How Indian Businesses view open Source
At InfoAxon Technologies, we have been implementing open source solutions worldwide for last 8 years now.
Our most interesting experiences have been with Indian Businesses. Understanding of Open Source has matured over the years but several factors make the implementation of professional open source solutions increasingly difficult for Indian businesses.
These factors are:
- When considering Open Source most Indian business have their eye on the “Free” argument instead of the innovation, choice and flexibility that they get and need to promote. Most can see the merit of it but fail to accept that like any other software model it requires the right supplier and structuring too.
- Limited understanding of open source model and how it really benefits businesses in the longer term. Most projects are experimental and started with limited organizational backing thus leading to half baked implementations that neither work for the customer nor for the supplier.
- Limited backing also means that the processes and structure driving the IT project based on Open source are not as strong as they can be in case of any larger implementation of for e.g. SAP or Microsoft. This in turn impacts a serious open source vendor to implement solutions methodically for the customer.
So are there any lessons or the right way at looking to open source for Indian Businesses
Turn away from the Free
First and foremost the “free” argument has to be understood clearly by Indian businesses adopting open source. While it may be easy to download something for free, it makes a lot of difference if the same thing has to run as a solution within a production environment. Often the excitement of implementing a software ERP or CRM or even CMS that looks easy to download and configure is confused with almost zero cost of implementing the solution across a larger user base. It is also important to understand that most Open source software when implemented within a production environment requires a combination of:
- Integration with other enterprise software or products
- Data exchange interfaces
- Load and performance testing of some sort to ensure it can sustain a more than a few users
- Support from a trusted supplier
- Hardware compatibility and architecture sizing
We have found in our experience that once the customers understand this basic idea it transforms their approach towards implementing open source leading to astonishingly successful reasults. One of our Insurance customers realized this early and with some investment carefully done in commercial open source software subscriptions coupled with a unique architecture has led to a knowledge management initiative that is fast growing within their business replacing properietary product investments.
Drive Open Source Decisions with IT Strategy
Most Indian organizations that are looking for open source already have some sort of IT strategy in place. It is therefore very important to have a top level view about how and why open source will be used within the business. The question is no more “If” it will be used but “Where” it will be used. This brings clarity to the operations and working relationship of the businesses and the open source vendor. For e.g. an IT strategic decision can be made to first replace all non mission critical databases or portal technologies with Open source and run controlled pilots that then can be scaled up.
Vendors such as InfoAxon have prior experience of how other customers worldwide have implemented the IT strategy with open source and can also help share this experience to guide Indian organizations on how the pilots should be managed and scaled up to larger implementations.
Aligining with the IT strategy also has one another magical effect. It automatically translates the benefits of open source within the organizaiton to a much wider audience. It is assumed that once the IT strategy is clear more than one departments will be clear about the use and implementation pattern of open source within the business and therefore would be in a position to drive forward their own requirements and decisions. A chosen vendor can then help identify the areas where open source adoption can succeed.
Mature Pilots or Proof of Concepts
Our experince and survey also shows that most Open source solution pilots run by Indian organizations are not properly structured. Sometimes these pilots are so limited that they act as simple downloaded installations serving no busines purpose. At other stretch these pilots can easily get bogged down with expectations and customizations that itself are not well funded leading to a pilot actually becoming a full fledged project and missing the expectations due to poor initial funding to the project.
The lesson here is that proof of concepts and pilots if attempted need to be seen with a clear focus and for measurable results. Any other form of pilots actually do not work as desired.
Highlight proven Open source successes
It is also important that once an open source success is achieved in some shape it needs to be advocated and highlighted to the rest of the business to gather more support. Many a times Indian organizations miss the “marketing” element of open source required to increase adoption within the business. A success story is often created at a technical level and by technical programmers or an IT manager. They may lack marketing view or may not be able to articulate the full significance of the case study but in actual fact the impact on the business of the open source success may be huge. It is important therefore for businesses to recognize these successes and understand the full benefits it brings to their businesses.
This will only inspire a lot more success stories.
Now before we sound too evangelical around open source its time to end this article by saying that Indian businesses are increasingly understanding that open source is a viable alternative and many have already dabbled in open source technologies enough to appreciate and separate a serious open source intitiative from an experimental one. This knowledge must be used and applied intelligently to create more success stories where the true reasons for adopting open source solutions comes to surface. With focus on flexibility and innovation driven using open source the cost and commercial benefits will automatically be understood.