Since The Weather Company has been a major adopter of open source software, I’m often asked why we have chosen this path. Where is the value in taking the open source route to solve your business challenges? I’m a big advocate of open source, so I’m always happy to oblige. Here are my top five reasons:
1. You get solutions that just work. A lot of open source projects start as small point solution initiatives, versus behemoth one-size-fits-all software packages. As a result, these solutions tend to be lightweight, focused and usually do a pretty good job of solving a problem.
2. You can directly contribute to making applications better. Open source development teams tend to be small and nimble, and links to developers are easy to find. The feedback we give to the development community of an open source project usually yields quick action in terms of feedback changes, feature requests, and bug resolution. It’s a refreshing change from working your way through three levels of support in a proprietary software company, all of which are about 43 layers removed from somebody actually writing code.
3. Self-support is fast and relatively pain free. Thanks to the open forum and self-support methodologies of open source, we’re able to self-service a lot of our issues. My teams can go out into forums, blogs, and support groups and get resolution because people are very open around posting their code steps to address problems. And anytime you can solve your problem yourself you’re better off.
4. Security is surprisingly solid. With open source software you have more eyeballs on an application, more people to find and fix problems, and more people to check resolutions to those problems for their validity. Compare this to the “We don’t really know what’s going on in the black box” reality of so much proprietary software. I don’t believe that open source software is inherently less secure. In fact, I think you get better support in the world of forums and blogs and support groups online than you do through the Tier 1 or Tier 2 help desk of your average software vendor.
5. Open source is a magnet for talent. If you want a team of engineers who are creative problem solvers looking to give your company a distinctive, differentiated edge, using open source is a great way to attract them. Developers who work on their own time to build innovative solutions are not starting those projects by going out and buying big, shrink-wrapped enterprise software packages. They’re finding and joining or even starting open source projects themselves. Who wouldn’t want that kind of initiative in their company?
Are there risks to open source? Of course, just as there are risks to every piece of software. A project could dry up overnight if everyone loses interest in it. There is no true SLA around support or resolution of a problem. There is some IP risk, although those risks can be mitigated through proper background leg work, and in many cases so many large companies are using these open source projects that they are leading many of the legal battles. And because an open approach favors point solutions, you may have to run a lot of different modules or components, which could lead to increased complexity of your overall architectural stack. Even so, if a product dries up it’s usually easy to pull it out and add a new, standards-based application in its place, versus dealing with the painful integration hooks of a mammoth proprietary software implementation. So given the benefits I’ve seen from open source, I remain a huge fan.
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Bryson Koehler is executive vice president and CIO of The Weather Company. He is responsible for setting the strategic vision, financial planning, technical operations, direction and execution of strategic technology initiatives for the company. In the past, Bryson has worked as an operating partner in private equity and as SVP of global revenue and guest technology at InterContinental Hotels Group.