February 8, 2005

Help Selecting Open Source Implementors

Anonymous Reader writes "Since open source businesses often focus on implementation, migration, or support engagements how can end user organizations figure out which firms to use? A new service launched at The FOSS Evaluation Center last Friday that lets end users prioritize their requirements for open source migrations, or open source consulting engagements, and then matches those requirements to appropriate open source consultants or service providers. For example, to implement a customized open source ERP system or office migration, it's not easy to research and then find the right firm that can help. The on-line tool lets end users analyse firms on approximately 1,000 prioritized criteria.

What should you do to research and prepare your organization before calling on an open source vendor or consulting firm for an RFP? The company for which I work as an analyst concentrates on complex software selection issues. We've found that solutions for ERP, CRM, or SCM may fail to accomplish what customers want and often it is because customers did not begin their selection processes with a good understanding of their requirements. Thus the customer did not request and weigh the pertinent information from their chosen range of vendors. The following note discusses some issues to be aware of in selecting an open source solution. I'll finish by suggesting a simple but sophisticated means for obtaining useful and free requirements analysis to ease the selection research burden.

With an open source implementation or migration, it may not simply be a matter of discerning the right software features, there is another dimension to the peculiar and nifty benefits in opting for the open source route. For example, open source solutions may be apt to offer industry-specific versions of a system that partners have branched from the core open source project. Consider that a vanilla open source ERP system might not be applicable toward the health care industry but a partner firm working with the open source ERP project could specialize the system to be exactly what is needed for pharmacy management. How can you find out which partner firms offer the appropriate solution for your organization?

In addition, a frequently raised concern from organizations considering open source solutions is the availability of support. Support is a service and one should take a lot of different factors into account to determine how well that service might be provided. Consider components such as communication methods (how will the chosen firm make itself available?), processing time, self-help availability, local support presence, accountability, application or development support, etc.

It's clear by now that companies toiling in the open source way of business are not necessarily relying on software sales as their main mode of business. Rather, open source providers consult on the types of services I mentioned above. So every company or government organization that wishes to migrate to or implement an open source solution, should thoroughly understand what it will need to request in terms of sponsored development, support, consulting, and training services from the firm it hires. And that is where things become a bit tricky.

For any given mature open source solution, you will find a number of firms claiming they can implement it or provide support solutions based on it. What is the customer organization to do? Which firm is most appropriate for your needs? Research and prioritize! To secure a successful project, you've got to figure out exactly what your organization requires from the firm it hires. Prioritize your requirements to reflect what is most important, and know exactly how your chosen firms will support those requirements.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, I'm an analyst for a company, Technology Evaluation Centers, that researches complex software selection projects. We developed and have been refining a sophisticated decision support system for the last several years. We use it to great success in analyzing software functionality. Last year we decided to see if we could apply it toward the open source business model, so we adapted our evaluation system to analyse services as well as software functionality.

I invite anyone to try it. Of all the open source firms out there, what are the factors to discern differences in their services, and which factors are most important to your organization. We launched the Free and Open Source Software Evaluation Center as a brand new on-line decision support system featuring research on a few of the more well-known open source project firms (with additional firms rapidly being added). The knowledge base consists of close to 1,000 criteria for analysing open source consulting and service providing firms."

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