I have been working as a developer using proprietary technologies for over a decade in IT. I have been fascinated by the eco-system created by companies that own the proprietary technologies. I have also been following open source software and its evolution for over the last 5 years. I have started to learn open source technologies mainly LAMP stack to start with. In this article I will outline why I felt the need to learn and use open source software.
Is IT a competitive advantage?
The obvious answer that anyone in IT would say is yes but it needs a little deep digging to find out the real answer. To find out the real answer let us look at the history of industrial revolution.
The first set of companies that started the industrial revolution were textile companies. The Cotton, Woollen and other fabric industries were thriving. These industries were thriving on the manual labor and electricity was not invented yet. Power came from coal or steam. It was expensive to run the textile industry on these sources of power. When electricity was invented the textile mills started to use electricity as power source. It is funny and unbelievable that electricity was once a competitive advantage to companies. With the advent of electricity came sophisticated machines in textile manufacturing. Old mills that were still powered by coal or steam could not compete with electrified companies.
Fast forwarding few decades almost all companies were powered by electricity and electricity was not a competitive edge anymore. Companies that used to have power department to manage electricity production and distribution outsourced that to power companies who would take care of electricity production and distribution.
I think the above parallel applies to technologies. For companies that are not developing new technologies but just using the technologies to build their software systems for internal use IT may not provide a competitive edge unless it has some niche features.
Shared and Standardized
Some companies are wise enough to learn that IT may not be a competitive edge for them and decided to use shared and standardized infrastructure. I think this was one of the key factors for companies to move on the cloud platforms. Companies collectively fund and support open source projects so that the gains are shared. This shows that companies are giving up competitive edge over technology and focusing more on collective innovation.
The first time I worked for a lean IT team was at a vehicle processing company. The company had close to 200 employees working for them and the size of the IT team was just 5 people (1 manager, 3 developers, 1 network admin). The company rewrote all their applications on the latest version of a proprietary technology a year before and then trimmed the IT department to just support what was developed and deployed. At first when I joined the team I didn’t believe that 5 people could support 200 users but we ended up doing very good job. I see this lean IT team trend being embraced by companies who think technology is not a competitive advantage.
Availability and Affordability
Availability and affordability of software may not be a challenge for enterprises in developed countries but in developing countries this is a challenge. For developing countries open source suits best when it comes to availability and affordability. Open source also helps to get localized software version eg: adding new language support, etc.
I hope this article provides a different view to embrace open source software. The most important goal for me is to give back to the open source community my time and money either by donating or volunteering to test, code and support open source customers.
Credits and References
- All open source projects and their volunteers.