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Software DecisionsOpen SourceCIOs 21 May 2008 6:10 AM
Little to Lose - Much to Gain by billm

Most CIOs and their enterprise IT organizations, having been burned in the past by very expensive infrastructure software purchases that didn't work out well, have created organizations and processes aimed at preventing such costly "mistakes" from happening again. These organizations and processes are costly in their own right. They invest a lot of time, effort, and money before letting any new software approach, vendor, or product through the door, so that they can be sure to take no risk of expensive failure. What if failure were not expensive? With the emergence of enterprise capable open source software, CIOs should re-think their assumption and approach.


I find it almost comical when big enterprise IT organizations, considering spending a few thousand dollars on support, professional services, and/or commercial licenses for our open source software, spend hours of time debating it and asking us for more and more information to support their debate. This is especially ironic when the alternatives to using our software are spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on commercial software or coding. The way they think is built around the premise that a software decision is a very big commitment. They could save themselves a lot of brain damage, time, and money if they would re-evaluate their assumptions and re-think the business processes they have build around those assumptions.


The fundamental assumption that leads them to do all of this wasted work is that they are making a decision that will involve a lot of up front cost, there failure would be very expensive. Given the economics of available open source software, that is a bad assumption. They really should look at what could go wrong, how they would recover from that, and what the relative cost of such a case would be when compared to making another possible choice. In the case of chosing inexpensive open source alternative, there is little risk should it go bad because there is so little up front cost.


While there is little incremental cost of making an open source choice should it go bad, there are huge savings if it goes well! This is the inverse case as opposed to considering a decision on expensive commerical enterprise infrastructure software; where a bad decision woud be very costly and a good decision would result in little relative savings. Since the basic assumption of "all downside and little upside" is inverted to become "all upside and little downside", the way they look at these decisions should change. If they have an inexpensive open source software option, the expense of making the decision could now be exceeding the potential incremental cost of making a bad decision. It is really silly for these organizations to be spending so much time, money, and effort on a decision that will cost so little if it turns out wrong. There is so little to lose and so much to gain.


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