Get smarter about open source

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Open source has come a long way in the past few years, and great stories of open source's success are abound.

For example, OpenMRS has been utilised in Haiti, addressing the need to rethink medical records. In the mobile industry ‘open’ is a common theme used to help combat a highly tilted competitive landscape. And the desktop space, although not champion, is still brewing with a very large community of enthusiastic users.

In the enterprise space both the Apache and Eclipse foundations are proving very good at organising the development of high quality software and opportunities for commercialisation.

General IT support and governance is available through companies like Open Logic, and stack support from the major open source vendors like Red Hat, Novell and even non-traditional open source vendors, like HP. These are all key to driving greater distribution.

But while the open source world teeters on the tip of overall acceptance and commercial validity, there's still much room for levelling the playing field. This all starts with the realisation that open source must be treated with the same decision analysis as any software solution, which is the foundation of FLOSS projects.

A peer, David Wheeler, writes, "it is important to not confuse FLOSS and non-commercial" and notes that nearly all FLOSS projects are commercial. For many large organisations, especially those in less volatile industries, open source is still a rogue force, bringing the notion of high risk. These prejudices do still exist.

So, rather than attempt to convince IT leadership of open source's capabilities or justify its benefits to decision makers, I'd like to offer up a more organic, pragmatic solution. As individuals, we owe our customers and clients the best solutions possible.

If we believe this to be true, as I do, then it is upon us as individuals to provide introspection to all of the options, including open source, even if it takes us outside of our comfort zones individually and organisationally.

Obviously, the open source solution won't win every time, but I can assure you there are many where it will. No industry, project (including pet) or opportunity is exempt.

Where policies exist, challenge them. Ask yourself if they give you the greatest opportunity to contribute to the immediate solution, and future projects.

Where there are policies, even dictating how open source shall be treated, ensure that you understand how that impacts you, your culture and ultimately your customers. I'm not implying that you need to understand the inner details of all open source licenses, or how the open source vendor's business models match economics.

Opensource.org and the 451 Group are good reference points to start from.

Lastly, consider volunteering some of your time. There are many projects out there. Surely one of them fits a space you're interested in. There are quite a few places to start, and it doesn't have to be code – even sending a programmer a virtual beer isn't out of the question!

Silliness aside, there is something to the personal relationship between individuals and projects. True, many open source projects are parented or shepherded in ways that may make participation daunting. But like anything where a benefit is to be gained, there is an initial investment required - and I believe it comes down to us as individuals.

Where volunteering may not make sense, consider simply using open source software as a trial data source. The grass may or may not be greener on the other side.

So it is time to get smarter about open source, and find new ways to deliver maximum value to your customers. Big or small, your organisation will benefit, too. Sharing is contagious and knowledge fits very nicely into that mix. At Accenture we're no different.

A great example of how we’re learning to organically cultivate a community internally and externally is by building great relationships and solving our own issues with the open source world. Partnerships can grow into opportunities and then on to great ecosystems for value.

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