Using open source, organizations large and small have the ability to deploy software that is secure, affordable and that delivers business benefits.
Open source software give you freedom:
- the freedom to read the code, understand and trust what it is doing
- the freedom to share the software with others, at no additional cost
- the freedom to innovate by modifying the software to better suit your business objectives, and
- the freedom to contribute by sharing those modifications so that others can benefit from your investment in the software.
As a recent local government report in the UK notes:
The collective thinking and cost-effectiveness that open source providers offer cannot be matched in terms of expertise [and] of value for money by the traditional proprietary software providers. This cultural shift will open the door for a new era of innovative IT solutions that can transform local government services, empowering staff and delivering unrivalled value to taxpayers.
There is a global trend towards using open source software since there is a best-of-breed open source application that meets variable business needs and there are no licensing costs attached to them.
However, over time the benefits of being able to freely modify any aspect of the software become more important as your organization's needs change. The ability to modify the software becomes an important strategic value compared to the technical debt of an expensive, proprietary solution.
The Open Source Alternative
Open source solutions are an alternative that address many of the key problems of both custom and commercial enterprise software. Their advantage begins by offering the user a freely available code-base as a starting point. In most cases, the business can try these solutions for free to see if they meet their business needs. There is no risk of upfront licensing fees for software that may not work.
If no modifications are required, open source software can be implemented with the same rapid time-to-market as commercial packages. If customization is required, the business has a head start with an existing code base. Furthermore, it can leverage the expertise of both in-house and open source community developers. An open source project brings with it the domain knowledge and business requirements of many contributing organizations, significantly reducing the specification risk typical of custom software. Open source communities also offer user-developers collaborative help in developing and debugging of these software. The net result is better software in less time.
Longer term, open source offers the business the control of custom software and the external resources previously available only with commercial software. With the source code in hand, the business can decide on future support and upgrades. There is no one to "discontinue" the software. At the same time, because the software shares the common roots with open source, support and upgrades are available from the open source community or professional-quality support from a range of vendors in the community. Thus, the risks of being left without support due to the loss of vendor support or key employees are significantly reduced with open source.
The benefits of adopting open source in your enterprise
The benefits from adopting an open source strategy in business are numerous. There are many open source business solutions out there that are considered leading solutions in their league whether in ERP, CRM, Telephony, CMS, or other business areas. You can adopt open source components in your business ecosystem, accessing leading products, without incurring the costs of pre-sales, escrow agreements and license fees. Some of the commonly cited benefits of open source include
Quality before features - in the proprietary world, sales are made by creating new software versions. This creates a push and pull effect - enticing users to upgrade so they can access new features, and for those who do not - discontinue support after a period of time. The open source world does not generate sales from new versions, so new features are added when customers request them and without the associated compromise on quality. This leads to increased stability and longer product support cycles.
Auditability - because open source includes the right to the source code - you are able to transparently look inside your software to audit and understand how it works. You can also extend your software to your specific needs if you wish.
Lower TCO - you achieve a lower total cost of ownership based on a zero purchase price and ongoing license fees for the software, no need to track software licensing means reduced administration, reduced 'need' for regular updates imposed by vendors, more stability and reduced support overhead, near zero vulnerability to viruses reduces time spent dealing with system administration.
Flexibility & Freedom - On a simplistic level, flexibility empowers your employees to perform their role. On a higher level, the need for flexibility at the business level dictates that the system must change and adapt in response to changing business needs. It must not prevent or govern the speed of reaction to change. To achieve flexibility, it is best to choose industry standards and you will find these in open source solutions. If you buy in to proprietary formats or interconnection / exchange mechanisms - then you will only ever be able to respond as quickly as your software vendor allows you. Support & Accountability - all types of software license disclaim warranty to the maximum possible amount under law. So who would you rather have supporting your system - a sales person from a proprietary software integrator who is reliant on the relationship they have with the software producer or an open source integrator who is able to look inside of your product and fix it according to your needs?
This leads to a fairly simple comparison between a traditional proprietary and open source system implementation. On any implementation, there will be some common costs including purchase of hardware, commitment of staff time and travel to name a few.
However, there will also be some imposed components from which you receive no material benefit, but are obliged to pay for, as part of the overall transaction cost when purchasing a proprietary solution. This includes a license fee and an ongoing maintenance fee which often includes the cost of your pre-sales contact with the supplier, but also a recovery for the bids they have not won. In an open source implementation you might be asked to bear some of the pre-sales cost, but in return you will get a true and fair assessment, which is not skewed by the commission structure awarded to the sales person. You will also not be charged again year after year to fund the vendor's other pre-sales efforts. You will also most likely be talking to a professional who is used to deploying and supporting the software - so that person will not make promises they cannot keep and they will, on the balance, be much better educated in the product than the proprietary equivalent.
The last category are the things you want to spend time on during your implementation - such as documentation and training. In a proprietary implementation, you will receive a generic statement that the software has been tested and a disclaimer, which will try to limit the liability of the software vendor. With an open source implementation, you will receive customised documentation which incorporates your business processes and testing of the process rather than the software, which ensures the system works in the hands of your employees. These efforts do take more time, but they are financed by the redirection of the imposed costs toward things you want to spend time on. The open source model will produce a much higher quality implementation for the same cost - most adopters decide to save some money on the cost of sale, but still ensure they receive a higher quality system.
We believe the open source implementation provides a better quality, customized, less risky and more reliable solution at a persuasive cost.