Open source software €“ its about opportunity


Open source software is as much about opportunity as it is about preference, trend, or even choice.

Dan Blankenhorn introduces the thought when he says, "An open source code base is your asset."

The keyword being YOUR, as in you, me, and our competition. And it is our asset regardless of whether we are a service or product-centric organisation.

The opportunity presented, by building on a library or framework, is ultimately no different than substituting a software application or operating system with an open source alternative. The opportunity may be as simple as reducing time-to-market, or as complex as quantifying usage costs against an operational metric.

Strategically, it might be about ROI, or time-to-market, or aversion to technical debt. But tactically, we all strive for optimum performance at maximum efficiency. Why not use your open assets as an advantage?

Open source is a distinctive competency. You must realise that if you are unable to take advantage of the opportunity, your competition most assuredly will. A lot is being said about open source's opportunity, based on the current economic conditions.

The reality is that open source is primed as an opportunity, downturn or not. Those organisations that can operate, taking advantage of all their assets, should be well-positioned to compete. This obviously is looking at open source beyond a cost-reduction mechanism, by removing recurring license costs. Be forewarned, open source isn’t necessarily easy.

With these assets comes a requirement to deeply understand licensing constraints, maintenance and support costs, and the responsibilities embedded within. In addition, you’ll need to ensure effective communications with the asset’s parents (e.g. mailing lists, forums, issue trackers, code repositories, etc.) and agree to specific service-level requirements.

Google’s Android project is one example of an open platform that enables opportunity. Raytheon’s RATS is a less discussed example of using an open source platform to enable innovation and strategic opportunities, while maintaining intellectual property. As Matt Asay points out, open platforms are more than just a cheap date –- even though it is hard to look past the $0.00 initial investment.

When considering the costs one could end up skirting the “not-built-here” syndrome, as well as the maintenance costs, for the majority of the solution. What then remains to be seen is whether or not that leads to becoming a quality community member, proactively contributing to optimize investment.

We're at a point on the open source timeline where the open source domain has coverage of the entire software stack, across many business domains. Your opportunities exist everywhere and the substitution and integration pool is growing rapidly.

However, as Seneca stated, “It’s better to be lucky than good.” OK, that’s not it. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” is more like it. Taking advantage of your assets requires strategic preparation; else you will realise the opportunistic cost for not doing so.

There are partnerships to be had: vendors, consultants, and the community-at-large are ready to help you. Don’t hesitate.

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