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June 11, 2008

Enterprise adoption of Open Source software

Writing about web page http://www.cio.com/article/375916/Open_Source_is_Entering_the_Enterprise_Mainstream_Survey_Shows/

Adoption of Open Source (OS) software in the private sector would now be roughly on a par with commercial software according to this survey among 328 IT and business executives and managers, though not necessarily as many corporations, which was conducted in late April 2008 by CIO.com.

It would be interesting to have a comparative survey of the Higher Education (HE) sector. I suspect in HE the policy making, and indeed strategy formulation, about OS procurement might also be lagging behind actual implementation.

“About a quarter of corporations (27 percent) have a formal policy in place regarding open-source applications, though 18 percent expect to adopt such a policy in the next 12 months.”

Interestingly also, enterprise use of OS software seems to range widely in terms of the level of in-house customisation work that is applied to the software. Yet a significant proportion of use would be simple and straightforward instances of OS software being used as a finished product that you can plug and play.

“While more than half of enterprises use open source today, the degree of intimacy with the philosophy varies quite a bit. Companies may often (43 percent) or sometimes (24 percent) treat such applications as, well, just free software; they run the application but don’t even look at the source code.”

This suggests at least two things.

Firstly, there is quite a lot of OS software around which is good enough, i.e. mature enough and with enough support, to be used out-of-the-box and without much ado. This is OS software that turns out to be virtually cost free in comparison with commercial licences that would also take staff time to implement, administrate, and work around to suit if at all possible.

A few examples of OS or free software that come to my non-technical mind could fall in this category and seem appropriate for HE: LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP), OpenOffice, Sakai, Moodle, Firefox, Zotero, Liquid XML, etc.

Secondly, managers responsible for procurement decisions need to have the technical knowledge to be able to identify OS solutions and evaluate them, estimating the different costs involved in each particular case. Costs will depend on maturity of software, staff time and range of technical skills that will be required for implementation, solidness of support community, outsourcing fees, and importantly the forthcoming features chartered on the roadmap of developments for that software.

This second point directly impinges on one of the strategic challenges currently faced by University Libraries and especially by those not yet converged with their IT departments. How to shift the skills balance of their staff at all grades so as to keep up with the fast pace of an information environment that is increasingly technology driven?

In this context one should think the role of procurement support agencies like the JISC OS Watch is becoming indispensable. Maintaining a current awareness of the OS market and providing expert advice, such role can cover the lag time in skills adjustment to new technological developments.


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