Let me start by saying that I love open source software as much as the next guy. I use Drupal CMS to power my personal web site and have deployed it and a dozen other open source tools for organization’s I’ve worked for and clients for years. In fact I’m using several pieces of open source software as I write this post.
I just read a great article on the cost of free software, published by Boston Interactive. They take some time to describe the merits of “free” software, or software that doesn’t have a pricetag for taking it off the showroom floor. They then spend a lot of time describing many of the costs of open source tools that are seldom considered.
When you consider using open source (or make ANY decision around purchasing technology for your organization) you might want to consider the following:
1. You Get What You Pay For
What are you getting for the money (or no money)? Is the tool reliable and dependable? Can you talk to other users who have used the tool to solve similar problems, whether it’s managing content or analyzing data, to the ones you’re solving? Have you outlined your needs thoroughly and can the tools meet most of them?
2. Deployment or Setup Costs
Every software product requires some kind of setup. Off the shelf, it probably needs to be configured for your organization’s needs. How much will it cost to get that thing set up? Whether your staff or a consultant sets it up for you, there are definitely labor costs involved.
3. IT Expenses
Besides labor, what else will be required to support this system? Will you need to purchase additional hardware (i.e. another web or database server) or software (e.g. MS SQL Server or Cold Fusion Server) to use the tool? If you’re not hosting it in-house, how much will it cost each month or annually to have someone else host the tool?
What kind of help will your organization need to maintain the tool over time? Does someone need to deploy security patches and upgrades? Is there someone you can call for help the moment you need it? Or, are you going to have to post a question in an online user forum and wait for someone that can help you?
Is the tool you’re selecting “open.” A lot of times we’ll buy software that doesn’t meet all of our needs, but that can be coupled with other tools to get 100% of the job done, just think of all the crazy things you do with MS Excel that other programs cannot do). Be sure that the technology you select makes it easy to integrate with other solutions at the content, data, and authentication levels (assuming it’s web based technology). Also, consider the costs of doing this integration. Just because the technology can be integrated doesn’t mean it’ll be cheap to do so.
You’re making a significant investment in this technology because it’s going to help you solve some process that’s important to your business. Just like mutual funds, you want to be sure your investment will go as far as possible. Should you decide to move to some other tool to solve the same problem (i.e. moving from one CMS to another to support your organization’s web site) be sure at a minimum you can move your data or content. Also, keep in mind that the customizations you make getting this thing set up or need over time will complicate the portability of the investment you’re making in this system.
Well, there they are. Six things you should consider when considering open source or really any kind of software. I’m excited to hear what others think of these and what else we should add to the
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