When it comes to software, proprietary madness (Part I and Part II) is one damnation — but open source, the other side of the coin, is another.
This is another damnation that is probably making you huh?, because it seems that open source, which not only give us free software, but some of the best software out there, should be a great thing, and it is, but from a Procurement point of view, it’s a damnation. Why?
How do you cost it?
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and where open source is concerned, this is a free lunch at the Bawabet Dimashq Restaurant where you have to wash the dishes — for the entire floor (that contains 6,014 seats) all by yourself! Unlike most proprietary software which comes with a warranty, a maintenance plan, and support, open source simply comes with a license that says you have to right to use it if you see fit, but you waive all warranties and liabilities while doing so. If it is broken, you can ask the community for help fixing it, but you might have to fix it. You have to maintain and update it. You have to install it. And in some cases, you have to even compile it! That takes development manpower — and sometimes lots of it. Whereas all you might need for vendor provided software is an admin to create and maintain accounts, you might need a dev team backing up the open source.
How do you protect it?
Chances are you will find something that doesn’t quite do what you need, or that needs to be fixed, and will have to fix, and augment it. Under the terms of most open source agreements, any modifications you make must also be open source and released, so if you want to do any custom upgrades, you better be prepared to give them away for free. At least with proprietary technology, you can always negotiate with a provider for custom developed technology exclusive to you.
How do you defend your investment against it?
Maybe the best choice today is that proprietary enterprise software license that costs you high six or low seven figures for enterprise wide deployment — but which should net you a nice return based upon the value you expect to get from it under the assumption that the vendor’s promises will materialize. However, you will only get the advantage you expect in the market if your competitor cannot get a solution for any less. What if an open source with equivalent, or better, capability hits the market next year and the only cost is the cost of training or a few consultants to implement it plus an ongoing system admin after that? If your competition can get equivalent software for a fraction of the cost in a year, will you net your return? And will you be giving up a greater return by locking into proprietary software now when the open source that could materialize in the near future might even allow your organization to take an accelerated path to savings?
Just like proprietary madness, open source is also a technology damnation. When it comes to technology, it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t.