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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.

Jay Lyman, an open-source analyst for The 451 Group, sees companies with open-source champions creating more formal open-source software policies: "Those organizations that don't have champions-or perhaps their champions aren't as far along, as experienced or as comfortable as other champions-would fall into the category of 'make it up as you go.'"

Lyman continues, "We do see organizations attempting to apply traditional software and licensing policies and procedures to open source, but free and open-source software and its licensing are very unique and have more significant implications on things such as development model, business model, etc. So, open source really needs its own dedicated approach to get the most out of it. Here again, the champions tend to know how to go about it, and the organizations that have them are most likely to benefit.

This "make it up as you go along" approach to managing open-source software concerns Douglas "Dougie" Stevenson. Enterprise Monitoring SME (subject-matter expert) at Savvis, a SaaS (software-as-a-service) vendor. Stevenson points out, "You put controls on what goes into production based upon how IT is going to support the services, what the application provides and what it does in your environment. Open source still needs to have user training/orientation, you still need to field issues with it and you still need to adapt it to your business needs."

So what does all this mean? Open-source management policies deal with the same issues over and over again, whether they're written up in a formal statement or (as is far more likely) is the collected wisdom of IT executives and staffers. These include:

Project stability: Can you trust the project to be there when you need it?

Project support: Can you get support when you need it?

Internal software management: Does your company know what open-source programs it's using? How it's developing and deploying them both in-house and to customers?

In general, companies do not appear to be handling these issues in a formal manner. Some of them, perhaps for the best, are incorporating open-source software management into general software management. As long as these companies avoid producing software for external use and avoid such traps as producing devices that include such programs, this approach should work.

In any case, CIOs should set up a framework to answer these common open-source concerns. That alone will take you a long way toward having an open-source policy that will work both for you and your company.


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