Open-Source in Enterprise is not FREE!

I can understand how people see open source and think “free as in beer”. I mean that is how they market it on some products. What I don’t understand is how institutions and enterprise perceive this to mean that they do not need to support or have infrastructure to support the product. Classically if they were to buy a vendor implementation of some ERP product, they would throw down a hole implementation team, get in consultants and then assign people to maintain the system. Now that can be expensive…

This leads them to say, but what are the open source alternatives… as if it would be cheaper. Maybe up front it is cheaper, but have they considered that they still need to put a team onto the implementation and that they WILL run into problems where they WILL require support and they would have to pay a minor fee. Most managers miss all the costs associated with any software product that comes after the purchase when thinking in open source terms. All they see is the upfront costs from the vendor, as it is easier to see. They have no money and thus will go for the “cheaper” route.

REMEMBER: just because you do not pay up front.. does not mean you do not pay or that you will not have to pay…

I have seen far too often that one person ends up with the responsibility to implement said ERP open source system. He will have no support and have to learn the product and feel his way through the process. Which is extremely time consuming and costs his salary per month. Best of all is that there is no real team formalised to implement the product and that there are, in most cases, NO consultants.

REMEMBER: how can something as large as enterprise software implementation be successful without sufficient resources and support!

I have unfortunately been involved in many projects, where I was the poor implementer. I have since wised up and am very careful in accepting work when corporate want an open source product implementation. I was asked yesterday to get involved in a library management statistical package. They have one person implementing DSpace for the institution who is an administrator by trade. He hit a brick wall and asked for our assistance. I went to go look to see if my expertise could be used. Essentially what it boiled down to is a very specific product issue that required in depth knowledge of the product and good connections to get the issue sorted out.

Thus I was not going to get involved. It was the classic case of open-source being “free as in beer” without any support. I was asked to speak to this person’s superior, to help explain that it was out of his expertise. What do you expect I found?

She was oblivious to the expertise required to implement the product. Did not trust her SINGLE employee that she assigned to this task, in his assessment, and she truly believed that through perseverance he would magically fix it. This poor bloke  has been working on this issue for near a month at his full salary. Not adding any value and being forced to look into something outside of his skill area. He did however mention that there is someone very close to the open source product that they can pay to come in to sort out the issue…

PAY!!! she was so against this idea. I mean she has been paying this guys full salary to essentially achieve nothing (well not nothing, he skilled up) and refused to pay a consultant to come in to fix the issue they have in less than a week.

Software is not free! No matter how you look at it, there are always costs associated with products, even the free ones. When business gets larger and more complex, it is difficult to fit business rules to products and even more difficult to modify the product to fit the business processes.

If you are here reading this… please take away one thing when making future decisions on open source software. Evaluate ALL the costs. Do not look at the up front costs and think that, that is what everything will cost you. Remember that you must treat most enterprise products as if they were purchased from the vendor, the purchase cost is just one of the costs associated with the software.

REMEMBER: support costs, customization costs, maintenance costs, staff costs, time is money! Spend the money where it adds the most value!!!

Yes, if you make a conscious effort to have a team internalise the product knowledge and acquire the skills required to do the above roles… it will reduce in cost as time progresses, as you do not have the recurring license fees and will not be paying for support that you use less and less as knowledge is internalised. But you NEED to invest to get this kind of return.

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The sad thing is that people will only see the above two pictures and take away that open-source software is cheaper in the long run without investment and base their decisions upon that. Maybe this white paper can shed some light in understanding this topic more. I have not read it and do not know if it is good or not.

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