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Opting in for better open source support

By   |  May 7, 2009

As the Internet becomes more vast open source communities need to be not only educating potential users on the benefits of open source software but also encouraging them to become part of the community.

There once existed a common misconception that, “if we have coped with the tools we’ve used until now, why adapt to something new?” The answer is simple: change. Given the considerable impact that the Internet and Web 2.0 technologies have had on the way governments and businesses operate today, we now have a completely revised approach to sophisticated technology solutions – and need to forget this misconception in its entirety.

If we examine the software industry, for instance, while certain software power houses continue to dominate mainstream platform integration, over the past few years more businesses, organisations and government departments have come to realise the esteem benefits that open source software (OSS) platforms have to offer. In fact, OSS is now in full swing, and its hold on the market share is expected to increase as the current global economic crisis takes its toll and businesses and governments alike begin to seek alternative solutions that offer greater cost optimisation strategies to their IT infrastructure.

Yet, despite this upswing and the considerable benefits that are on offer – now more than ever – many software users are still hesitant to move to an open-based platform, as they have a general lack in understanding of the open model, how the implementation is managed and how to approach the available support structures. In order to curb this concern and uncertainty – the key is to get users to opt in to OSS by understanding the community on which it is based and tailored for.

As the Internet becomes more vast, open source communities, including niche software vendors, need to take responsibility for educating potential users on not only the obvious benefits that OSS can offer them, but the perceived pitfalls of an open platform model and the possible solutions. By proactively approaching and encouraging potential users to join an open source community, the community is not only able to keep these potential users abreast of new developments, but identify potential “converters” and reel them in, through open information sharing. Additionally, this approach provides potential converters access to seek the advice of experts on adopting an open platform model and whether the implementation should be managed in-house or outsourced to a reputable solutions provider.

This is certainly an important role to fulfill by the OSS community, as often potential converters mistakenly believe that they do not have the necessary expert skills available to them (or cannot find them) to manage an OSS implementation. Many inexperienced users believe that a successful OSS operating platform requires having a specialist software developer on staff or outsourcing the project to a consultant who will develop a fully customised solution. But does it? Possibly the most expensive approach to an OSS implementation, this route will most likely defuse any of the initially achievable cost benefits, as these skills are rare and won’t come cheap. So while this may be a plausible option for those who can afford to do so, this silent fallacy may also be a chief deterrent for those who cannot, and result in potential converters forsaking innovation and subsequently losing out on a valuable competitive advantage. Certainly, I am sure you will agree, a concern to look out for?

As a result, potential converters to OSS need to be educated on the possibility of outsourcing their platform needs – whatever those may be – to a reputable solutions provider and more importantly, how to find the correct provider. For instance, potential converters need to know that an ideal solutions provider is a certified specialist who can consult on the best available solutions without any developer lock-in. One who is willing to spend the time getting to know their customer’s unique needs and will assist in customising the software to meet these needs – without incurring costly license fees and red tape for its customers, or over charging them in consulting fees. Additionally, a solutions provider should be willing to provide training for its customers to ensure that they have the necessary hands-on skill sets available to provide on-demand support internally.

Finally, the ball must be handed over to the end-user. Potential converters must be encouraged to get actively involved in the implementation and management of an OSS adoption. Free downloads and updates, and complete control over the implementation may always sound grand, however, it is rarely stressed that with this control the user needs to take ownership to ensure a successful implementation. In so doing, the user needs to take responsibility for identifying and instigating feasible support structures that will facilitate the maintenance of their implementation, for instance, ensuring an effort is made to learn how to use the solution and to promote the further development of this skill set – the only way is through complete buy-in from top to bottom.

By educating and encouraging potential users to opt in and take control, the open source community, as a whole, could collectively promote the benefits that OSS has to offer, as well as the tactics to a successful OSS implementation. Through the correct education and the promotion of the availability of support structures, further endorsement for OSS can be achieved and faster adoption attained for benefits now and in the future.

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Rob Lith is the CEO of open source telephony specialists Connection Telecom.


One Response to “Opting in for better open source support”

  1. GoblinX Project » GoblinX Newsletter, Issue 199 (05/10/2009)
    May 10th, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

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