MERCIAN LABELS MIGRATES TO OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE

Adrian Steele (right) and Richard Jones from Mercian Labels celebrate the success of Open Source software.

A Staffordshire company has labelled Open Source software as the future after successfully turning its back on the big brands.

Mercian Labels, based in Watling Street, Cannock, supplies products including barcode, security and hologram labels to a wide variety of SMEs across the UK.

The company is a market leader in its field, employing 20 staff with a turnover of more than £1 million a year.

When managing director Dr Adrian Steele joined in 2001 he made overhauling Mercian’s computer systems a major priority.

He said: “When I joined, the software and hardware was outdated – we were running just a couple of desktop machines using Windows 2000.

“We developed our own code on the Microsoft Access platform, but it was no longer meeting our demands and the time had come to migrate to new Microsoft software, or look for something else.

“The urgency of this was bought to life when our systems went down for four-and-a-half days in November 2006 which resulted in the loss of £10,000 profit.”

The company processes hundreds of invoices each week meaning the efficiency of its systems is vital.

Dr Steele investigated the options and the technological robustness of Open Source software made him consider this option.

Open Source software refers to the process by which programmers can read, redistribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software allowing it to evolve.

“Having an academic background, the philosophy behind the software appealed to me,” Dr Steele said.

“Damage from viruses, uncontrollable system changes, security threats and difficult and expensive upgrade paths in existing systems made the decision comparatively easy.

“The idea of being free of vendor lock-in and significantly lower licensing costs also appealed.”

Richard Jones took over as the new IT Manager in 2006 and had a university background in Software Engineering.

“It was evident that the current systems in place had a lot of potential problems that would soon manifest themselves with serious detriment to the company,” Richard said

“The concept of Open Source had always been of interest, and the idea of migrating to these solutions seemed most beneficial.”

Mercian now use the Ubuntu Linux Operating System and other Open Source software including Zimbra email and calendaring.

The firm has found no compatibility problems with the standard word processing and spreadsheet packages employees now use.

Dr Steele said: “We believe the new infrastructure will give us significantly enhanced reliability, control and lower costs in the medium to long term.

“There are some packages we can’t migrate – the Sage accountancy software is one and you tamper with that at your peril!

“However, we have found that although you can’t migrate everything, you can migrate most people and applications with no major issues.”

Dr Steele thought it was important to share his experiences with other companies thinking of following in its footsteps by posting the company’s experiences on a dedicated blog – jack.dev.mercianlabels.com/blog

Martin King-Turner of the National B2B Centre – the e-business centre of excellence for the West Midlands – is pleased to see the company discovering the many benefits of the alternative to conventional software.

“Mercian Labels has made a bold decision to embrace Open Source software and are set to gain from increased efficiency and reduced costs.

“One of the many advantages is the fact developments are driven by what consumers want not by the commercial targets of the software manufacturers’ marketing department.”

The National B2B Centre is part of WMG at the University of Warwick and funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Advantage West Midlands