March 24, 2008

Consultant hopes open source apps will "snap together" someday

Author: Tina Gasperson

DPCI, a technology consulting firm based in New York City, specializes in providing custom content management solutions. DPCI uses open source software and recommends it to clients who need powerful, flexible content management solutions, but face budget challenges in a belt-tightening economy. President and founder Joe Bachana says he discovered the merits of building a business on open source first through personal experience.

It was as a satisfied consumer of the Drupal content management system that Bachana first realized the business success potential of moving away from proprietary licensing structures. "When we made a decision to do more interactivity on our Web site, we determined that it made the most sense for us to implement a content management system on an open source platform." Bachana began hiring what he calls "open source gurus," and he found their enthusiasm for community-based development contagious. "They evangelized within the company about the merits of open source. Having some new people in this environment, which had always been traditionally Microsoft-based development, well, they were sort of getting people excited about what could happen."

It didn't take Bachana long to connect the benefits of open source content management, such as drastically reduced capital requirements and greater flexibility, to meeting the needs of his clients. "I get really excited about solving business challenges," he says, calling consulting a "buffet lifestyle. You get to solve challenges in lots of different businesses. We found a number of our customers didn't have the budget to purchase licensed products. In university settings, or museum associations, or even more recently media companies, there's been some issues around decelerating of their revenues. They just couldn't afford [proprietary]. For us it was a logical next step to offer those customers open source."

Bachana says DPCI also began getting requests from clients specifically for open source solutions. "They asked us to go out and recommend platforms in the open source world that we could help them implement and customize. When we first started nine years ago, we were either building custom solutions from scratch, or we were implementing proprietary solutions from big-name companies."

Moving to open source inside and outside the company has benefited DPCI in more ways than one. "Rapid deployment," Bachana says, is the biggest benefit. "Not only within the framework of Drupal, but other open source modules and components that we can integrate. And we work in a LAMP environment, so it is quick for us to implement new functionality that we want internally."

Using open source software also benefits DPCI from a business strategy perspective. "One of the drawbacks of consultancies is that there are typically a lot of solo practitioners that can't do the bigger projects. We use a team approach, and by matching this with open source, we think it gives us a strategic advantage, because the team can implement changes very quickly [for] our customers. That's been a terrific benefit for us."

Bachana says the challenge in open source is putting all the pieces together. "The market is not fully mature," he says. "There are pieces to the puzzle that we'd like to see, like customer relationship management, accounting -- all the different pieces you'd see in managing a business. There's still a lot of satellite initiatives that haven't converged yet. The disconnect is that there's no one entity or group or central place where people are thinking about how all the pieces snap together. I'd like to see that happen, but we're not big enough to effectuate that. We can snap the pieces for our own benefit and for our customer, but that still isn't doing justice to the whole world. If there was some kind of roadmap, you'd see a lot more companies buying into the open source vision, in the same manner that they're buying into Oracle or Microsoft."

Bachana recommends starting your company's open source journey at the Web level. "There's plenty of resources out there where you can get information on the different platforms available. Implement Web servers first. Hire a couple of really great developers that know the LAMP environment and task them with getting a roadmap for the back office using open source. If you start that way, you could map all your needs to readily available open source solutions out there. But it starts with getting at least one person who is a technologist that could support them in the back office."

Categories:

  • Open Source
  • Business
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