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Developing Open Source business policies that work

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols | July 9, 2008
While a company may not have a formal policy, for all practical purposes, many do have an open-source software acquisition and usage policy.

Managing Software

Making proper use of open-source software is the central concern for most companies and organizations. Alan Young, CIO of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, is focused on coming up with a viable open-source deployment policy. "Given the budget pressures that IT faces and the business objectives, sometimes it makes good sense to think about open-source applications, but the road is fraught with scary consequences."

Among the concerns that Young plans to address are:

After all, as Young observes, for all open-source benefits, "If the project dies, guess who's left holding the bag? Me!" That's a position no CIO ever wants to be in.

On a larger scale, Roger Valade, vice president of technology for Entertainment, the company behind the Entertainment Book marketing program, says the company has effectively adopted a number of open-source components, "providing both significant cost savings and environmental standardization." Entertainment's open-source philosophy is purely practical: "Our policy right now is 'use it whenever you can-it is a productivity improvement. Don't code what you can download.' Sometimes we have battles ( Hibernate vs. iBatis) [Both are services to make it easier for programmers to connect objects with database queries] and that is when it gets interesting."

In the future, Entertainment plans on refining its open-source strategy by developing a policy that considers such things as existing skill set, availability of training, availability and cost of outside resources, strength of the user community and appropriate cost model. Says Valade, "To a large degree this is a subset of the portfolio management initiative with a specific focus on open source given both its popularity, subtlety and long-term impact."

John Rafuse, executive VP at HeavyLifters Network, a Canadian-based business and IT consulting firm, would agree with Valade. Rafuse sees open-source software management as being "exactly the same as controlling any software asset." To track HeavyLifter's software use, Rafuse uses the open-source program The Verified Software Repository. Closed or open, Rafuse believes that companies can save huge amounts of time and money by using a shared repository. If they don't, he says, "I saw in one instance that they had built no less than 12 case management systems instead of having a central code base and manipulating it for their needs."

Several other people CIO spoke with made the same point: Open-source software isn't a special case, and overall software management is what's really key to any enterprise. In particular, several mentioned Spiceworks, another open-source software inventory and management program, as being quite helpful in cutting costs and helping bring management order to software use.

For the most part, though, companies seem to be making their open-source policies as they go along.


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