You’ve likely received lots of advice pertaining to dealing with a shrinking IT budget lately, including across-the-board budget cuts, virtualization, postponing projects and outsourcing. One option you may not have considered is turning to open source software solutions, which can offer many benefits under the right conditions.
According to a recent news release, consulting firm Intelestream has seen more companies looking for open source applications for their business processes — a trend the company claims can be traced to the weak U.S. economy.
COO Richard Baldwin said during a recent webinar: “[If] you’ve got broken business processes, [and] something’s causing you pain,” open source could provide some relief. “If you have tight budgets, you don’t have a lot of money, you need to get a solution up quickly, [then] you should take a look at open source. On the enterprise application side, it’s growing very, very rapidly and is becoming a very viable option for companies.”
But what is open source, really?
“First and foremost, the code is open, which allows people to modify it and change it,” Baldwin explained. “There’s always a free version; there’s always a free distribution. It is always available to everyone.”
Also important to note, he said, is the fact that open source is not a new concept. “It’s been around since 1980, and in many respects, it is a very interesting and game-changing approach to developing and delivering software to the marketplace. I do fundamentally think open source will change the world over time.”
Whether you yourself are part of an open source software community — which is one avenue through which individuals can gain access — or if you pay for a subscription to an open source application through a company, you can go in and enhance or modify the application’s code to better suit your specific needs. This customization is one benefit of the technology.
Applications available in open source form include those related to customer relationship management; content management, such as the tremendously popular Joomla; enterprise resource planning; e-mail marketing; and e-commerce.
Unlike business applications that you obtain via a proprietary vendor such as Microsoft, open source applications do not carry a license specific to a particular product. Instead, open source is available based on a subscription and is technology neutral, meaning you can’t be required to use certain software to access the open source application, Baldwin said. Subscriptions can include resources for support and software updates, as well, and typically come in different levels of service.
Over time, open source has developed into a robust technology that is stable and trustworthy enough to make it a viable option. Its business model, which does not require proprietary contracts as other companies do, means the open source company re-earn your business each month and each year, Baldwin said.
In addition, open source provides a unique community through which communication can often be more timely and useful when you’re in need of quick solution to a business problem. If you call a big vendor to make a suggestion for improvement in a piece of software, your advice will probably fall on deaf ears. However, “in an open source model, someone would go up to a forum, they would post their suggestions, hundreds of people would respond with their suggestions — there might even be a developer that actually writes a mock up,” said Baldwin.
Further, open source can save organizations money while providing robust business solutions. Using one case study as an example, Baldwin showed how companies can use open source solutions at 7 percent of the cost of a proprietary alterative.
That's not to say open source doesn't come with its own challenges. Some barriers include a lack of in-house organizational expertise that might be required to implement the solution, as well as license asset troubles, where you “may have shelf-ware that must be consumed before acquiring new software or [you] are hindered because the asset has not yet been fully absorbed financially,” Baldwin explained.
For companies that are ready and have the in-house knowledge and commitment, “I am quite certain, however, that open source allows you to do more for less money overall,” Baldwin said.
– Mpolakowski, firstname.lastname@example.org