Open Source as a Strategic Advantage for Business Software

When I started working in digital in 2006, open source software was all the rave. Whether your organization was in need of an enterprise CMS, e-commerce solution, CRM, ERP, or LMS, there was an open source solution that could be customized to meet your needs.  Companies were drawn to open source solutions because their values were in line with those of the open source community, as well as their customization options over proprietary solutions.

Looking at the landscape from the agency/consulting side, I saw many organizations disseminating RFP’s requesting open source software solutions over proprietary ones. Open source, and the value it brought to an organization, was a regular part of conversations from sales through execution of a project. There was an apparent value proposition that open source software offered to organizations, a competitive advantage that many of these systems had over their proprietary counterparts.

Fast forward almost ten years, I now question whether that same advantage still exists.

From my vantage point, the conversation about open source software has changed across industries. I can’t think of a time in the past five years where I was in a new business pitch or on an account management call and “open source” was presented as a reason an organization should adopt a specific technology solution. I can’t recall the last time I saw an RFP where an organization requested that respondents only only propose open source solutions. I do still see many organizations requesting agencies work with a specific open source solutions, but that tends to be because they already have the system implemented in-house.

I am assuming that open source software does not hold the same competitive advantage it once did. Organizations may be sticking with these solutions because they already have the system implemented internally and want to minimize the costs and risks of implementing a new system.

Organizations that are hopping on the open source bandwagon now seem to be doing so because they have a specific business need that a particular solution meets, not because said solution is open source.

Open source software that has been around for the past five to ten years has matured dramatically over the past few years, many specifically targeting the enterprise market. The maturation of their features and growth in number of service providers that can implement and support these solutions may be the driver behind the growth of some open source communities. The driver behind adoption of these solutions may also be their ability to compete against established enterprise solutions, not the fact that the solution is open source.

Technology trends are cyclical and open source software in general, not specific OS solutions, may become all the rave again. I question whether this second or third coming of the open source movement will be as strong as this last incarnation, though. Proprietary solutions are now offering comparable customization options to open source solutions, and strong integration via APIs.

Enterprise systems are also becoming decoupled, as organizations glue together various solutions to complete a technology stack. Open source solutions may just be a small part of that stack as glue software, or to meet a very specific need because it provides the right feature set for an organization.

My field of view of this trend is fairly narrow, and I would love to hear other perspectives on this. Are you seeing this same trend? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.