Reorient your business, strengthen customer relationships, reduce costs, and supercharge your IT
by Charles Groce, CEO of Pearl Street Consulting
Open source technology is changing the business landscape in every industry. For business leaders, recognizing which technologies are emerging standards and which technologies will only slow your business down will become a critical market differentiator in the very near future.
What is open source technology? I like to think of open source technology like an automobile. If you want to work on your car, you’re free to do so. Pop-open the hood and fix a problem yourself. Make the car yours by installing a new stereo, better tires. Change your own oil and save a few bucks.
Closed source technology, in contrast, is like an automobile in which the hood is locked. Popping the hood on your own violates your warranty. If you want access to what’s under the hood, you have to drive down to the dealership and pay them for the key. Sound ridiculous? That’s exactly what closed-source software does.
This doesn’t mean closed source technology doesn’t play a important role in your IT arsenal! Quite the contrary, closed source, highly specialized systems often serve mission critical functions. The key is integration between key closed source and open source systems, and filling in the gaps with open source software where closed source systems come up short.
Open source software is often community maintained, and supported by hundreds or even thousands of developers. Developers profit from supporting these systems by offering premium plugins, or contribute simply for the added credentials of having contributed to a successful open source project.
Most importantly to business leaders, open source software is often free to install and deploy onto any network. IT staff can tweak the systems as they see fit. Businesses can even resell open source software solutions, as long as they abide by the spirit of open source embodied in open source licensing. This licensing model orients the entire open source software industry to providing Software as a Service solutions, or SaaS, and it ensures a very rapid production cycle. Many open source software solutions have new releases every day.
You’d be amazed by the breadth of problems solved today by open source software, and the list keeps growing with every year. Technology solutions that only the big boys of industry could provide, like digital storefronts, are now solved with completely free, open source eCommerce solutions that are built from the ground up for customization. Companies used to have to pay web hosting providers on a per-page basis for edits that anyone who can use a computer can do now with do-it-yourself web publishing platforms.
And the same goes for other, more cutting edge technology solutions. Take cloud-based file storage. Think only Google and Dropbox can offer that kind of solution? Think again. There are very sophisticated free and open source cloud-based file exchange platforms. Some of them even come with their own mobile apps for Android or iPhone, which you can brand with your company logo, and tie in to your information systems.
What about Customer Relationship Management (CRM)? The open source community has solved this problem too and because you can integrate an open source CRM with virtually any system out there, including your management information system (MIS) or your scheduling system, these solutions are in many respects vastly superior to what’s available on the proprietary market.
Furthermore, if you think CRM is really just a spreadsheet of company-wide contact data, think again. Open source has evolved the concept into a highly flexible workflow automation solution, complete with integration with email servers and a powerful scheduling engine for rules-based task assignment and reminders. This allows businesses to automate processes today that used to require managers to oversee, such as adherence to compliance standards like those required for FSC paper certification.
And the list goes on and on.
Even the major players of the technology industry like Microsoft and Apple are watching with a certain amount of horror as Google open-sources its way through the mobile operating system market. In 2009, Android powered 2.8% of the mobile market globally. By 2012, Android powered 75% of the mobile market. Today it’s even higher.
Why is this good for Google? Because they can add on premium services, like enterprise-level Google Maps for mobile developers, and charge for them. They’re not just players in the mobile market, they are the market.
It’s good for consumers because mobile phones that are powered by Android don’t have the added cost of the operating system, which brings the overall price of the device down. This is why Android phones are so much cheaper.
One common criticism of open source is that solutions are not mature enough or stable enough to provide companies with reliable solutions. Open source projects are portrayed as amateur projects.
Google disagrees. Even Microsoft is starting to disagree, although in terms of the mobile operating system market it’s too little too late.
Open source is here to stay. Companies that understand these vital lessons will be the companies that differentiate themselves in the market. Companies that utilize open source solutions to satisfy customer needs can offer lower pricing, just like Google does, passing savings on to their customers, and undercutting the competition. Companies that adopt open source technology internally enjoy the efficiencies that arise from community-maintained, continuously developed solutions.