When it comes to open source software, procurement teams must understand the specific nuances of these types of projects. The reality is that open source is not always free.
“Open source” describes a specific approach to creating, distributing and using software. Anyone can see how the source code for this software is put together, they can often use this software for free and they can potentially alter it to meet their own needs. But, if something is free, why do procurement teams need to get involved, and when can it lead to potential headaches?
Understanding When Free Is Not Really Free
The reality is that open source is not always free, as in without cost. For some projects, “free” covers every sense of the word, which means the software involved can be used and shared without any restrictions from the creators and without any cost. For other projects, “free” is an intellectual concern where the source code is available and developers can re-use and edit the code as needed for themselves. However, these projects may be covered by licenses that prevent use by other commercial entities.
What Does the Puppy Actually Cost?
One approach is to think of open source projects as free like a free puppy. Although the puppy may be free to a good home, the price of upkeep and maintenance can be substantial. Looking into the total cost of ownership around any project is where procurement teams can add real value.
For many software developers, choosing an open source product is based more on the technical requirements for their application rather than a decision on how it will be supported. For example, according to industry analyst firm Gartner, 70% of new applications will run on open source databases by 2022, and 50% of existing applications will transition to running on open source in the same time frame.
These implementations will hold critical company data, have to be kept secure and need to run efficiently. For companies in regulated industries like finance, any application must be current and supported to meet compliance requirements. Although a database will be chosen and implemented by the developers, day-to-day maintenance and support is a different story. It is here that procurement teams will be brought in.
Choosing the Right Approach to Open Source Support and Service
The initial request around this sort of project will be to find support. For those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of open source, this can represent a steep learning curve.
To take the right approach, it is important to understand the context that exists and the key criteria. This will involve collaboration with your IT team and your developers to understand their choices and to put the right approach in place for future support requirements.
Look at databases as an example. There are two key questions you should ask to ensure your procurement team and your developers discuss the same problems:
1. How important is the data that the application will hold or process?
This is an essential question as databases frequently hold sensitive information such as customer details or commercial information. These instances should be protected and kept secure. For other open source software, the application may process data and have to do this securely.
To ensure this information remains protected, your IT team may need to provide security for these databases. However, many companies today choose to implement their databases in the cloud on services such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure. These databases still need security, just like anything you store internally. Achieving this may require external support or more time for your internal team to ensure everything is secure. Either way, this is a vital consideration when procuring support.
2. Who will run the service over time?
While your developers might have picked their open source project wisely, they may not want to be in charge of administering it every day. Buying-in support services or a consultant can enable the developers to concentrate on their applications.
There are a few options to consider here. Many open source projects use commercial companies that provide specific products or support services as well as advice when required. Alternatively, there are companies that support multiple projects independently. These can be useful when you have multiple software installations of the same kind to consider, such as databases, or when you don’t need the full-scale expense of enterprise products.
For companies that want or need support, it can be tempting to go with the company that provides a specific service. However, this can be expensive and often provides far more than the company requires in terms of support and/or functionality. Instead, understanding the specific requirements of your developer team, and how best to meet them, can help you identify a more appropriate and cost-effective solution.
How Procurement Can Help
When it comes to open source, procurement teams must understand the specific nuances projects of this type have. Getting specialist advice and understanding before going to market can be a huge help when it comes to securing the right deal. This independent knowledge can ensure you deliver exactly what your team needs—procuring the best support and services at the right price.