will be available at different levels. The entry-level system, which includes PayThyme on an IBM A50 Tower PC with screen and Kyocera FS1010 Printer, and support for 50 employees, costs approximately £1,450. Higher level systems will cost between between £8,000 and £14,000 and will include extra hardware, support and customisiation for client needs, according to Pinner.

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