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Selling Open Source Solutions to Upper Mgmt? 34

Posted by Cliff
from the making-your-case-to-PHBs dept.
An anonymous reader asks: "I am the single member of the IT department at a small nonprofit. We were looking to replace our commercial content management system with a custom combination of open source solutions (Lucene, Jackrabbit, etc). However, since I was the sole developer, progress was slow and we have little resources to recruit potential volunteers. Recently, we had a closed source, commercial vendor demo their version of a content management system, and immediately upper management was willing to go along with their proposal, even at the expense of project requirements. Although I understand and accept the decision (and am quite relieved I am not expected to deliver as the sole developer), I am interested to know if there are resources for promoting open source software in a manner like closed source, commercial software. If not, is this a challenge within the OS community? It seems that OS solutions are primarily promoted to technical implementors rather than upper management. Of course, many technical implementors do not have the marketing skills to promote open source, but are there resources to help us do so?"
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Selling Open Source Solutions to Upper Mgmt?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    That open source is the best way to get at the free porn on the interenet!!!
  • Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

    by kosmosik (654958) <kos.kosmosik@net> on Friday March 16, 2007 @07:57PM (#18382057) Homepage
    Well you stated that your process of developing own CMS was slow and the system was incomplete. Your manager had to choose beetween yours not working system and some other system that probably works and can be used now. Manager role is to manage and get things done, not to embrace any ideals. So it is obvious that he preffered working and proven (I assume) but closed solution than open but nonexistant one.

    I don't see how that is not obvious? The manager really have no choice there.

    One issue you should investigate is if this new closed system stores data in a way that it (data) can be transferred to other system if not you will be stuck with this system or will be facing need of reinputting everything from scratch (and this can be very painfull) if you decide to switch.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by pravuil (975319)
      Kind of have to agree with the parent on this one. The alternative was better because adoption was practically guaranteed. If you are serious about implementing open source solutions, you do have to put your $0.02 worth in to get the most out of it. Doing it solo seems a bit irresponsible. Ask around, I'm sure someone would have loved to offer their services.

      About marketing; while marketing OSS is a process in itself, some projects do have marketing materials available, just have to know where to find them.

      • New here? (Score:3, Informative)

        by Bretai (2646)
        don't see why this is on the front page. This is a question to the public, not news.

        Apparently you're not familiar with the AskSlashdot section. I'll leave it to you to discover what kinds of articles are posted there.

        Secondly, the summary was not posted to the main page, it is just linked there as all articles are now.

        Take it to a freakin forum.

        You mean like /.?

        • by pravuil (975319)
          Forum, yes I get it. It's all about discussion here. Discussion about worthwhile topics that can make an impact in our lives. While I understand this persons conundrum, I don't find anything newsworthy about it. IMO it seems like a good way to spam more then it does to offer solutions.
          • I don't find anything newsworthy about it. IMO it seems like a good way to spam more then it does to offer solutions.

            You'll fit right in here.
        • by sumdumass (711423)
          Off topic:

          I have seen an influx of low UID posts in the past few weeks. Is it because I am viewing different content or has something happend to pull some of the original or older slashdoters out of retirement?

          Anyways, glad to see 'em back.
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)
      What's interesting to me is the number of people on Slashdot, as revealed by comments and posted questions like these, who (apparently) work in corporations and yet have absolutely no idea how corporations work. It's like this site is full of the guy who stays at Quality Assurance I because they don't know how to get promoted... I don't like that guy.
  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Friday March 16, 2007 @08:03PM (#18382091) Journal

    This is not opensource vs closed source at all, at least from the description, but a far simpler, custom build vs off-the-shelf AND/OR inhouse vs external.

    Simply put the poster has tried, and failed to get a self developed system going to replace an existing system. Fed up with the delays management has now decided to go for a ready made system. It just so happens that the selfmade system including opensource components while the commercials vendor is not.

    However the nature of the source code does NOT matter in this case.

    What seems to matter is that management seems to think that the off-the-shelf system will be ready of use sooner and with less hassle then the custom system. They are willing to trade in flexibility that a custom solution can give for this.

    This is a sound business decision, not a correct one perhaps, it depends on what exactly they are given up and just how far along the custom setup is.

    This is NOT a failure of opensource, if an outside vendor offered a readymade solution using opensource would it not be accepted? The article does not suggest that.

    Rather they choose off-the-shelf ready NOW if less flexible software over flexible custom made but so far pie-in-the-sky software.

    Personally I have come to hate off-the-shelf content systems with a passion. They never ever work and you spend far more time customizing them to suit your needs then you would building your own system in the first place BUT the difference is that the ready made system is "ready" sooner. Compare it like this, a custom car build up from the ground won't be ready to drive until at least the frame has been finished the drive mecchanics attached, the engine bolted on, some kind of steering fixed up etc etc. Probably after a lot of work. On the other hand an existing car destined to be modified can be driven at day one. Sure, if you want to drive it on day two, three etc you are going to have an hell of job to actually modify it in any significant way BUT you can.

    And that is what management often wants. Not a quality product at some point in the future but something that works to a minimum standard today. If that means they will then have to be satisfied with that minimum for all time, so be it. Because lets face it, the custom product might still deliver nothing even after several months.

    Personally I have taken the following solution, develop such software in your own time so that you only have to sell it to management once you have a working product. You then "charge" this in whatever form you like, free time, a raise whatever to make up for the free time you spend on it. It works very well, you end up with a system to maintain that actually does what you want it to, management gets their instant result and if you fail at the building it, well it is just your own free time, so who is going to care?

    • I guess if he wants to push open source, he should find someone who will install, configure, and support a complete open-source solution. It's better to pay those guys than a commercial company, since some of your dollars will pay for testing and enhancing open-source projects.
  • Oh dear god (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Timesprout (579035) on Friday March 16, 2007 @08:09PM (#18382121)
    If in this day and age you are asking slashdot nonsense like this then its pretty clear that 'management' should not be relying on you to provide them with any decision making information. There are a plethora of solutions out there. Its pretty clear you are unwilling or unable to do the grunt work to actually research this. There is no 'selling', commercial offerings rule because traditionally they have been better and more feature complete. Thats not to say the market will not or is not currently changing but the 'selling' points remain the same.
  • VAR (Score:3, Insightful)

    by silas_moeckel (234313) <silas AT dsminc-corp DOT com> on Friday March 16, 2007 @08:12PM (#18382147) Homepage
    In my experience the largest group of companies that at pushing OS are small VAR's. Think about the model open or closed source there customizations are work on contract so belong to the client anyway so it's not much different and compared to closed source they can have higher margins / lower bid price. From a management perspective they get somebody in a nice suit that can give them a fixed bid to implement the solution and somebody to pay for support. Unfortunately most of these VAR's are fairly small and the larger ones end up selling there sole to the closed source camp for lower wholesale prices and thus better profits / more business to people that are asking for closed source products. Anyway if the deal is not done I would find a local VAR and ask them to bid on a solution and you can possibly get back that requirements and a fixed time to delivery and price that management wants possibly lower than what the closed source vendor.
  • Good idea (Score:2, Interesting)

    I like the idea of having some way of making FOSS a viable option to our managers when it comes time to do a proof of concept and ultimately head into a dev environment, or similar. However, like yourself, I'm wondering if there are any resources like that available outside of ourselves. The way I typically try to shoehorn FOSS into our shop is to; 1) point to existing, highly mainstream FOSS tools and services already in your environment (hello Java/Ruby/Apache/tomcat/Linux/some Unix OSes/openSolaris/e
    • by westlake (615356)
      Doing the homework on why your new FOSS app will be better, stronger, easier to maintain and ultimately cheaper than the "off the shelf" version of your solution is the way to go here. Good luck!

      When IT is one guy you go with the "off the shelf" solution.

    • If you need to 'shoehorn' something into your organization then perhaps you should ask yourself if you have your oraganization's best interests in mind or are just promoting your own agenda. Perhaps your word choice was less than optimal, but you make it sound like you spend a lot of potentially productive time trying to promote your preferred solution.
  • by Mark Hood (1630) on Friday March 16, 2007 @08:45PM (#18382309) Homepage
    It seems that there isn't an 'Open Source Solution' at all - 'Solution' implies it fixes the problem. They had a choice:
    1. Buy a true 'solution' from a closed source vendor
    2. Pay you to develop a solution from open source components.

    If there was a solution to sell to 'upper management', you can bet your ass it'd be pushed. As it stands, you're wasting time and money trying to kludge together something that won't work as well as the purchased solution - and management have decided not to gamble on you coming in cheaper, faster and better than the commerical offering (or even the usual "pick two"). Plus, if you get hit by a bus, who'll support it?

    Mark

    For the uninitiated, Jackrabbit [apache.org] is a Java Content Repository, while Lucene [apache.org] is a search engine: both are built on Apache. I think it's safe to say they're components rather than 'solutions', no matter how polished they might be.
  • just do a demo (Score:2, Interesting)

    by conradov (1026760)
    How about going to OpenSourceCMS.com and do a little research on which CMS fits better? That should take about 3 to 8 hours (depending on your level of geekness). There are demos for each system on-line, so you don't even have to install them. Prepare, and show them a demo of the system you chose. Another 3 to 8 hours. If they weren't impressed, but you are 100% certain it was because of lack of customization, download, install, customize, and do the last demo. That should take 1 to 3 days. If management
  • Money Talks (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Organisations selling solutions for cash can afford to employ people to sell them. This isn't an open vs closed source thing - companies could sell services around open source content management systems.
  • Use IT guys have the knowledge to see the some OSS software is better then commercial software, but the problem is the most of the company bigwigs think that because you pay, it is better. You have to show and demonstrate to them that the OSS alternative is just as good, and let them know that it is 100% free. Most companies pay for Solaris, Windows, or variants of *nix because it is slightly less buggy they OSS software, which is what most non-tech people what.
  • That was a newspaper, surprisingly enough. Everything since has been Mac or Linux. And you can argue the OS-ness of Mac OSX, but I'd count it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 16, 2007 @10:52PM (#18382867)
    Jackrabbit? Lucene? CMS?

    You've got to be kidding.

    Especially when you have limited resources, don't re-invent the wheel. There are several open-source CMS packages to choose from. You shouldn't be building your own without an EXTREMELY good reason.

    You're not seeing the forest for the trees.

    If you're a one-man IT shop, you should be focusing on larger popular packages and let the community take care of the little nuts-and-bolts that make the big things work. Also, your solutions, need to be so simple and generic that you can hand it off to someone else when necessary.

    That's probably why you lack help. You're way out in left field and everyone, including your manager, can tell.
  • Seriously (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WED Fan (911325) <akahige.trashmail@net> on Saturday March 17, 2007 @12:36AM (#18383217) Homepage Journal

    Do you want to sell upper management on quality or OSS?

    Troll? No.

    Now, the moderators haven't gotten past the first 2 lines, have you tried selling management on the "best tool for the job"? If the solution works, what does it matter if its OSS or not? The beauty of the question is the freedom to choose from as wide a pool of candidates for the best overall solution to the task.

    Experience shows managers worry about two things: will it get the job done? And, will it be a problem later?

    If you present management with any information beyond that, you are just asking for trouble.

    Options:

    1. "Sir and/or Ma'am, we can replace the framastat server with these two options. This option does the job, and won't cause us problems in the future."
    2. "Sir and/or Ma'am, we can replace the framastat server with these two options. This option does the job, is GPL 3, is community supported and with the source code is available, we can make our own extensions and upgrades."

    Option 1, the boss heard, it works and won't cause a problem. Option 2, he heard: "GPL" - What the fuck? "Community support" - Damn, no formal support plan? Who do I call? "Write our own extensions" - Now I have to hire a programmer?

    Hint

    Tell a manager nothing more than he really needs to make a decision.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday March 17, 2007 @05:24AM (#18384169)
    The biggest problem I have when I evaluate OSS software is that usually the people pushing it have given no thought to if it does what I want well. So there are all kinds of compromises I'd have to make. When these come up, the advocates act like I should be perfectly ok with that, even happy, because I am getting OSS. No, sorry, wrong. I have a set of things I want/need to do and if your package can't handle that, well then too bad it just isn't a realistic contender. I am not going to compromise because of ideology, especially in a business.

    So what you have to do is find out everything that the commercial package does that they care about and make sure the OSS solution does it at least as well. This needs to be done before hand. "But we have the code so we can fix it," is not an acceptable excuse. If it really is going to be pushed as a replacement, it needs to be just that, meaning that it can replace all the functions needed.

    You can't make any excuses for your software. You need to make sure that it really is as good a solution. If it isn't in certain ways, well you need to admit that to yourself and to them. Trying to say "Well that's not important," doesn't cut it.
  • Fair disclosure:

    1. I'm the CTO at a leading vendor of high end online systems for non-profits. We have two CMS offerings. We may well be the "evil" vendor mentioned in this post :-)

    2. I am the worlds biggest fan of open source - I'm posting here, on my work laptop which, yes, I run Linux on, because I find it to be a better fit for my personal needs (mixture of hardcore techie and traditional business user) than Windows.

    We don't open source our software, we don't even ship it ... we deliver everything hoste

Life would be so much easier if we could just look at the source code. -- Dave Olson

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