April 24, 2008

Kuali develops open source financial and ERP applications for universities

Author: Tina Gasperson

Financial and ERP applications are arguably the last bastion of proprietary software giants, but the Kuali Foundation wants to eliminate those remaining barriers to open source enterprise systems, at least in the educational realm. Kuali is a nonprofit collection of colleges, universities, commercial companies, and consultants who hope to "bring the proven functionality of legacy applications to the ease and universality of online services." Kuali's first project, Kuali Financial Systems, is already working on its 3.0 release, scheduled for the end of this year.

Kuali is the Malaysian term for wok, an indispensable kitchen utensil in Asian culture. Kuali Executive Director Jennifer Foutty says she isn't sure where the name came from, but she hopes the Kuali project applications in time become indispensable for universities around the world. Strathmore University in Kenya is the first beneficiary of the Kuali Foundation's work, but Foutty hopes to spread Kuali's message far and wide. "There are probably dozens of institutions that are in implementation planning mode. Some are planning to implement later this year, and some are more difficult migrations that might take a couple of years. But we want to make sure we get some more solid implementation under our belt so that people understand that Kuali isn't vaporware."

Kuali applications, licensed with the OSI-approved Educational Community License, have captured the attention of Sun, IBM, rSmart, and other commercial companies that have pledged support. rSmart certifies, deploys, and supports Kuali for its educational institution clients. rSmart and Sun recently announced intentions to work together to develop Kuali-based applications certified to run on Solaris, MySQL, and other open and non-open infrastructure.

"Kuali first started as a project to build an open source financial system for higher education," Foutty says. But more tools are forthcoming, including research management, student records management, endowment funds accounting, and Kuali's own middleware application suite, called Rice, which includes Kuali Nervous System development framework, Kuali Service Bus, Kuali Enterprise Workflow, Kuali Enterprise Notification communications broker, and Kuali Identity Management. The Rice middleware suite is complete and available for download to help developers who want to contribute to Kuali's other projects without having to reinvent the wheel.

"Going back 25 years or more, each of us built our own [enterprise systems]," Foutty says. "[Universities] duplicated effort like crazy. Then about 10 to 12 years ago there was a real shift in direction and we started buying systems from Oracle, Datatel, Banner, etc. We realized that was extremely costly, but back then the open source community wasn't robust enough. Now, open source has really evolved to the level where we say, we could do this for our enterprise systems. There's no reason anymore why we can't run this in a community source environment. It's time."

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