Crunch Proofing Your Business?

I know I’m kind of preaching to the converted here but I have been thinking about ideas to promote OSS, and our company’s services, here in the UK. And I’m particularly thinking about this with regards to our current economic climate, i.e. very dodgy.

For most of the readership of this blog it will come as no surprise that Open Source is a bloody great way to avoid spending money on software. That’s a very simple argument and one that has merit. But clearly capital cost isn’t the only answer and replacing existing infrastructure with something new, even if it is free, can be costly in other ways.

So are there other benefits and factors where Open Source Software solutions can be of distinct benefit in these rather troubled times?

Well I think there are, and I’ve dumped some of my rather random thoughts down here. I’d love to hear your opinion on them and get any other suggestions you may have too:

  • To me, a major benefit of OSS to a business is when they are looking to deploy a new solution or service. Be it a CRM, or ERP, or perhaps their business model has changed and they need to actually do something fundamentally different to survive. Deploying OSS in this scenario is almost a no-brainer. You will have to pay to integrate this new service to some degree whatever solution you select; so why not use a free one and one that gives you an ability to adapt and change features in a far simpler way than with a proprietary system?
  • But now, cash is really tight. It is even more important that your business gets every penny it can from any investment it makes. So there may be an even simpler argument: If you can’t afford to invest in a proprietary software solution but you can get similar functionality from a free OSS solution, can you really afford NOT to go down the OSS route? Your competitors probably will.
  • Is OSS now the ONLY choice for the cash-strapped business? You can’t stand still. You have to do something to generate more leads/revenue/cash flow or improve operating efficiency etc. Standing still in our current climate is equivalent to going backwards in a growth economy.
  • Vista bashing? Many firms will probably be getting close to needing an upgrade cycle on their desktops. Do they go Vista? There are a whole world of reason why not too, including performance, reliability, security and the need to upgrade hardware. Is OSS ready for the Desktop. Personally I think so; but does Joe Blogs? Can they be convinced? We are certainly hearing more positive noises in this direction but is it a step-too-far? The costs of replacing your desktop licenses is going to be pretty steep.
  • How about bringing certain tasks back in-house? Many businesses will outsource to external companies specific jobs or functions that they use on a regular basis. By deploying OSS in-house, could they do some of this work themselves and save money, speed up the process, become more efficient? I’m thinking of these sort of things: basic graphics work, PDF creation, page layout, web design/maintenance. There’s no cost to download and install The Gimp, Inkscape, or Scribus. Moving a web site to a decent CMS like Joomla! from a hard-coded site (that you have to go back to your web designer every time you want content changed) could provide longer term benefits although this would require some up front cost.
  • Security. Is it a big deal for most SMEs? It doesn’t crop up that much in discussion. So I don’t think it is an area to major on. Do you? Clearly there are big advantages to using OSS (Linux) on the desktop for protection from almost all malware. But with existing infrastructure protected by AV, Firewalls, filters and IDS etc, is it worth changing? For it’s own sake probably not, but as part of a bigger overhaul, probably.
  • Servers and networked services. With M$’s release of Windows Server 2008(tm), is there an opportunity to promote the OSS alternative? Again, upgrades are not going to be cheap. Current VAR expertise will be limited with the new platform so where is the downside to using OSS based servers instead? Free, secure, immensely flexible and scalable. We have just seen Alfresco announce that their Open Source ECM now fully supports Microsoft’s Sharepoint stack. The big benefit here is in keeping your businesses’ documents on an open platform. Not locked inside a proprietary M$ one where you will be forever asked to pay to get continued access to your data.

That’s it for now. If you got this far, thanks!

I’d like to think this might become a short series of posts if we can get more and better ideas from you too.

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  • jpmcc says:

    SMEs are a huge potential market for open-source. SMEs typically have very little IT skills and very little time or interest in acquiring them. This means they rely heavily on their Friendly Local Supplier(tm). If the FLS is into FLOSS, then that’s what they will deliver to the client.

    So, working back up the supply chain, what is the appeal of FLOSS to the FLS? Free-of-cost licensing is important. Typically, the client will have a budget limit for their new system. Every penny the FLS has to pay out for licences is a penny to spend elsewhere – e.g. on client training – or indeed a penny less profit for the FLS. So free-of-licence cost FLOSS hits the sweet spot.

    FLOSS licences are also very attractive to the client. They can grow their business without having to pay a ‘headcount tax’ to a software vendor every time they take on a new employee. With increasingly aggressive software audits from an under-threat commercial software sector, having a ‘we only use FLOSS on these premises’ sticker on the front door can save a lot of hassle.

    For a technically qualified FLS (and many of them are), having access to the source code also means that any bugs found by the client / enhancements required can be delivered, without having to wait for a vendor release cycle two years’ hence. A good FLS will of course contribute these changes back to the FLOSS project 🙂

    I could go on … FLOSS is a wonderfully attractive business proposition to SMEs. The only thing that prevents its uptake is ignorance, and misinformation funded by the huge profits of commercial software. Explain to people that for every UKP 100 they spend on Microsoft software, then Microsoft has already spent over UKP 20 of their money persuading them to buy the product. And that’s not unusual in the commercial software business.

  • Alan Lord says:

    Thanks John. Some good comments in there.

    I believe the ratio of development spend vs. marketing spend for a company like Microshaft is actually nearer 10% vs 90%… I know I’ve read that somewhere before. And if someone was bothered it could probably be calculated from their financial reports etc… But anyway that’s a good point.


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