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Open Source Software and the 3 Mandatory Questions
By: Jason Will
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Are you a conformist or an innovator? Probably something to understand before reading further, since the basis of this article is to highlight the primary questions anyone should ask prior to defining and implementing a software strategy. A conformist could benefit more from pre-canned software and an innovator can leverage Open Source Software (OSS) to continuously iterate. Enjoy the freebie question, since the next ones will be known as the Mandatory 3.

Let’s define open source software and break down the various components that accompany this approach. According to Webopedia, OSS refers to a program where source code is distributed free of charge to the general public and is intended to be collaborative in nature. The Open Source Initiative (OSI) also offers an open source definition, which discusses 10 various criterions that make-up this software. After visiting those sites you are OSS 101 certified; it’s time to answer some questions.

What cost can your budget absorb?
By definition OSS is distributed free of charge and therefore eliminates license fees. With that being said, there is a cost to implement, train, and support the application. Review how you are able to execute those three components because outside assistance will ramp up costs in a hurry. Also, be cognizant that OSS providers do oftentimes charge for add-ons and various other services.

How well is your Support Team built out?
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, a solid support structure needs to be in place. The OSS approach is heavily reliant on virtual communities to deliver support via forums and blogs. I recently caught up with Marc O’Brien, Vice President of Business Development at xTuple, which specializes in Open Source ERP. Our conversation covered several aspects from adoption rates, support structure, and his bullish perspective on commercial open source. Marc’s belief is that commercial open source will continuously benefit from rapid innovation and feeding off of the open source community. For a complete breakdown of his analysis, head over to this article: 2013 is a breakout year for commercial open source. Organizations need to strategize the amount of support that can be delivered in-house versus external communities. This ratio is a critical piece of information that drives implementation and bug fix cycle times.

Are you prepared to invest time in usability?
A consistent theme that arises is around usability and the ways to enhance software accordingly. Since OSS is heavily developer centric, the back-end code rapidly changes much faster than the front-end functionality. There are a few recommendations to enable greater usability: prepare user guides and cheat sheets and thoroughly train your team. Also, be prepared to hire individual(s) who can bridge the gap between technical jargon and the business process needs.

The list of questions surrounding OSS and determining the fit varies accordingly to each situation. By answering the questions highlighted here, you can begin the conversation towards an OSS solution. Whether you decide to go down this path or not, make sure you are confident in your team’s ability to execute on a solution. 


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About the Author
Jason Will is an avid traveler and entrepreneur based in San Francisco where he serves as the Co-Founder and CEO of Zipkick, which is set to go-live in Q2 2014. Zipkick's mission is to make travel booking and planning more accessible and mobile, it's "personalized travel booking anytime, anywhere". Sign up at www.zipkick.com and connect with Jason via Twitter or LinkedIn.
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