Open source Solves and Supports Today's Business Needs

Craig Paulnock, Associate VP of Digital Product Management and Innovation, YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities
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Examining Pros and Cons of Open source Technology

Open source is free software that developers make available to benefit the community. The original developer of the software benefits from making their code freely available because doing so increases the number of end users with the ability to enhance the software. These enhancements can make the software more valuable for all. Some examples of open source software include Android, Wikipedia, Mozilla Firefox, WordPress and Drupal.

Open source benefits are both broad and deep. When applied and fully supported, open source can provide solutions that deliver across these five pillars:

• Progressive Experiences – provides unified customer experiences across marketing, sales and service.
• Seamless Integration – enables connections between multiple systems, technologies and processes.
• Lower Cost of Ownership – offers better containment and facilitation of all costs over time.
• Brand Control – provides affordable expanded management of channels, content, communities and commerce.
• Digital Flexibility – enables distribution across diverse experiences, screens and spaces.

 ‚ÄčOpen source can benefit the customer experience, team member operations and the integration between the two. 

Open source can drive more effectiveness, economies of scale and speed of innovation. Open standards make integrations with third party software easier to enable more cohesive customer interactions. Open source can reduce costs due to a lack of ongoing licensing fees to use the software. Furthermore, when the tech community adoption rate of a specific type of open source software is high, then supply for talent fluent in its usage is also generally high. Transparency yields tight security, resulting in quick issue resolution from within the community that is leveraging the software. Open source software maintains its high quality by empowering a large number of users from diverse backgrounds with unique perspectives to make frequent updates to improve the value and flexibility of the code.

Open source does have a few disadvantages, including indirect costs due to the potential need to pay for external support: for example, putting the software on a server for users to access. Additionally, open source technology is entirely built and maintained by the community. This means there is no traditional customer support or service level guarantees. However, this challenge is often addressed by companies that provide enterprise level support for open source software.

Another challenge when adopting open source is that there is a potential for the software to be more aligned to developers’ desires than the needs of business users. If developers are more engaged in the code than the interface, the software has the potential to be less user-friendly. This can be overcome through the freedom to customize the software to align to customer needs within time and budget limitations.

In recent years, the adoption of open source has increased steadily – a trend that is likely to continue. open source software powers the majority of the backbone of the internet. Apache is the most popular web server software in the world, MySQL is the most widely used database software and Android is the most-used smartphone operating system. All three of these are open source software platforms.

Virtually all Fortune 100 companies rely on at least some elements of Open source because the benefits vastly outweigh the challenges. For example, Microsoft and Apple have fully embraced the open source community by integrating directly with many Open source technologies, such as the .NET platform. Shifting to the right open source software consistently results in cost savings and improved experiences over proprietary software and the cost-benefit equation tends to favor open source software in almost every situation. Thus, more companies are investing resources into open source technology integrations every day.

Evaluating Technology to Meet Business Needs

When evaluating open source or other new trends, be sure to stay rooted in sound business principles and do not become distracted by novelty disguised as innovation. Evaluations of cost-benefit analysis are always applicable. Become well versed in the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies to avoid distractions. Emphasize an agile culture of speed and rapid iteration to mitigate risks and enhance the potential for eventual successes. Finally, open source is not the right solution for all needs. There are certainly instances where a proprietary platform can make more sense. Critical thinking is vital to selecting the right software for your enterprise needs.

As an example, the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities starts by ensuring we have a clear understanding of the business needs to determine which technologies can best solve for today’s issues while considering potential future trends. Our strategy is to focus on well-established technologies with a preference for open source given its generally favorable cost-benefit ratio. Keeping costs low and risks mitigated is imperative and we value having access to a large community of support so options are available if we need advice or run into problems.

Organizations that do choose open source should start the process by defining business needs. Once these have been established, look for the most popular Open source solutions with large communities to tap into for support. Additionally, look for software with a long track record, history and growth of the product. It is also important to seek open source products that are either tied to a professional company or well-supported by a network of third party implementers. Continue to review your technology platforms on an annual basis and monitor trends to ensure support for your chosen open source technology is not waning. If support begins to dwindle for the software previously selected, research the competing solutions and assess the rationale for the developers’ shift from one platform to another. This will help determine if a new platform is right for your organization.

The benefits of open source can be exponential when it’s a part of your technology strategy. It can improve your experiences with a lower cost of ownership and high flexibility. To experience the full benefits, it’s important that the organization leaders, delivery staff and partners fully embrace its challenges and benefits. As more organizations invest in open source technology, each executive should examine and evaluate which specific solution is the right solution for them.

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