How to get more for less from your open source software investments

Open Source software is often free, but there are a lot of costs involved beyond just the price of the licenses. In this guest post, Mike Curtis explains what companies can do get more for less when they use Open Source. 
_____________________________________________________________CIOs and IT decision makers are under continuous pressure to do more with less. That means continual improvement from the existing environment in pursuit of ever greater efficiency, continual innovation through R&D, and new technology adoption to drive growth and competitive advantage.It’s old news to talk about how Open Source Software (OSS) is cheaper and more innovative than proprietary solutions. The question now is “How can I get more for less from my OSS investments?”

1. A best practice approach to procurement is necessary.

Best practice procurement of OSS means getting value for money – that is, finding a solution that is fit for purpose, taking account of the whole-lifecycle cost. A best practice procurement approach should be followed to ensure you do more for less. Successful procurement is good for the organization overall. While there is no single method that will guarantee the delivery of this objective for all OSS procurements, the creation of an Open Standards Policy will widen choice in the procurement cycle if organisations wish to widen their opportunities to do more for less.

The following five basic principles highlight some of the key steps to successful procurement of Linux and OSS:

  1. Make qualitative judgements.
  2. Define fitness for purpose criteria.
  3. Examine whole lifecycle costs.
  4. Define and agree where the Open Source Software specialism sits.
  5. Understand the Open Source Software model – free and paid for.

2. Be informed

In an ideal situation, judgements should be qualitative and cover the views of all those stakeholders ultimately involved in the procurement process. This is what really matters when weighing options. Intuitive judgements are very important when it comes to making a decision in respect to a solution but in most organisations they are not made explicit or discussed during the process. This is compounded by a lack of Linux and OSS knowledge to feed into the process.

OSS can come into an organisation via multiple sources and can be attained without an initial purchase cost, bypassing the entire procurement system and qualitative judgement, it is vital that strong governance is applied across the organisation and to ensure a policy exists for procurement and usage of OSS.

3. Fitness for purpose

Organizations need to determine whether an Open Source solution meets the challenges organizations face and how it compares to the proprietary equivalents regarding factors such as maintainability and serviceability. Consider using an assessment model to help provide a systematic approach for the evaluation and implementation of Open Source solutions.

4. Whole lifecycle cost – real Total Cost of Ownership

Organizations should examine the total cost of ownership for the solution procured including the cost of acquisition, maintenance and exit, and not focus on the acquisition cost alone, as this may result in a higher total cost of ownership. This could affect the business case for its adoption.

5. Define and agree where the Open Source Software specialty sits

Based on your organization’s procurement policies, organisations need to define and agree where OSS specialty sits in relation to the domain of procurement. Is it an IT or a Purchasing knowledge set?

Ideally, the purchasing department need to understand the OSS licensing models in order to be an OSS purchasing and supply specialist. The IT department should be the OSS technology specialists in order to define the requirements and the use of either free or paid OSS. Procurement should focus on providing a professional service and should resist the temptation to become OSS technology specialists – but should look to the IT department for this knowledge.

If an organization lacks the requisite OSS knowledge to understand the implications of using free or paid for OSS, look to bring in a Linux and OSS specialist like LinuxIT. Make sure you work with them closely to identify, understand and close your organisation’s knowledge gap.

6. Understand the Open Source Software model – free or paid for

Understand the OSS model to the same extent as the proprietary one by broadening your knowledge around licences, subscriptions and adoption models unique to OSS. It’s necessary to mature the process and increase knowledge so that procurement can better facilitate its adoption. In doing so, the process won’t discriminate against OSS or work against its adoption within the organisation because of the lack of knowledge and understanding.

About the author: This article was written by Mike Curtis Executive Director at LinuxIT

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